A Tale of Three Emails

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days, it was the Realtor® of wisdom, it was the Realtor® of foolishness, it was the new mom of belief, it was the new mom of incredulity, It was the Amish in light, it was the Amish in darkness, it was a corgi rescue with hope, it was a corgi rescue with despair…

I started my afternoon of Friday, the 25th of January, at a Committee Meeting at our local Real Estate Board. I’m on a committee responsible for slapping the hands of bad, foolish and incompetent Realturds. I’ve thankfully moved on from my three years of service on the Grievance Committee to the next level. How could anyone forget the Grievance Committee? That’s the one that turned my hair as gray as it is now.

Three of the most brain dead people in the world were on the committee last year. It was truly unbearable to be in the same room with them. They amused and infuriated me the most when they would announce that the entire time we were voting on a specific case - through 17 articles of our Code of Ethics and 100 some odd standards of practice, that they were voting on a different case than the rest of the room was voting on.

Here’s a photo from our last meeting.

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Back to today’s meeting. Because today’s meeting and this year’s Committee will be nothing like last year.

When I walked into the room I was greeted by a few dozen unfamiliar faces, at least one of whom thought it was a good idea to swim in a pool of cologne this morning. I choked through two hours of legalities. When I got bored, I made the mistake of checking my phone where I quickly learned that all hell was breaking loose in various corners of my world.

In my work email, I found this gem, addressed to me:

We have several questions in regards to the building / condo association and are hoping that you can help. It is our understanding that you are very familiar with the building and unit itself. Any insight will be greatly appreciated. 

1. Is this unit is a condo or coop? What are the %'s for both in the building (can affect financing)?
2. What does the HOA/Condo Association cover?  
3. Any special assessments in the last 5 years?
4. Any information about why some units went condo, while others stayed coop?
5. Can the purchaser install a washer/dryer within the unit?
6. Does this unit come with storage?
7. Is there an underlying mortgage for the Coop portion of the building?
8. What entity covers the cost of new windows?
9. Are there any financing restrictions?
10. Are pets allowed?

We look forward to receiving your response. Thank you!

That email was from another agent. I had a whole lineup of possible replies, to include:

  • Why the f*ck are you asking me? Do your job and find out yourself!;

  • Do you see the guy who works at Burger King being pulled from the line at McDonalds, where he was just trying to get some fries, man, and the McDonald’s guy asking him to jump behind the counter and cook the burgers for them while they sit there and collect their paychecks for his work? No? Good, don’t ask me to do that either.

  • #Loser

I told her I thought she had the wrong person. I gave her a chance to back away slowly. But, nope.

Have you listed and sold units within the building? We were informed by another agent that you had and that you were very familiar with the building... 

Is this bitch serious? Yes, let me go find the answers to these questions about your listing. I can’t wait to do your job so you can collect your commission! This time I was a bit more clear in my response.

You need to get this information from the management company or your client. It is not appropriate to ask another Realtor for this information who has no official role with the condo

She thanked me and told me to make it a great day!

Moving right along. Next up we’ve got my Yahoo email where all my Rue La La and various email subscriptions land. In that inbox is a post to one of the neighborhood mom message boards.

I am a single mother and I just gave birth , before this decision I have taught a lot and the only solution is to get the child a good ,caring and God fearing home. The child deserves nothing but the best and I will do everything in my power to see that the child is adopted . I don't care if you are single or married. I really want to bless a home out there who had not had the cry of a baby. I will really prefer a home where they have not had the cry of a baby or a home with a maximum one child looking forward for a second child. I am really sorry about my preference but I have made a lot of research about this. if you are seriously seeking to adopt, please send me a direct email.

I wrote to her because I couldn’t not write to her. Scam or not, I needed to go to bed tonight with a clear conscience. She hasn’t written back. But I’d totally take the baby. I mean, it’s not every day your neighborhood message board is offering a free baby.

Then I went to the rescue email. And this is where I find an email a woman just sent 20 minutes prior, that there’s a corgi at an Amish Mill Farm in PA that they are giving up. Here’s the thing with the Amish. When they say they are giving up a dog, you have to fire up your buggy right-that-very-second don’t-stop-to-pee because they can change their mind faster than electricity travels.

Ha ha. Oops. Those jokes never get old.

In all these conversations about said corgi, who has been bred over and over for puppies, who has been living outside when it’s below freezing, someone told me to buy one of their pies when I get there. Absolutely not. They may have infected it and I’ll catch their “I don’t give one iota about animals except for the money they can make for me” disease.

