Take It Off Baby

I was driving to the office the other day with the radio on. The radio playing in the car is unusual for me; normally I drive in silence. But on this particular day the sun was shining and I don’t know, I just thought it was a day for music.

I’m driving along thinking about the calls I need to make and the other real estate related to do’s on my list, and Barry White comes on.

“Love Serenade.”

I love me some Barry White, but Love Serenade…not so much. Not one of my favorites. Call me a prude, but it’s just too sexy for me. Sexy to the point that it makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’ve since googled “Love Serenade” and it is on a bunch of sexiest songs of all time lists. Paste Magazine has it ranked as #9; Virgin Media has it at #6. It didn’t make Billboard’s 50 Sexiest Songs of All Time list…but what do they know? They have Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” at #1. Please..no way. I don’t think “Physical” is very sexy at all…it doesn’t make this prude the least bit uncomfortable.

But I digress…Back to Barry.

“Love Serenade” didn’t make it on to Billboard’s sexy song list, but for purposes here we are going to have to agree to agree that Barry White’s “Love Serenade” is indeed a very sexy song.

Except for the day I heard it on the way to the office.

The music starts…and that velvet voice comes through the speaker…

“Take if off, Baby, take it all off.”

It must have been those real estate to do’s on my mind…because as Barry is singing to me to get naked, “take it off, Baby, take it all off”, I’m not thinking sexy, I’m thinking wallpaper.

Specifically wallpaper hanging in a house that someone wants to sell.

I get to giggling thinking about listing appointments I’ve been on where the house has all kinds of wallpaper, and the way I try to really kindly, politely tell sellers the wallpaper needs to come down. I explain that buyers aren’t going to love the Waverly Ivy and they are not going to want to go through the hassle and expense of removing it. I tell them that if a buyer will even consider a house with wallpaper,  they will probably discount the house by more than it would cost the seller to have it taken down and have the room(s) painted the latest shade of greige. Yes I agree with them, someONE might love Waverly Ivy as much as they do, but in general, buyers do not respond positively to wallpaper. I get the message across, but it’s not the easiest of conversations, so I dance around it some. So as “Love Serenade” plays, I’m giggling thinking,  I dance around  but Barry sings it like it’s got to be…

“Take it off, Baby, take it all off.”

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The truth is, buyers won’t be singing a love serenade about a house with wallpaper. And truly, who says it better than Barry?

Because I always have real estate on the brain nearly everything reminds me of or brings me back to real estate…even music. Since “Love Serenade” every song I  hear somehow has something to do with real estate. I’m no music connoisseur but I think I might have a playlist. Amy’s real estate playlist…so more to follow.

In the meantime…if you want to sell your house, and it’s wearing wallpaper…

Take if off Baby, take it all off.

 

 

 

 

 

“How Do I Look?” “What Do You Think?” Do You Really Want To Know?

 

My daughter Joanna has that killer combination of complete honesty and willingness to say exactly what she thinks.

Admirable qualities? I think so.

Admirable, but not painless. I’ve been on the receiving end of her brutal truth-telling…

Me…showered, make-up on, hair done, dressed in a very carefully chosen outfit, ready to walk out the door, see Joanna, strike a pose and ask…

“How do I look?”

“What do you think?”

And what does Joanna say??

“You look nice mom, but you’re kinda getting fat, you really need to start walking or going back to Weight Watchers, and don’t scowl I can see all your wrinkles.”

OUCH!

I would have much rather heard…

“You look great Mom, it’s hard to believe you’re 50, you don’t look a day over 30, and damn you look good in those jeans.”

Yeah, that’s what I’d want to hear…but it wouldn’t be the truth.

Truth is, I did look nice, but I’ve also gotten about twenty pounds too chubby, and I don’t scowl but I do sometimes squint, and when I do, you really can see all my wrinkles.

Even though it can be painful, given the choice between hearing what I want to hear and hearing the truth…I’m picking truth.

Establishing where you stand on the “hearing what I want to hear –truth” spectrum is important when you’re looking to sell your house.

When you’re ready to sell and begin the process with selecting an agent, the “listing appointment” or ‘agent interview” eventually ends up being an invitation to answer the same questions I asked Joanna…

“How do I look?”

“What do you think?”

It starts out easy enough…We agents arrive at the appointment eager to meet you. We want to develop rapport, build trust, demonstrate our expertise. We come wanting to learn more about you the seller, we want to know why and when you want to move. We want to hear what you’ve loved most about your house, and what you’ve liked the least. We’re willing to let you show us every nook and cranny, we smile when you show us the pull out shelves in the pantry and we make a note when you tell us that you bumped out the family room an extra eight feet. It’s a lovely visit, all rainbows and unicorns, but eventually the questions need to be answered…

“How do I look?”

“What do you think?”

The listing appointment is often the first meeting between the seller and the agent.   No agent wants to tell someone they’ve just met the “house” version of…”You look nice mom, but you’re kinda getting fat, you really need to start walking or going back to Weight Watchers, and don’t scowl I can see all your wrinkles.” No agent wants to tell a seller that their house is worth less than the seller was thinking it was worth. No agent enjoys giving a seller a list of things to do to get the house ready for the market.  No agent wants to say anything that the seller doesn’t want to hear.

But it’s important that they do!

