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Monday, December 3, 2012

I Just Want to Look at Homes

It never fails.  I constantly get e-mails and phone calls from people who "want to look at homes" - or want to look at a specific home - right now.  A potential buyer will see a home on a particular website, or driving down the street and call me or e-mail me and say, "Hi, my name is John.  I saw a home on ABC website.  I want to see it.  When can you show it to me?"  That's typically how the conversation starts.  Every agent's dream, right?  A hot-to-trot buyer, ready to go, already has a home picked out.  Not so fast....

Some buyers need to be educated.  Most that contact me in the above manner do not understand how the process works.  It's not as simple as "I'm a buyer, there's a house, show it to me."  If, in fact, you are a buyer who "just wants to see houses" then you need to find an agent who "just shows houses."  In that case, I am not the right agent for you.  Let me explain.

Don't I show houses to people?  Isn't that what I do?  Why can't I just "show you a house?"  Well, I could.  But I prefer not to.  Why?  Because you probably aren't ready to buy a house.  Are you pre-approved with a lender?  Have you established a relationship with your "own" agent, or are you randomly calling agents?  Do you even know what you can afford?  Do you understand the steps in the process of buying a home?    If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you are not ready to buy a home, and therefore, shouldn't be actually looking at homes in person (vs. browsing on the Internet or driving around).

I realize that it's easy to get excited when you are window shopping.  Many people window shop for things when they are not quite ready to purchase.  And there are lots of websites out there that have homes for sale.  I'm not trying to kill the American Dream here, or trying to burst your bubble.    But buying a home is different from, say, buying a big screen t.v. or buying a car.  You can't learn the ins-and-outs of buying a home on line.  You can't research specific homes because every home is unique, vs. finding a certain t.v., finding the place where it has the best price, and just going a buying it.  Buying a home is different.  You really need to understand the process before you start looking at homes.  It can be complicated and treacherous if you do not know what you are doing.  There are many mistakes that first-time buyers have made that they have regretted later: mistakes that have cost them time, money, and even the home of their dreams.  I know, there are plenty of agents who will "just show you homes" if that is all you want.  Just make a few calls, you will find them pretty easily.  Not to mention the fact that if you're just calling on listings on a website that some of the agents you are calling are working for the seller, and not for you.  But that's another story (see my previous blog postings).

Most agents are salespeople.  You want to "buy" a home.  They will "sell it to you."  Great, deal done.  Or is it?

I don't "sell homes," I educate people on how to buy homes.  I give them the tools they need so that they can make an informed decision when the time comes.  I take them through the process from A to Z in the very beginning, before we even look at a single home.  I give my clients an edge that other buyers don't have because I lay the foundation upon which everything else will be built.  My clients are savvy, educated and informed.  They come to me looking for someone who will educate them and guide them through the process of buying (or building) a home.  I am their guide, counselor and instructor.  And I am their advocate.

So, going back to my description in the first paragraph, I have a real challenge.  When I get calls and e-mails from people who are hot-to-trot I try to ask a few relevant questions and see if I can guide them back to a starting point, one that they have missed.  The first thing I ask them is if they are pre-approved with a lender.  If they are not, back to square one.  Why would you consider looking at a home if you are not even pre-approved?  No seller would ever see you as a serious buyer.  And frankly, neither would any agent worth their salt.  Regardless if a potential buyer is pre-approved, or not, my first goal is to get them to meet with me so we can go through the process and make sure they are in the best position to buy a home.  And if they say "no" and "well, I really just want to see this home"  that is usually the end of the conversation if I can't get them to come in and meet with me first.  At that point I know, for the most part, that they are not serious buyers.  If they can't spend an hour of their time learning about the most important financial transaction of their life then I really don't have time for them.  And they usually don't seem to mind.  They can always find an agent, one not like me, who will just "show them homes." 

So, if you are considering buying a home get your ducks in a row!  Become an educated and informed buyer first and you will be in the best position to buy the best home for you at the right time.      


Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Life of a Realtor, Part 2

So, a while ago I wrote Part 1 about the life of  Realtor.  Time to write the sequel....

I had a good, steady job before I decided to get into real estate (read Rich Dad, Poor Dad if you want some insight on this).  But, for some reason,  real estate always intrigued me.  However, I come from a long line of "play-it-safers" when it comes to career choices and the like.  When I told my parents I was going to go into real estate back in 1995 they were a bit concerned.  My degree had nothing to do with anything even remotely related to real estate (at least it didn't appear that it did) and all my family saw was "risk."  Frankly, I wasn't too sure myself.  I've never been a huge risk-taker, either.  And diving into something that I had no experience in and working for 100% commission was, I admit, a bit scary.  Not only that, but the company I went to work for was brand new and neither the company, nor I, had much of a data base or a "circle of friends and family" to work with. But off I went, with my license and the kind of optimism that risk-takers have been known for.

They say police work is "hours of  absolute boredom punctuated by a few moments of sheer terror."  Real estate is kind-of like that.  I spend a lot of time just managing things, doing the day-to-day mundane things and then all of the sudden I get a call or an e-mail from a prospective home buyer.  Or one of my clients decides to make an offer on a home.  Granted, I'm not actually "terrified" of this kind of activity, but it does get things moving on an otherwise routine day.  And then, somebody wants to see a house, another client wants to make an offer, and a new prospect want to meet with me...all on the same day at the same time.  That's when things start getting exciting.  "Time management" takes on an entirely new meaning at that point.

I mentioned in Part 1 that Realtors have to wear a lot of hats.  I work with several clients at any given time.  It's important that I keep my documentation with my clients physically separate, but I also have to keep my clients separated mentally and emotionally from other things that are going on.  What do I mean by that?  Well, mentally, I sometimes get a conversation confused between clients.  And they'll hear me say "Oh, wait, that was my other client...."  Myself and my clients often have the same discussions and I can't always remember who I had that last discussion with.  I also have certain things that always come up when viewing houses but I sometimes forget if "WE saw that one house that had that thing" or if that was another client I was with....and "did I already tell you about radon, stucco issues, polybutylene plumbing, how to brace a foundation, how to treat for termites, roof venting issues" etc., etc., etc.  There is a vast amount of information that I'm required to learn and retain in order to be effective as an advocate. It takes time and energy just to remember what I've said and/or didn't say sometimes.  I do my best to treat all of my clients and individuals but I have a lot of conversations and know a lot of people.  That's what it's like to be in this business for so many years.

One other thing that presents a very serious challenge in my profession is what I call "switching gears," meaning, going from one conversation or event to another completely different conversation or event within minutes and trying to leave the first event in lieu of the second.  What exactly do I mean by this?  For example, sometimes negotiations can get very heated, even between myself and my own clients (which should never happen, but it does).  Psychologically, it's difficult to just "drop" something that's extremely urgent, important, and may be really weighing on one's soul.  But since I have back-to-back appointments sometimes I have no choice.  So a negotiation blows up and I have to head out to show houses.  Time to "switch gears" and leave that event behind so that I can focus on doing the job for my other clients, which means concentrating on showing them houses and answering their questions and focusing on their needs, not mine or my other client's.  Easier said than done sometimes, but I've learned to deal with this over the years.  Most of my clients never even know what goes on with my other clients...unless I share something out of frustration.  But normally I just go on my merry way...until I have to go back and try to resolve whatever happened earlier.  It's trying at times but also can be rewarding.