So, after spending the rest of my afternoon on the phone trying to figure out how to get this dog off this farm asap, finally I arrived home. Real Estate Dad was outside with the corgis. I bust out of the car with “I’VE GOTTA GET A CORGI TOMORROW IN PENNSYLVANIA AND I’M PICKING UP SOME CORGS IN FREDERICKSBURG IN THE MORNING AND I’M GOING TO BE DRIVING ALL OVER FOR THESE DOGS ARGH.” He’s used to having a manic wife. I chatted with him for a second, then walked up the stairs to our house when someone drives by and screams out the window “NICE ASS!” Real Estate Dad looked at me and I said, “I think they were talking to you.”

Time for this day to be over.

Where the Realtor Becomes the Client

I’m over this rain. It’s making everyone act like idiots. Today my work-wife and I were almost impaled by an umbrella some doofus was swinging around like Fred Astaire

This Real Estate Family was at the beach this past weekend because we had to finish off one of my crazy ideas from earlier in the summer. Flashback to June, as we are driving out to Rehoboth for our first beach weekend of the season. As soon as we started crossing bridges I said, "I'm in the mood to buy a house."

"Where?" Real Estate Dad asked. My parents had this condo in Florida when we were little and some of my best memories are sitting there at night, watching bad-Florida-cable and listening to the ocean. I said I'd be open to anywhere as long as we can hear the ocean.

We talked through coastal towns up and down the coast, ruling out places which were fated to be underwater in the next few decades or places that were too far to visit regular. Rehoboth for the win! Which isn’t bad news at all, three of us love it there. The other one of us loves Ocean City but we ain’t reliving your youth of trashy girlfriends and fleabag hotels, Real Estate Dad. So, the girls won this one.

The next morning we were looking at condos.

By noon we were writing a contract on a place which was so gross (to me) and in which I channeled my mother by saying, "This place is disgusting - It needs to be gutted." Real Estate Dad thought it was in good condition He’s either right and I’m a spoiled little brat, or he’s comparing it to his old Ocean City haunts.

Even though the place was on the market for a month and a half (a death sentence in DC,) there were somehow multiple offers. This apparently never happens in Delaware. They called for highest and best. Real Estate Dad and our agent suggested going to asking price. Pshaw. You people must be new here. You think I'm rolling over that quickly? I had a strategy, honed from working in this city of crazy. After I explained what I wanted to do, our agent said, "Wow, you are teaching me things, we never do this here." Real Estate Dad didn't want to lose the place.

Him: What if they have cash? It looks better if we offer full price.

Me: What if? Maybe they offered $100K less than we did.

Him: The sellers see the escalation though. They can just counteroffer a the max.

Me: That's not going to happen. They have to show the front page of the other contract. The escalation has to do its job otherwise the whole thing is bullshit.

We waited the rest of the day for a response. I wasn't mad. I wasn't on edge. I'd done this wait with clients before and while I know it's impossible to wait for a response from the seller, I also know that the more you contact them, the more desperate you seem. Real Estate Dad kept asking if I heard anything and I was like, Come on man, we gotta play it cool.

In the end, the sellers accepted our offer when the other offer capped out. We paid less than asking, we didn't waive the inspection, and we kept our financing contingency.

Throughout the entire negotiation and loan underwriting process, we were sort of astonished at how freaking slow people are. “Welllllp, this is lower slower Delaware.” Get it. Lower Slower Delaware. LSD. They even put it on bumper stickers.

It took 3 months to get this thing underwritten because we had to go through 3 different lenders. Each one would come back saying that the condo operates like a hotel and they couldn’t do the loan, whatever the hell that meant. Finally the loan was done and we went to closing.

Our agent was there and so was the listing agent. I liked her because she was playing with the girls. Then I stopped liking her real quick. I can turn on a dime like that.

Papers were signed, and everyone said “Congratulations!” Then we asked for the keys. Everyone looked at each other like, “Do you have the keys? I don’t have the keys.”

The attorney left the room and when he came back he foolishly handed the listing agent her commission check, first. And this my friends, is where the day took a dive.

Listing Agent: “This isn’t right.”

The lawyer sort of whispers. Then there’s math. Then there’s discussion about how she’s “capped out” at her company and she should be paid 100%.

The lawyer looks at us and says we don’t have to stay. We said we were waiting for keys to the house on which we just purchased. But we continued to watch this agent make a spectacle of herself. I texted our agent who was sitting right next to me and said, “Is she serious? I would never do this at the settlement table in front of clients.”

