Giving Thanks

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thx“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” W.T. Purkiser

The leaves are all but gone and the snow has made its first appearance. Whether we like it or not we are facing down the holiday season with a kick-off next Thursday: Thanksgiving.

Bring on the turkey and sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie and parades and football games and food comas! I like Thanksgiving the best out of all of the end-of-the-year festivities because it’s centered around more than gifts and rushing around and feeling frazzled by the time December 31st gets here. It’s about remembering all that is good in what feels like an increasingly stressed out society, and spending time catching up with family and friends with whom we don’t usually get to share time with, much less a meal.

I imagine almost everyone has at least one moment when they find themselves quietly taking stock and realizing that there’s a lot more good stuff than bad stuff. All you have to do is look at your Facebook news feed to see all the daily grateful posts throughout the month of November to know that lots of us are taking stock and coming out in the black.

So in the spirit of thanksgiving, I want to make my own list – from an agent’s point of view. Here goes (not in any order of importance):

1. I’m thankful for the ability to do a job I love every day – it can be one of the most frustrating jobs at times, but in the end it is the most fulfilling.

2. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work in an agency where teamwork and camaraderie are the norm.

3. I’m thankful for my clients – their confidence in me inspires me to work hard to exceed their expectations, and I appreciate that they recognize that what I do for them isn’t just about the commission check.

4. I’m thankful for the people who told me when I got my license that most new agents don’t last a year in the business. They keep me striving every day to prove to them that I’m not one of those agents.

5. I’m thankful for the rough days – they make the end results that much sweeter.

6. I’m thankful for amazing mortgage loan originators – their hard work makes my hard work pay off.

7. I’m thankful for the awesome title companies that dig for those property titles – the peace of mind they provide is priceless.

8. I’m thankful for my brokers – they are amazing bosses, and they have a wealth of knowledge that I am lucky to draw from in a pinch.

9. I’m thankful for my “Circle of Influence” – the fact that so many of them are dropping my name (in a good way!) when the topic of real estate comes up is so personally rewarding for me. Thanks for remembering me!

10. And last but not least, I’m thankful that my family has been so supportive of what I have to do that leaves them with late-night dinners, last-minute substitute kid pick-ups, and muting their favorite TV shows while I take business calls at home. If they are annoyed, they hide it well. I love them for putting up with my crazy schedule!

It’s so easy to have a bad day and grumble about this or that, but I love the opportunity to share these – it’s good to remember that I have so very much to be thankful for. If you haven’t had a “gratitude moment” this month, I hope maybe I’ve inspired you to take a look at your own personal “life ledger”. What kind of awesomeness will you find to be thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving!

S.

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“Haunted Houses”

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“All houses wherein men have lived and died                                                                Are haunted houses. Through the open doors                                                            The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,                                                        With feet that make no sound upon the floors.”

“Haunted Houses”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is my favorite time of year. Fall is beautiful and the sweater weather is absolutely my cup of tea. It’s busy enough to keep us from getting bored, but the hustle and bustle of the holidays hasn’t quite set in yet.

There’s just something about the rapid change of seasons that occurs once the leaves turn on their color show and the fog that falls in the ever-quickening evening that has an other-worldly feel. It seems like just about anything could happen. Maybe even something a little scary.

And I love a good scare. I try to plan my schedule around scary movie marathons, and pull out my favorite Stephen King books to keep me from putting my feet out from under the covers at night. I never feel so alive as when I’m listening for something to go  “bump in the night”. My mom always said “It’s no wonder you’re afraid of the dark,” and to be honest, I still kinda am.

Every so often, we agents circle our chairs and have our own version of campfire tales – we tell stories of strange happenings we have had or heard of over our time showing homes. It’s usually pretty mild, and we have a good laugh at ourselves for jumping at what can usually be written off as a crooked foundation or faulty wiring.