Being my own boss has given me a measure of flexibility.  Even though that's true, I tell my clients that I'm available "most of the time," meaning just about any time of the day or evening, seven days a week.  Sometimes I wonder if I should set boundaries because I know from experience that if I don't, even well-meaning clients will unknowingly take advantage of me.  I don't set a lot of boundaries because I want to be there for my clients.  However, that sometimes gets me in trouble. My wife doesn't understand why I come home from work sometimes and get right back on my laptop and go back to work!  And why I take calls and read texts at dinner, during birthday parties, during wedding receptions, during concerts, and even during church! (ringer off, of course)  I had a client call me once while I was at an OSU game.  I called him back and he said "I can't hear you very well" and I said "that's because I'm sitting in the stadium watching a football game." (halftime)  So he pauses, and says, "Oh, does that mean you can't show us a house?"  Yeah, that's pretty much what it meant.  Granted, most of my clients are nothing like that.  But my clients do want their needs met and they expect me to do that.  What's interesting is how my clients sometimes define "urgent" and how I define it.  Sometimes, honestly, it really can wait until morning.  I've had to tell clients, "Well, not much we can do tonight, so let's just pick this up in the morning."  At 10:00 p.m. on any given night there isn't much I can do if a deal is in danger of falling apart. Yet sometimes somebody will want me to try.  Every one of my clients thinks what they need is important, and it is.  But sometimes what this client wants/needs is more important than what another client wants/needs right now. Try explaining that to the second client.  :)

Every job and profession comes with it's own set of challenges, no doubt.  I just wanted to share some of what it's like to do what I do for a living.  I'm sure there is more....maybe I'll do a part 3.  One other thing that I've noticed about my profession over the years is that there are so many different types of people, with various backgrounds and education, that are in real estate. What's great is that this industry has room for me.  I surely can't complain about that!           

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

To Buy or Not to Buy?

One question that eventually comes up with almost every one of my clients during the home-search process is "should we make an offer on this house?"  In other words, what they are really asking is "is this the best we are going to find or should we keep looking?"  Once again, I have to dig out the crystal ball.....

The answer to that question has many facets.  Whether I tell a client "yes, maybe you should" or "well, maybe not" really depends on the individual situation. I never try to answer this question for my clients but I try to put the question in perspective.

Here are some of the variables that factor in that question:

  • How long have you been looking?
  • How many houses have you seen so far?
  • How does this house compare to everything else you have seen?
  • Does it "feel" like it could be the "right" one?*
  • If you don't make an offer, what are your options?  Is there anything else out there that you like?
  • Can you live with this one?
  • If nothing better comes up will you be disappointed that you didn't try for it?
  • Does it meet most of your needs and some of your "wants?"
  • How long are you willing to wait for the "right" one if this one may not be exactly the "right" one?
There are many different answers to these questions and any given time.  It's really hard to ever say that a particular home is the "right" one.  You may never know that for sure, partially because there may be no right "one," but there may be several homes out there that will meet most, if not all, of your needs.  If you feel that there can only be one "right one" your criteria may be a little narrow.  If you are being realistic about your potential purchase you will probably find that there are usually a few homes that will work for you.  That is really the best position to be in.  If you think "that's the one!" and you end up not getting it everything else will pale in comparison and you'll never be satisfied with another home after that.  

I mentioned "wants" and "needs."  Drawing the line between "wants" and "needs" can be a challenge.  I try to help people realize that needs are more important, and that sometimes what we define as a "need" is really a "want."  This becomes pretty evident when you have a certain price point and you find, as a buyer, that your just not going to get all of your desires in your price range.  Things that were originally  "needs" sometimes become "wants" as you look through homes and take notes.  We all have to make sacrifices when purchasing a home.  Nobody ever gets all of their needs and all of their wants.  Like the old saying goes "you can't get a champagne house on a beer budget."   They key lies in making an honest assessment of your own wants and needs and in understanding the market in your price range (what can I get for my money).  If you can do that you will have a pretty good idea when a house might just be the "right" one for you, or at lease one that meets most of your criteria and that is a good value for what you are looking for.

So, is something better going to come along?  Well, that's hard to say.  Have listings been coming on the market that meet your criteria?  Is this the time of year where listings are increasing, or decreasing? Have you exhausted the list of all possible homes? Are you willing to take your chances that something better will come along?  Are you willing to loose this one in hopes that something better comes along?  Do you have realistic expectations?  That last one is really important one...and might be a discussion for another day.  That being said, hopefully my comments will help you answer the inevitable question "should we make an offer....or wait?"