If she had a modicum of self-awareness she would have realized we were all shifting and whispering and she should have waited until we all left. But nope, she kept going.

She got on her phone. Lawyer said he will try to call to find the keys which was nice of him considering this isn’t his job. We thought she was calling to figure out who had the keys.

Nope. She’s calling her company to complain about how her commission check is wrong. Then she looks up as if we are going to agree or actually give a shit. She says, “I’ve maxed out at my company, I get 100% of my commissions.” Real Estate Dad is looking at her without a shred of sympathy and she still doesn’t get it. I mean, I’m sorry but if you’re doing so well that you maxed out your commissions at your multi-level marketing of a brokerage, then you really shouldn’t be hounding everyone for payment at the table. I’d like to think you can wait a couple days like the rest of us do.

We finally learned our keys were at an office across Rehoboth and we had to go fetch them ourselves. When we walked outside I said to Real Estate Dad, “This is why people hate us. This woman is why people hate Real Estate Agents.”

Museums "Off the Mall"

We definitely got a taste of spring this weekend. I was bopping around in the car, windows down, showing houses, rescuing corgis and playing outside with kids. It is weekends like the one we just had that remind me to be a tourist in my own city every now and again. It must have had the same effect on some out-of-town friends. Some of them began buzzing about their upcoming spring trips, coming to DC to see the cherry blossoms and do the tourist thing.

Photo by David Dibert

Photo by David Dibert

For the locals, the phrase "going to the mall" doesn't mean buying new jeans and hanging out with their friends. The mall is the place where Abe watches us and where our tax dollars go to work. Well, not all of our tax dollars considering the current government shutdown, but the rest of our tax dollars. What do I mean? The museums on the mall are Free. FREE! Did I say FREE? Perhaps this is why busloads of school kids dump off here all through March and April. As a junior high school kid, there was nothing I wanted to do less than go to a museum. But as an adult, sqeeee! Fun!!!!

If you are here for a while or want to get off the beaten path, there are a ton of museums -  some free, some costing a few bucks, but definitely worth a visit.

Folger Shakespeare Library
If you are a fan of Willie Shakes, this is the place to see. Hosting the largest collection of his written works, the Shakespeare Library is also home to the Folger Theatre which hosts Shakespeare inspired plays. Tours of the museum are free but operate on a schedule. Monday to Saturday at 11, 1 and 3 p.m. and Sundays at noon and 3. There are a number of other tour options that are available as well. Located on "the Hill" the Folger is at 201 East Capitol St NE. The location allows you to do the classic Brunch on the Hill before you go visit Willie.

Smithsonian Postal Museum
Stamp Geek? I won't judge. I married one. Though our toddler took care of his collection in one giant tear of destruction - literally a tear of paper that cost the equivalent of a semester (for her) at college. Good thing Real Estate Dad is chill because after wincing for a few minutes, he laughed. "Well, at least she had fun."

It's safe to say if she ripped my Guns N Roses VIP Tour Book or flushed Slash's guitar picks down the toilet, she probably wouldn't be here to tell about it, but, hey. To each his own.

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The Postal Museum is free, and it has all sorts of things besides stamps. There are exhibits that show how the mail influenced our lives and kept us connected, and exhibits about the transportation of mail and how that has evolved over the years. You can also learn about the oft-cited "Pony Express!" The Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, which probably doesn't mean much to you, but it's right next to Union Station. What that DOES mean is if you happened to be on some trip via train, and you had a train change here in DC, you don't have to go postal waiting for your connection. You could hop over to the Postal Museum for a bit to kill some time. (See what I did there?)

Newseum
This is a pretty relevant museum to check out in light of the current battle of politicians and journalists. It's no secret some journalists don't let the truth get in the way of telling a good story (looking at you Brian Williams.) No matter what side of the aisle you're on (or if you're in the back cracking jokes with me) there is a ton to see here. How freedom of the press and cutting edge journalism have shaped our lives is immense. Lots of ground to cover so don't wear stilettos. Extra Extra - They are open during the government shutdown! And they are currently offering a discount on their tickets which run $24.95 for adults but are now 15% off, running you a cool $21.21. The bonus is you get to enter a second day free!.

Holocaust Museum
Just at the end of 14th Street, after you pass the Mall and the Monument, and are just about to get to the bridge that takes you to Virginia, the Holocaust Museum is one of the last buildings on the right. The exhibits include artifacts, photos and video to retell the history of antisemitism and the impacts on populations of people. This isn't for the faint of heart, but the museum does have an exhibit for younger visitors - the retelling of the experience from a child's point of view. Bring your tissues.

