The Housing Market Has a Heart as Cold Winter

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I am SO done with this winter.

I’m done with hats and gloves and my expensive North Face parka that doesn’t keep me any warmer than my less expensive parka did. I need this winter to end; I need my chapped lips and dry cracked hands to heal. I don’t want to leave my kitchen faucet dripping so my pipes won’t freeze.I don’t want to buy any more salt.  I want to hear some birds chirp, I want to see a daffodil. I don’t want it to be below zero, I don’t want it to snow, I want this winter to be over, I need it to end.

It’s March. March weather in my hometown is never perfect. March usually means gray skies, chilly temperatures, highs  in the 40’s. It’s not beautiful, but there’s usually a sense that spring is just around the corner. Not this year. This year it’s polar vortex, this year, if it’s not snowing, it’s freezing. This year it’s the winter that just won’t go away…and I’m just gonna lose it.

As I look out the window and see the seventy-fifth inch of snow start to fall, one thing is blatantly clear…what I want and need just doesn’t matter, I don’t control the weather.  All the wishing, hoping, complaining, wanting and needing won’t change a thing. I better  just grab my hat, gloves and not warm enough parka, bundle up and deal with it.

You’d never know it by the weather, but  the spring housing market is underway. With the spring market comes a whole new batch of home buyers and sellers…and often they come to the market with  wants and needs regarding home values. It usually goes something like this…

“I need X for my house because I owe Y on my mortgage.”

“The house is worth more, but I need to get the house for X, I’ve only been approved for  Y.”

“I want X for my house because I want to put Y down on my next house.”

You get the idea.

With their wants and needs regarding home values, buyers and sellers want to control the ” weather”. It’s as fruitless for them as it is for me.

The market, not buyer or seller wants and needs, determine property values. The market delivers its weather in the form of supply and demand, closed comparables, appraised values, motivation of the competition. The market doesn’t care what a seller owes, or what a particular buyer has been approved for. A buyer wants this, a seller needs that? The market couldn’t care less. The market has a heart as cold as this never ending winter.

Buyers and sellers have to recognize that they participate within a market they have no control over. They can make the best of it, put their best foot forward in it, they can push it to its limits, but they can not control it or change it.

Like me, buyers and sellers need to bundle up and deal with it.

What does that mean?

For buyers,  bundling up means having that preapproval letter ready, making a realistic offer with attractive terms, maybe even including a heartfelt letter to the seller.

For sellers,  bundling up means having your house in tip-top shape, making the small improvements your agent and stager suggested, it means presenting your property in its best possible light to the widest audience and it means pricing it appropriately for the market.

This winter WILL come to an end, birds will chirp and daffodils will bloom…but remember the market’s heart…it’s cold, no matter the weather.

Bundle up!

Had an “I love my job” week

 
I had an “I love my job” week in real estate this week.

 
I got a new listing, sold one of my listings and had a buyer sale. That’s a good week. Selling houses means the promise of future paychecks and that’s a good thing. But a new listing, selling a listing and a buyer sale in and of itself isn’t what made it an I love my job week.

 
What made it an I love my job week was…Anna, Linda, and Joe and Britany…

 
This week I met Anna. I was interviewed and hired by Anna’s son Bob a couple of weeks ago. This week I was meeting Bob at the townhouse to have the photographs taken and to sign the listing paperwork. The townhouse belongs to Anna so she was there. Anna is 90 years old, born in 1923. Anna has moved to an assisted living community, she can’t really live on her own anymore, so she is sadly selling her beautiful townhome. Her age, her pretty white hair, the unsteadiness in her hands, as she signed the paperwork in that perfect handwriting you just don’t see anymore, the vulnerability of her demeanor…Anna moved me and I liked being near her. The townhouse is lovely and it will sell, but Anna was beautiful and getting to spend just that little bit of time with her…that was an I love my job thing.

 
The listing I sold is a house that’s been on the market for what seems like forever. The house belongs to Linda, it’s the family home; it’s her inheritance. Linda lives in Kentucky,  her husband is in Wisconsin where he was transferred over a year ago. The house selling means that she and her family can buy a house in Wisconsin and be together again. It’s been a long and difficult time for her and I am so happy that her wait is almost over. Listing sold…great. Seeing Linda get to finally be on her way…that’s an I love my job thing.