Occasionally, the odd story will come out about a home that people won’t buy due to strange occurrences and that’s where the conversation gets tricky. The question always comes up as to how we should handle a “stigmatized property”. There’s at least one in every community, and when it comes up on the market in a small town where everyone knows everyone, it’s hard to de-stigmatize it.

I love a good scary story, but trying to convince someone to give a property a chance when they’ve heard tales about the house that give them shivers is down-right terrifying. When the buyer is aware that someone passed away in the home, you can see them looking gingerly around every corner lest they run into the former owner guarding their turf.

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By law we are obligated to disclose a death if it’s been within the past three years. Some states have laws requiring that you disclose hauntings as well, though some state that the haunting has to somehow physically affect the property before needing to be disclosed. As an agent, there’s no firm answer on how to handle the other situations that aren’t covered by law and the code of ethics. All we can do is be honest, and be sensitive to the seller’s and the buyer’s feelings. If we’re lucky, we find that buyer who is totally onboard with a haunted house, and all the goosebumps that go with it.

“We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.”

I think that all houses that have previous owners are haunted – not necessarily by a ghost, but by it’s history. The lives and memories of the people who came before. This is not a bad thing, it’s just the little pieces that people leave when they move on to something else. And really, we can’t take it with us – we can only hope to leave a little something awesome behind us when we go.

Could you co-habitate with unseen roommates, or would you run for the hills?

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

S.

Is Your Agent Connecting?

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This is the age of technology, in case you hadn’t heard.

The business world moves at much faster pace, and clients have come to expect things to move as quickly as they do. With smartphones in most agent’s hands, this is a reasonable expectation and the majority of us are able to do a good part of our work without ever having to step foot in the office.

But. There are some agents who refuse to enter the 21st century, and I have to question this decision. Is it more than just bad business to be so disconnected? Is it bad ethically?

I recently worked with an agent who does not use email or a cell phone, and only randomly checks their voice mail throughout the day in the office. If you didn’t reach them before 5, you would be out of luck. I understand that there was a time that business was conducted this way in my field, but it hasn’t been that way for quite some time. I would have thought that at some point these agents would have at least gotten themselves an email address – even if they only had their assistants check it for them.

How can we conduct good business and supply our clients with our very best service if we are unavailable to them and potential buyers and sellers? I feel that it truly is a question of ethics when an agent refuses to maintain some level of training to stay current with business trends.

I don’t believe that we should have to be available to our clients 24/7. We have lives, and should be able to live them. But things happen, and usually they happen quickly and need even faster resolutions. If agents aren’t making themselves available to the unexpected in this business, the clients will suffer as a result.

Would you see a doctor who relied on an old x-ray machine to diagnose a brain tumor? Or how about a financial planner who never used the internet to stay up-to-the-minute on the daily trading? Maybe you would like to have to make an appointment to visit your attorney every time you wanted to get information to them quickly?

Our clients expect us to be able to give them an answer to their questions quickly. They expect to have their offers and counters responded to within the allotted amount of time. This isn’t always happening when an agent refuses to get on the same playing field as everyone else.

Say what you will about there being nothing wrong with the “old ways”, and that “a good agent doesn’t need all those bells and whistles”. All those “bells and whistles” can only enhance the ability of a good agent, and not having them can make a good agent fall short when it comes to working to get the absolute best for their client.

I would love to get some feedback here, so I have to ask – would you work with an agent who has cut themselves off from the world of technology? And why or why not?

S.