National Building Museum
To a real estate chick like moi, this place is fun. It's right by the Courts in DC so if you've ever had jury duty, you've been here! It's not free, but at $10, it's almost free. The museum is really family-friendly - They have a cool play place for the kids which runs on an hourly schedule and a Play/Work/Build area where kids can toss around big foam blocks. They currently have a couple exhibits including "Housing for a Changing America" and "House and Home" which is about - you guessed it - what makes a house a home. There are some cool exhibits coming up as well - "Secret Cities" and "Evictions."

There are dozens more but we can cover those in a future installment. Right now, you have a lot to keep you busy!

 

 

 

Hackers are the New Silent Party in Real Estate

Also Published on The Huffington Post

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When you buy a home, there are three main parties who bring you through the process from contract to closing. One is obviously your agent. The second is your loan officer. They help you get the mortgage so you can buy the home. The third is the Title Company.

Well shoot, who’s that?

Most buyers are active in their search to hire an agent and loan officer. But hardly anyone ever knows who the Title Company is or how they play into the process. (Title Company, Settlement Agent and Escrow Agent are used interchangeably but they all refer to the same company.) They are responsible for running title to the property, ensuring that the property transferred legally and correctly from person to person and preparing the closing documents and deed to transfer ownership. They also collect and disburse money to/from the appropriate parties.

In the process all this money coming and going, hackers very slyly figured out how divert some of that cash into their accounts.

 

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

For decades, when buyers paid the deposit at the time of contract, it had been customary to write a check. Since checkbooks are about as popular now as princess phones, many buyers wire their funds instead. This is where hackers figured out a pretty perfect crime.

You’re the buyer. You receive an email from someone at the title company, introducing themselves as another point of contact, with wire instructions for your deposit. You wire the money to that account. And no one at the title company ever receives it. You actually wired it to a bogus account.

How is this happening that the hacker knows exactly when to email you during the appropriate point in your transaction?

We’re an industry that has moved online. It is a common daily occurrence for an employee at a title company to receive an email that says: “Attached you will find a contract for our new transaction.” Title Company Employee clicks the link, downloads the contract and the ball is set in motion for a new transaction. Except now not every single one of those emails is a legitimate contract.

Some of those emails with attachments now contain malware links. It can be an attachment. It can be a link within the email. It can be an unsubscribe link. Whatever it is, once downloaded, that software allows the hacker to infiltrate the user’s computer at the title company and see everything on which they are currently working. Then they can spoof emails to people actively engaged in a transaction asking them to wire funds to the account info in the email.

The buyers never realize this is not a legitimate employee and they wire their money.

And then it’s gone.

Local title companies report receiving multiple requests a day to download or click suspicious links. It has become almost impossible to discern which is legitimate and which is a hacker. The emails are in perfect English, there is no clue that would raise a red flag. The recipient would have no reason to believe they are about to send their money to a place where it will never be recovered.

How can we prevent this?

Old School, baby. We’re going old school. We have to do two things we thought we may not have to do anymore.

1) Pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. Call the Title Company and confirm the wire instructions. Do not use the phone number in the email. Google them yourself (at least I didn’t tell you to look it up in the Yellow Pages) and call the number you find for them.

2) Write a check and hand carry it to the Title Company or mail it to them.

As we take steps forward with technology there is always a pitfall to dodge. Until this is figured out, or until the hacker(s) are caught, (don’t laugh! The Nigerian Prince was caught last week!) we need to go back to the tried and true methods.

Now, go find your checkbook. It’s probably under your fax machine.

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What's Trending in Home Design for 2018

Also published on the Huffington Post.

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See ya later white kitchens, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out!

Various sources are calling the 2018 trends in home design and the white kitchen is allegedly falling out of favor. What are all the contractors in DC going to do? Dollars to donuts, I’m sure there are several million white cabinets sitting on various palettes, waiting to be delivered to one of the many homes being built or flipped in DC. There’s always a trickle-down effect with these things. Take, for example, how we actually got to this white cabinet phase in the first place.

HGTV first became mainstream around the early 2000’s, thereby coining that gem of a phrase: “house porn.” At that time, there was a specific lineup of kitchen choices. Remember black appliances and Uba Tuba granite that had to be sealed every year? Me too. I did love those wood cabinets though. Dark wood, light wood, made no difference to me. I shared an office with the woman who sold the options and upgrades at D.R. Horton and I could have listened to her discussing cabinetry and flooring choices for days.