 
And then, just moments ago, I heard from the listing agent that the offer my buyers made on a house this week has been accepted. My buyers are Joe and Britany. They are a super sweet couple; been married for six years and are so ready to start a family. And they want the family they start to be close to Britany’s family…not 45 minutes away let’s make a plan for Sunday close, no, they want to be coffee close, stop by close. Showing them houses has been a family affair. Sometimes Britany’s mom and dad have come along; sometimes brother Ryan and his wife Kate have popped in to check out the house too. And whenever they all see one another, there’s handshakes and hugs all around.  Their affection for one another fills a room. They are all really good people so working with Joe and Britany has been a pleasure. And now they have a house! The house needs all kinds of updating: There’s wallpaper and paneling everywhere, bathrooms need to be updated, and the kitchen has awful fluorescent lighting that’s gotta go…and yet it’s perfect. Sold a house…great. Joe and Britany being over the moon happy and 60 days away from coffee-close…that’s an I love my job thing.

Definitely an I love my job week.

Happy Friday!

 

The Spring Market Has A Soundtrack by Amy Curtis

Remember Ally McBeal? She was the main character in the tv show of the same name popular in the late 90’s.  She was the quirky Boston attorney who always had music (mostly Barry White) “playing” in her head.

Well…I’m feeling like Ally McBeal these days…I too have music “playing” in my head.

This spring market is barely underway and  business in my neck of the woods is surprisingly busy already…buyers buying, sellers listing. Every day it seems I’m having the same conversation with buyers and sellers. Buyers asking for suggestions on what kind of offer to make on a property they’ve seen, sellers wanting to know the right pricing strategy for their home. This spring market has brought about a “new” conversation, about the “new” market we’re finding ourselves in this spring 2013.

If you’re a buyer looking for a “steal”, it’s looking like that window of opportunity is quickly closing. Inventory is shrinking, prices are stabilizing, the pool of buyers who want to purchase has grown.   So, when you find the home of your dreams and you’re ready to make an offer, low ball probably won’t do. You have to be realistic.

You…Got To Be Real.

If you’re looking to sell your home this spring, you can take comfort in the market’s improvement. It’s true, the market is improving. Inventory is shrinking, in some areas and price ranges there’s even an upward push on prices. But you can’t let all this rosy real estate news go to your head and fool you into thinking it’s 2006 again. Recent comparable sales matter. Your competition and the current supply of inventory matters and the anticipated appraised value of your home matters big time. So, you have to be realistic.

You too…Got To Be Real.

Which brings me back to Ally McBeal. Ally had Barry White songs playing in her head.  Well for me, it’s not Barry…. I have Cheryl Lynn in my head.  In this already underway spring market, during my days of conversations with buyers and sellers I hear her belting out one of my all time favorites…and it’s the soundtrack for the Spring 2013 market…

 

The 2013 Spring Market has a soundtrack and it’s my advice to you…

Got To Be Real!

Thick Skin and Big Pants…Welcome to Selling Your House

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So the real estate office calls. They say they have an agent that would like to show your house tomorrow afternoon between 2:00-3:00. You hang up the phone, super excited! Maybe this one will be the one…THE buyer for your house.

To prepare for the showing you get all the laundry put away, do a quick pick up in every room, you wash your already pretty clean floor, scrub the toilets and spray lemon scented antibacterial solution on every surface in your kitchen. Later, when you run to the grocery store you pick up some fresh flowers. (Every little bit helps, right?) The next day, just moments before the appointed hour you light a candle, take one last look around…”perfect” you say. You leave the house, get in your car, drive around the block and park just down the street. They won’t notice you, but you can see them.

At 2:05 a car pulls up to your house; it looks like it could be the realtor. At 2:15 a second car pulls up…this must be them. At 2:16, realtor and the future owners of your fabulous house are opening your front door!!

Your anticipation and excitement begin to get the best of you, thoughts start running through your head…”what if they want to close right away, can we get out that fast?”…”I wonder if they will let us stay a couple of days after closing”…”Maybe we should make an offer on that house we saw last week, loved the kitchen, think the sofa will look perfect against the wall opposite the fireplace…”  Within moments, you have yourself packed up and out of your old house and arranging furniture in the new one.

Your thoughts are interrupted when at 2:19, you see the realtor and YOUR buyer getting into their cars and driving away…

Seriously!!!   Three minutes!!! Three minutes!!!? You scrubbed toilets and floors, bought fresh flowers, lit a candle, for three minutes!?

Welcome to selling your house.

There’s so much preparing to do when selling a house. There’s preparing your house to put on the market. There’s preparing the house for each of the showings. What’s not often mentioned, but is equally important, is the mental preparing for what’s emotionally in store.

You need to find your thick skin and put your big pants on to prepare for the showing that only lasts for three minutes, for the showing that doesn’t show, to prepare for the negative feedback or the feedback you never hear and to prepare for the work your butt off and rearrange your whole schedule for a three minute showing that will inevitably be a part of the home selling experience. To prepare NOT to take it, any of it, personally.

Be prepared…because it’s gonna happen.