Staring Down a Deadline…

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The end-of-summer winds make people restless. ~Sebastian Faulks
So here we are and it’s the end of July.
How is it the back side of summer already?
It’s been a busy one, to be sure, and the weather here in Ohio hasn’t exactly been particularly lovely until this past week when all of a sudden we were thrown into the middle of a heat wave. But it always seems to me that once we pass the all the pomp and circumstance of the 4th of July, the clock ticks faster and summer is all but over.
This morning I opened up my email to find messages from my youngest daughter’s school regarding athletic sign-ups, school supply lists and uniform regulations – so the preparations for fall are about be begin in our house. The school supply shopping, with the smell of brand-new pencils and paper and folders and backpacks; and the new uniforms that haven’t been worn to pieces on the playground. All the things that get the kids excited before they realize that this also means early mornings, early bed times, and the always dreaded homework.
It also means that the buyers who wanted to be settled in before school started are truly on a deadline now. (And by that I mean there’s a good chance they won’t make it by then…)
You see, house sales are on a yearly schedule for many people. They want to be settled by summer, by the time school starts, and before the holidays. Obviously, we’ve passed the first deadline, but the second is looming large before us.
It’s been a rough summer for buyers in Tiffin. Homes come up on the market and are just as quickly put under contract. If you aren’t ready to sign on the line at first sight lately, you missed your opportunity. Good houses just don’t last long enough for a second viewing.
If you find you are working on buying and closing before school starts, you must have your ducks in a very, very neat row. Get your pre-qualification and work closely with your lender – get them everything they need within one business day and check in with them regularly. Be ready with your must-have list and ready to adjust it if you find the home you love that doesn’t have everything on the list. Work with an agent who is ready with a pen when you are. Get a list of inspectors and keep it at hand so you can schedule your inspections as quickly as possible.
It’s not impossible to make the deadline – but you’ll need to be ready when the opportunity comes!
In the meantime, I’ll be dreaming of freshly sharpened pencils and new school shoes…
S.

Anchors…

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I hate rejection.
I understand that in general people do, but I feel like maybe I hate it more than most.
In my personal life I find that I have spent a great deal of time putting up walls to protect myself from it – to distance myself from others in such a way that there is no room for rejection so I don’t have to deal with the emotional carnage associated with it. Unfortunately, in business it is a fact of daily life. My job is based on offers that are either accepted, countered or rejected.
In order to avoid rejection, we try to negotiate between buyers and sellers.
As an agent, I’m in charge of the process, not the decisions. This means that I can only negotiate as far as the decisions made by the buyers and sellers will allow. A good part of the time, both are motivated by the need to move forward and will make their decisions based on this need. But sometimes, the need is not great enough on either side to reach a place where both parties feel that they have given, taken, then agreed on a common ground.
This is where the anchors are dropped, where negotiation ends and rejection begins.
If one party puts down an anchor and chooses to stand firm, they are asking that the other party cover all the ground between. In effect, you are asking them to feel taken advantage of. Occasionally, the second party is well-motivated and will cover the ground because their need is greater than their desire to be reciprocated. But in general, standing firm only leads to frustration and an anchor being placed on the other side. There can be no negotiating here. The space between becomes a barren land where nothing good can happen for anyone.
Sure, you can try to wait it out. Sometimes people with little motivation become people with a lot of motivation due to a change in circumstance given enough time. However, I am reminded daily that we are no longer in a “buyer’s market”. Twice in the last three weeks I have had a client who was seriously interested in a home that had just come on the market, but chose to wait and see because it couldn’t really sell that fast, then lost it the next day. If you aren’t willing to do what it takes to buy what you think is “the house” for you when you have the opportunity, then this isn’t “the house”. Just walk away and keep looking because you are now running the risk of it becoming “the house” for someone else.
There are many who believe that negotiations need to be based on a hardline. That one side has to win in order for negotiations to be successful. This is not what I do. This is not what I should do. Successful real estate negotiations are only truly successful when everyone walks away feeling as though their need was met, if not in full then at least as much as possible.
Negotiating real estate is not like negotiating a price for shipping, or the cost of a new appliance or car. The phrase “It’s business, not personal” has very little bearing with the large majority of buyers and sellers. Negotiating real estate is negotiating emotions, memories, time spent with loved ones in a place that holds meaning to at least one of the parties in most cases. This means that both parties need to be ok with the outcome or there will be no outcome.
Just anchors and rejection – and if you have tied yourself to an anchor, the only way to swim is to cut yourself loose.
S.