When you’re interviewing agents it’s easy to be lulled into believing what you want to hear. It’s easy to be lulled by the agent that tells you your house is worth the most. Easy to be lulled by the agent that tells you your house is perfect just as it is and you don’t have to do a thing.  But here’s the thing…hearing everything you want to hear isn’t going to get your house sold for top dollar any more than Joanna telling me “damn you look good in those jeans” is going to make me twenty pounds leaner. And if the agent you’re interviewing isn’t telling you some things you don’t like hearing, you’d be wise to wonder if the agent wasn’t erring on the side of telling you what  they think you want to hear over telling you what you need to know.

The truth is… sellers almost always think their house  is worth more than the market will bear and nearly every house needs to be tweaked if it’s going to get top dollar. The reality is…appropriately priced homes well prepared for a demanding market sell quicker and for more money than those that aren’t.

The best agents I know “err”. But they err on the side of sound advice over rapport. They err on the side of evidence over finger-crossing. They err on the side of market education and preparation over wanting to get your listing.  The best agents will answer the questions  “How do I look?” , “What do you think?” with the same brutal honesty that Joanna would.

Choosing an agent to assist you with the sale of your home is no easy thing. There are so many to choose from. My advice to you…line up some interviews, enjoy the visits and when it comes time to hear the answers to those two important questions…even though it might be painful, be open to hearing what you don’t want to hear!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Already Fashionably Late…Hurry Up and Get Here!

Over the last two months or so I’ve listed a bunch of properties…several of them have already gone under contract and will be closing soon.

But I also have several clients that are not quite ready. They’re painting a wall, loading a POD, waiting for school to let out, waiting to open the pool, they’re making piles for the consignment store, Goodwill and the garbage can. They’re almost ready and their homes will make their entrance to the market soon.

It reminds me of a party and the guests that always arrive fashionably late…you know how it is…most of the guests have arrived and many are already enjoying themselves…they’re visiting and laughing, dipping into the hors d’oeuvres. And then there are the guests that are just sort of milling around and asking…”When are Jill and Bob coming?”, “Did they say what time they’d get here?” Or “Did you talk to Kim and George?” “Are they on their way here?” For those milling around guests the party hasn’t started until everyone has arrived.

As I listen to the birds happily chirping and see the crabapple tree on the verge of blooming it’s clear that spring is here. And because properties, (when priced and presented well), are “flying off the shelves” and going under contract quickly, I’m convinced the spring market is well underway!

And just like the party with the guests who are already having a good time, many spring buyers have already found their new home, and they’re just munching on hors d’oeuvers until the closing date. But like the guests that can’t enjoy the party until everyone arrives, there are buyers still waiting to see all the new properties the spring market will bring.

So…to my soon to be seller clients and anyone else that’s still prepping their house or thinking about selling this spring…

Pack up the POD, finish the wall, open the pool and get that stuff dropped off to Goodwill.

You’re already fashionably late! Just hurry up and get here…for some…the “party” can’t start without you.

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!

 

Home Staging…I’m a Believer by Amy Curtis

I’ve had a conversion of sorts. Nothing road to Damascus like, nothing quite that dramatic or life changing, but a conversion nonetheless. A conversion that does have an impact on the work that I do in helping clients sell their homes.

It’s home staging. I’m a recent home staging convert. A new believer.

Home staging has been around for years. Statistics show that staged homes sell quicker and for more money than homes that are not staged. A quick google search provides an avalanche of statistics, information and evidence of the benefits of home staging, and yet, I remained unconvinced. I remained uncompelled to embrace home staging and incorporate it into my services to sellers.

Why? How could this be?

I’d always thought there was something a little disingenuous about “staging” a home. The connotation of the word…stage…as in “stage” a play, or “stage” a crime. Stage is a performance, it’s not real life, it’s not the real thing. Something about the sound of it always made me think of it as an attempt to pull the wool over a buyer’s eyes, and the idea of that just never sat well with me.

And too, “staging” sounds like a big production, a big expensive production and who wants to get involved in that? When someone has decided to sell their home, they’re kind of done with their house. If there’s time and money to be spent, most sellers would rather spend it on the next house, the new house, not the house they’re trying to get rid of. So, staging as a production just never made sense to me either.

But I’ve changed my mind, I’m a believer.

It’s happened gradually and over time. It’s happened because of the homes I’ve seen and sold. It’s happened because of the homes I’ve seen that never seem to sell. It’s happened because I’ve found a really good home stager. It’s happened because I’ve seen up close and in person the difference staging can make.

In practice, staging needn’t be a big production. In practice, there is no pulling the wool over the buyers eyes. Home staging is simply the last important step in preparing a home for the market, because staging is the process through which a house is separated from its seller and introduced to its new owner. The “staged” home is a home in the midst of its “conversion.”  A staged home allows the buyer to become a “believer” that they’ve found their just right for them home.

Home staging…I’m a believer…Are you?  I welcome your thoughts.

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!

Getting Ready for the Market

So, you want to move.

Recent news seems to say that this is the time. There are real buyers out there, and this year can be the year to make it happen. Nothing stands in your way.  Nothing that is, except the daunting task of getting your house ready to put on the market.

Getting your home ready can seem like “eating an elephant.”  Every room needs work, every closet needs purging, stuff for a garage sale, stuff for Goodwill, things to pack, things to give away, painting and caulking, cleaning and decluttering…yep…it’s like eating an elephant!

But as the saying goes, “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” (Creighton Abrams)

It’s a big job, but let me suggest…take that first bite…start with your refrigerator…

 

 

 

Keep biting…you’ll get there!

The spring market awaits!!

 

 

 

 

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