Not every showing will show up and they won’t all last longer than three minutes. There will be people that really DON’T like your house, and they will feel no need to spend one minute longer in it then is necessary for them to come to that conclusion.  Sometimes you’ll hear feedback, but often you won’t. Selling your house will be stressful, you’re going to get angry, you’re feelings might even get hurt. Recognizing and accepting those facts and mentally preparing for them, will make it that much easier to handle when it happens.

So PREPARE! Set your emotions aside, find your thick skin, put your big pants on, keep you’re eye on the prize and remind yourself, again and again and again that every showing, good or bad showing, long or three minutes short showing, is bringing you your buyer, THE buyer for your house!

Hiring an Agent by Amy Curtis

image courtesy of gettressed.com
image courtesy of gettressed.com

Maggie has been cutting and coloring (yep it’s a must) my hair for the last eight years. Maggie is good at what she does. She gives a really good haircut, and when it comes to color, she’s the bomb. Maggie is a stylist at a pretty exclusive, pretty pricey, salon in my hometown, Orland Park. I think there are probably a bunch of really good stylists there. I could probably go to any one of them and be happy with my haircut and color. I’d expect that they would know what they were doing, expect that they were up to date on the latest trends and products and styles. But I choose Maggie. Getting your haircut is a personal thing, you expose alot of yourself sitting in that chair. It’s a vulnerable place to be. In that chair, you express your doubts about your appearance, your hopes for a good outcome…and when you’re in the middle of your appointment and the dye has been applied and your hair is just sort of sticking out all over and you look incredibly ridiculous…well, you wouldn’t want just anyone to see you like that!  I choose Maggie. She knows what she’s doing, she does a good job but I choose Maggie because I trust her, I feel comfortable with her, she suits me. She might not be the right stylist for everyone, but she’s the right one for me.

I’d approach hiring an agent in much the same way.

The criteria for a hair stylist is obviously different from that of a real estate agent. The “knows what they are doing” in real estate  includes thorough market knowledge, tech savvy, marketing and negotiation skills. A good company with strong market and internet presence is a good thing too.  And when you’re hiring  an agent, you should expect that. But once the criteria is met, comfortable is important. Trust and the right fit is important. Just as sitting in the stylists chair with your hair sticking out all over the place, buying or selling a home is a vulnerable and personal place to be. It’s about your finances,  life decisions, all your personal stuff. You’re not going to want just anyone in  on all of that! So find the agent that’s the right fit for you. The agent you feel comfortable with, the agent you trust…hey…maybe even the agent you wouldn’t be embarrassed to run into at your next hair coloring appointment!

I’m off to a listing appointment…wonder if I will be the right fit for them.

Blue Jeans and Showings by Amy Curtis

Picture this: You’re shopping for blue jeans.  You peruse the racks and find six pairs that you think might work and you proceed to the dressing room to try them on. When you open the door, seated on one of those little benches you find in most dressing rooms, is a sales clerk. “Don’t mind me,” she says. “I’ll just be over here in case you have any questions.”

Can you imagine!!?

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be comfortable trying on the jeans with the clerk right there.  I don’t know that I could even seriously consider any of the jeans under such circumstances.  I mean, come on, I just want to try them on, see if they fit, see how they feel.  If I kinda like them but they’re the wrong size or I wonder if they come in a different color I can find the sales clerk; but to have her right there…NO WAY!

It’s a ridiculous scenario.

It’s a ridiculous scenario and it’s not the perfect analogy, but it is what comes to mind when sellers say they want to be home for showings.

“I know the house better than anyone” “I’ll stay out of the way,” they say.

Of course a seller knows their house better than anyone. But what a seller often doesn’t realize, house knowledge is irrelevant until someone likes and wants the house. There is no question that needs to be answered on the spot.  There is no feature that needs to be pointed out immediately. There are no questions, and features don’t matter, until the buyer is interested.  If there is interest, it may make sense and be helpful on a later showing for the seller to be home, but until then…be gone.

The truth is both figuratively and literally, it’s counterproductive to a successful showing for the seller to be home. That’s what the decluttering and depersonalizing is all about. Taking down the family photos, putting all the Bon Appetite magazines away, painting over a favorite aqua wall…it’s not just about removing the stuff, it’s about removing the seller. Having done all the right things to get a home ready, it’s just foolishness for a seller to blow it by being there.

The goal is to have prospective buyers imagine that the house is their new home. A great showing is one in which the buyer looks through rooms and plans where they would put their furniture, it’s a showing in which the buyer lingers in the house, sits in the family room, admires the view from the window,  talks for just a bit. Just like trying on jeans the prospective buyer needs the space and privacy to try the house on to see if it fits, the space and the privacy to see if they like it and want it. And that just isn’t going to happen with the seller there, it just isn’t.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the bottom line…

“I’m so glad the seller will be home for the showing, I might have a question.” Said, no homebuyer EVER.