(For the record, Alec Haggerty is a pretty amazing RE coach and I have to give him a quick “Thanks!” for helping me find the words for my thoughts. I’m grateful everyday for the wisdom he shares with us “new-timers”!)

How’s Your Score?

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This week I made a quick trip to one of the local department stores. I was on a mission – I needed a second patio umbrella and they had exactly what I was looking for at a darn good price.

I would have been doing well if I had just walked straight in, took the umbrella, paid for it and left. Unfortunately I also had to walk by the shoe department, and there was this adorable pair of stilettos that drew me in. By the time I left I had picked up a few more things than I had bargained for, but still managed to keep my purchases to a respectable level.

As I approached the cashier, I was greeted with the customary smile and “Did you find everything ok today?” to which I replied that I had. Suddenly, she stopped and looked at me and said “How would you like to save an additional twenty percent today?”

Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Of course, there’s a string or twenty attached to that. All you have to do is sign up for their store credit card. Sounds simple, but I had to decline. As an informed buyer I realize that the twenty percent I save today could possibly cost me thousands of dollars in the long term.

Now, I’m not going to lecture today about responsible credit use – that is a conversation for a credit advisor, which I am not. I am, however going to give you a little information to help you understand how these “deals” at the checkout can end up costing you when it’s time to make a big purchase.

I have a dear friend who loves to shop on Black Friday. She gets up before the sun to hit as many stores as she can before 5pm. And every time someone asks her to open a credit card to save ten or twenty percent she jumps on it so she can save even more. Then she pays the card off and closes the account (another no-no, by the way.) Then she spends the rest of the year rebuilding her credit from all the little dings she took the day after Thanksgiving.

When you apply for a credit card – regardless of whether it’s through a mailer or a retailer, your credit score takes a deduction of three to five points. If you are approved and you open the account, you could take up to another 10 points off of your credit score. So let’s say your credit score is 760. If you do this one time, you have potentially knocked it down to 745. As of June 27, 2013, a credit score of 760 would get you an interest rate of 4.106%. On a loan amount of $300,000 your house payment would be $1,451. If your score dropped just those 15 points, you are now at an interest rate of 4.328%, taking your payment to $1,490. Over a 30 year mortgage, you just paid an extra $1,170 in interest. If you do this six times over a year, now you’ve knocked your score to 670, and you’re taking on an interest rate of 4.719% and a payment of $1,559. Now over thirty years, you are paying an extra $3,240.

$3,240 over thirty years. That might not sound like much to you, but it looks like a much needed vacation to me. Or a semester of room and board for my kid at college. I’m sure you could come up with a better way to spend it as well. So you can see why it’s not necessarily a great idea to save twenty dollars now unless you know you have the time to build it back up before a big financial decision.

You have to have some credit in order to build a good credit score, but you have to be smart in how you go about it:

  • Have a credit card, even two, but keep your balance low or non-existent.
  • Make your payments on time every time. 
  • Choose your cards wisely – make sure that they are working hard to keep you through customer loyalty rewards and frequent perks such as an additional discount or regular coupons.
  • If you find that you have already dug yourself into a bit of a credit pit, get help. Credit counselors are ready and able to help you find your way back to a happy score, and with a little time and hard work on your part, you can get there!

    And don’t let those cashiers talk you into a higher interest rate…

    S.

    Letting Go of the Apron Strings…

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    apronsI love my parents.
    They have been there for me through the thick and the thin, during my rebellious teenage years as well as my considerably more sedate adult ones. I shudder to think where I may have ended up if they hadn’t always given me a place to land while I was flying in my own sky, and thankfully I’ve never had to find out.
    One of the things that I appreciate most as I have grown into the woman I am today is the way that they always tried to lend an opinion, an offer to help, but didn’t always expect that their hopes and dreams for me would always necessarily transfer into my reality. This has given me the freedom to find my own path, and I am grateful.
    But there have been moments when my own decisions were colored by my need to not disappoint them, but somewhere around the time I hit my thirtieth birthday I made the conscious effort to make my all of my decisions based on my own family’s needs rather than as their child (which even at thirty I was still occasionally wont to do). That was the moment we went from parent/child to more of a respectful adult relationship and the results have been lovely.
    One of the more recent concerns that I have heard from agents regarding buyers lately is something I call the “Apron String Syndrome”.
    I’m sure you can imagine the scenario: Young adults going through houses with their agents and their parents. But it’s not the buyer that’s making the decisions here, whether consciously or subconsciously…
    Now, please don’t misunderstand me – parents are a VERY valuable tool for the first time home buyer. They have been there before and have a wealth of information to share. I am always happy to see parents come along for a tour.
    The problem is when the client loves the property but mom and/or dad do not, for whatever reason. Even as adults, it’s difficult to make choices that will disappoint our parents – you know, the people who clothed, fed, kept us warm and dry and loved and safe for all those years? Unfortunately, parents often are so comfortable in their role that they pass on those silent cues to their kids even as adults. And occasionally, the cues are far from silent.
    When shopping for a home as a first time buyer, trying to decide what you want is hard enough. Now let’s add the looks and sighs and pregnant pauses from mom and dad. Guilt is second only to fear as a motivator, and this buyer is moving on to the next property without properly evaluating this one based on their own wants and needs.
    If you are looking for “the house” and you plan to bring your parents (or parent figures) along, I have some suggestions for you:

    • Ask your parents to give you some space while going through the house and hold all comments until after the showing. This gives you a chance to take it all in and make some evaluations based on your thoughts and feelings about the home rather than cues you are taking from them.
    • Visit the property without them on the first trip, then invite them along for the second showing if you feel you are interested in the home. I would encourage you to see a home more than once prior to making an offer in most situations. A second trip is a great opportunity for them to take it in and offer their thoughts.
    • If you have particularly over-bearing or over-protective parents, and you’re feeling brave, you might sit them down prior to showings and have a chat. Tell them that you want and value their opinion, but they need to let you make the decision on your own. If they don’t feel that they can participate in the search in a constructive way, perhaps they should wait and help in other ways like decor and landscape decisions, or how to make the best use of the basement or garage. (It helps if you take them to dinner or offer them a cocktail before starting this talk, fyi…)

    Family is an amazing, fierce thing. For most of us, it’s stronger than iron and more fragile than china. We walk a fine line every day with the ones we love, but this line needs to be walked if you are going to make such a big decision based on your wants and desires and needs instead of what your parents feel you need.
    Cut the apron strings, my friends… and know that I have your back!
    S.

    Desperately Seeking Clarity

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    I wonder sometimes if I’m not as concise as I should be.
    When I am trying to get my point across, it seems that my brain often works at a faster pace than my mouth or hand can keep up with. Most of the time I think the majority of the “good stuff” I want to say gets left in my head. (This is particularly true of arguments with my husband – if we originally could have had the argument that plays out in my head after I go to bed at night I feel confident that I would always, ALWAYS, come out the winner. I do my best negotiation at 3 a.m.)
    It seems that too often communication between agent and client gets a little cloudy.

    Things always start off well:
    Client: “This is what I want.”
    Agent: “This is how we’ll get it for you.”
    Client: “Right on – let’s do it!”
    Seems pretty clear, right?
    Let’s check back three months later:
    Client: “That’s not what I want – why are we doing that? This is what I want.”
    Agent: “It is? I thought you wanted that.”
    Client: “I never said I wanted that. Show me where I ever said I wanted that.”
    Agent: “I’m sorry I must have misunderstood your original intentions. What do you want?”
    Client: “Well, actually, I want this AND I want that.”
    Agent: “Ummm… Ok. This is how we’ll get it for you.”
    Client: (long pause) “Ok, I guess…” or sometimes “Sorry, you blew it.”