Image courtesy of Graeme Weatherson Freedigitalphotos.net

Blouses and Houses by Amy Curtis

I don’t know how many mistakes I’ve made shopping clearance racks.

In hot pursuit of a bargain I flip through the garments, searching…20% off, flip, 40% off, 50% off, and then I see it, the 70% off tag, the $8 reduced from $29.99 blouse!! I feel that thrill of the kill rush and tell myself that this blouse, this bargain is so definitely $8 bucks worth of cute I’ve got to have it!

Or so I think. The thrill of the kill quickly wears off and inevitably, the blouse sits in my closet unworn.  The blouse doesn’t fit me well, or it doesn’t really suit me, it’s not my style or it just isn’t all that cute after all.

Was it a thrill to find such a bargain? Oh yeah!

Was it rock bottom cheap? Definitely.

Do I love the blouse? Not so much.

Turns out I was more attracted to  the price than the blouse itself. Since I don’t like the blouse and am not going to wear it, then my great bargain wasn’t such a bargain.  My great  bargain, while inexpensive, was just a big mistake!

This wild housing market with its distressed properties and overall depressed prices has brought out the bargain hunter in all of us.  Fixated on the bargain, driven by the thrill of the kill, the hunt begins!

It makes me cringe.

I cringe  when I hear a client tell me they want to focus their home search only on those distressed properties they’ve heard about it, those great bargains that are out there. I cringe when they tell me the story about their friend, brother, cousin, boss, mom’s friend from work who got this unbelievably incredible super fantastic great bargain deal on a house and they are excited to get the same.

I cringe because I worry that maybe they’ll pounce too quickly on a bargain house, that they’ll buy because of price  and just like my clearance rack blouse, once the thrill of the kill has worn off,  they will find themselves with a house that doesn’t suit them or fit their needs, a  house that just isn’t the home they wanted.

I cringe because a house is such a huge expensive investment.

I cringe because home is too important a place to sacrifice love of house for a bargain.

Should the home of your dreams be one of those distressedbargain properties so be it, but if it’s not. keep searching. Buy a house you’ll love.  Bottom line, no house is a bargain unless you love it!

So my advice…

When you need a bargain fix, buy a blouse; but when it comes to a house, buy the one you love.

Happy shopping!

Good House Hunting by Amy Curtis

Good Will Hunting, the 1996 film starring Matt Damon and Robin Williams is one of my favorite movies. I love the story, the characters, the dialogue…it’s just so good.  There’s a scene in the movie that has always stuck with me. It’s the scene of one of Will’s therapy sessions in which Will’s is telling his  therapist Shawn , played by Robin Williams about the perfect girl that he has met and Shawn in response tells Will about his late wife.  He tells Will about how it was his wife’s little idiosyncrasies, her little quirks that only he knew about that he most remembered and loved about her. He says, “People call these things imperfections Will. It’s just who we are. And we get to choose who we’re going to let into our weird little worlds. You’re not perfect. And let me save you the suspense, this girl you met isn’t perfect either. The question is, whether you are perfect for each other.  You can know everything in the world, but the only way you’re findin’ that one out is by giving it a shot.”

Love that scene, there’s just such truth in it.  It’s true in relationships and love and I believe it’s true when it comes to buying a home.

There’s such pressure on homebuyers today, either self-inflicted or otherwise, to find the “perfect” house, at the “perfect” time for the “perfect“price, to make the “perfect” deal.  With their must haves checklist of that perfect house in hand and armed with all the information they’ve found on the internet or seen on HGTV, and all the advice they’ve received from family and friends, so many homebuyers come to the process all stressed out and worried about finding the “perfect.”  And yet, the truth is, there simply is no “perfect”.  Only “perfect for each other.”

When working with buyers, I welcome their checklists, welcome the knowledge they’ve gleaned and bring to the process.  I think it is a good idea for a homebuyer to have a general idea of what they’re looking for. But my hope is always that they will leave themselves open to the possibilities,  to embrace their weird little worlds and trust the process.  Because the truth is, more times than not, it just happens.

It’s a pretty cool thing to see, and I’ve seen it happen time and time again. A buyer walks into a house, and realizes they’ve found their home.  Sometimes the house has all the items on the checklist but more often it does not.  Usually it’s the very  idiosyncrasies of the house that speak to them and checklists and logic give way to that unmistakable, undeniable feeling that this is the one, the “perfect for each other “one.

So…my advice…

Relax.

Discard the idea of perfect!

Embrace your weird little world and get ready…the perfect for each other home awaits!

Good house hunting.