    Agents can document all day long and clients can say whatever they want. It doesn’t change the fact that when it’s all said and done people’s plans and attitudes change. It’s natural and to be expected. Unfortunately, it’s so often not communicated until there’s a problem.
    In real estate it’s so, so important to keep a constant line of communication open between client and agent. As your needs and wants change so will our game plan. If you keep us out of the loop, well, you can imagine what happens to the loop…
    It’s best when working with an agent on the sale or purchase of a home that you speak to them frequently (which is easier when on the house hunt than when you are listing your home, but even more important in a listing situation.) But beyond that, as your journey progresses towards the sale you need to have a regular “heart-to-heart” with your agent. Clear the air of any confusion, re-state your goals to be sure that you are both on the same track.
    Let me be clear: We want what you want! So make sure that we know just what that is…
    S.

    Losing the Labels

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    PigeonsSpring is the season of the first-time home buyer.
    Well, technically that’s not exactly true, but for me, this year, I have been hanging with the property virgins.
    I love it – I would have to say that they are my favorite type of buyer. The excitement they show when they have their plans laid out in front of them and they aren’t jaded by past experiences with bad properties or over-extended agents keeps my RE mojo up, and for that I am sincerely grateful.
    I have been working specifically with three different couples: one married, one engaged, and one just in love and loving the adventure together. All first timers. And their experiences have been as varied as their relationships.
    One of them looked at two houses and knew. Just knew and jumped in with both sets of feet.
    Another looked at several houses with a very specific idea of what they both wanted in mind, then finally settled on one that felt right to them.
    As for the last, well, they’ve tried to jump, but haven’t landed on solid ground yet. So they continue to search, not 100% sure what they are looking for but they will know it when they see it.
    Three buyers, all under the same “label”, could not be any more different.
    Such is the danger of trying to peg buyers as one kind or another. It’s easy to try to group them together and market one way to one “type” of buyer and another way to a different “type”, but it’s not the best way to provide great service to our clients.
    The great thing about buyers is that there are as many types of buyers (or sellers, for that matter,) as there are people. Of course there are general ways to market and work with clients – our local, state and national board of Realtors have a very specific Code of Ethics that we as agents should abide by when dealing with everyone; but simply using one set of business skills for all clients is impossible for me if I want offer exceptional service. I have found that serving my clients in a very detached manner only makes my ability to serve them limited at best.
    It’s important when dealing with an agent you aren’t personally acquainted with that you provide them with a little about you. And be honest – we aren’t here to judge you for your personal or financial choices, just to guide you in the right direction. Frankly, we’ve heard and seen just about everything and we are on your side. Once you have given me some insight into who you are and what you need, I can start to personalize my service to meet your goals. I want my clients to walk away feeling like I was on the same page as them when it’s all said and done.
    So here’s the moral of my story: Don’t let your agent try to pigeonhole you. If they are, then maybe you should find someone who wants to look past the generalizations.
    You and your goals are more than a label.
    S.

    Here and Gone and Back Again…

    Ive-Missed-You-e1328636914974So…
    I’ve been away.
    Not really away, but busy.
    Selling real estate.
    In a crazy new market.
    When I began real estate classes at the very bottom of the market, our instructor asked us “When do you think the market will come back?”
    I was in a small class, with 5 ladies and 10 men. Our answers varied mostly along the lines of gender, with the ladies leaning towards 3-5 years and the men looking a little further out at 7-10 years, if ever. I don’t know that any of us were particularly optimistic at that point, maybe just hoping that by saying it would come back sooner would make it so.
    Fast-forward three years: the market is out-performing everyone’s expectations, with more gains expected yet this year. My office, which has only been in existence for one year, is rolling with the big boys and gearing up for bigger things yet.
    So, I’ve been away, busy.
    And it’s a good thing.
    But I miss this, and you.
    I promise to not stay away so long.
    Fill me in on you – what’s new in your world?
    S.