Black appliances didn’t have so long a run, but wood cabinets ran the gamut from light to dark with neither being declared a winner. The truth was, the specific color choice of the wood was about personal preference. Where the trend came into play was with the style of the doors, which changed over the decade-plus. We saw raised-panel, partial overlay doors early in the trend and full overlay with more of a shaker or minimalist style.

Then one day, some brave soul knew it was time and they pulled the trigger on a white kitchen. There were definitely non-believers (me.) I was convinced I fell asleep and woke up in one of my mother’s Florida house hunting nightmares where she was looking for a clean white Florida kitchen. I was ready to get dinner by 5:00 to catch the early bird.

 

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I finally came around. Look, I admit it. It’s just like that time I worked at a certain lingerie store at the mall 25 years ago. I kept rehanging the same floral robes over and over for months. By the time there was just one left I was thinking, “Hmm, that robe with the pink roses all over it is pretty.” (It wasn’t.) Same thing applies here. Show enough homes with the white kitchen and suddenly you’re doing white in your own kitchen remodel. (I did) and walking out of houses that don’t have the white kitchen. (It was a very catchy trend.)

Enough of that.

Honorable mention for another thing going by the wayside is the “bar cart.” Bar cart? The only person I have known to have a bar cart was Don Draper.

So what’s trending in home design?

Well, by process of elimination…if white cabinets are out, what we have left is either wood or colorful cabinets. And yes, those are the things being shown in kitchen design now. It seems people will be taking a paintbrush to their cabinets and going all sorts of deep. Very bold colors are making the rounds – navy, greens, deep reds. And the light wood look is back.

 

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Another incoming trend worthy of a giant gasp is what’s happening in flooring. Hardwood floors are still safe, but there are other flooring choices garnering some attention. Zillow calls it “statement” flooring; HGTV went straight to “terrazzo.” (If you have totally turned off of HGTV the television channel, let me assure you that HGTV Magazine and the HGTV Website are pretty awesome.)

You can also see at that link above that HGTV shows a colorful kitchen in sage, as well as mentioning “statement ceilings.” I’m a fan but within reason. If anyone tries to pass off a popcorn ceiling as trendy, they will be in a lot of pain when I’m done with them.

[Important note: No contractor with half a brain cell will ever agree to remove the popcorn ceiling because of the intensive labor involved. They all just offer to put drywall up in place which is a stupid but “lesser of two evils” option in their eyes. After striking out with every contractor in town, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to do it myself. Just because I didn’t hire someone doesn’t mean I didn’t pay dearly. It cost 3 days and a broken back to get that popcorn ceiling down. They should be outlawed. I can’t even look at them without vomiting.]

HGTV curated their list from the Pinterest 100, which tracks trends in “saves.” HGTV also mention trends in oversized art, mixed metals and plants, as well as the “Spa Bathroom.”

Weren’t spa bathrooms always on trend?

Well, have at it peeps, there’s some cool looking house stuff coming down the pike!

Five Secrets to Identifying Sloppy House Flips

Also published on the Huffington Post

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We’ve all been there - walking around that gorgeous house that’s finally for sale. Months of construction, preceded by years of abandonment, preceded by decades of neglectful owners and it’s been spruced up and is ready for a new owner. As you exchange the winks and nods with your partner, or friend, or mom – whomever you brought with you for validation, you know this is the one on which you want to submit an offer.

Just as you’re about to fall asleep that night, as visions of Home Goods dance in your head, that little nagging voice asks if you’re sure. You don’t want to buy a money pit. Everything seems shiny and new, but how do you know that it’s been done right? How do you know that behind the walls there isn’t a tangled mess of improperly run electrical wire, waiting to ignite? How do you know that the toilet lines are draining into dedicated waste lines instead of tapped into the plumbing line?

Home Inspectors are amazing, awesome and necessary partners in the process of homebuying, but they don’t have x-ray vision. They can only see what they can access, and depending on what’s visible and what’s been covered behind drywall, you may not get the whole picture.

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This doesn’t mean you can’t get a true sense of how good a renovation this is, but you have to look and listen harder.

You will be involved in the process from the time you place the offer to closing. There are many stops along the way where you communicate with the seller via your agents. Pay attention here and really evaluate how the other side behaves.

1) Is their lockbox clearly marked, easy to find with nice new keys inside? Or is a rusted mess with keys from the 1960’s that barely work? Bad sign if they couldn’t even change out for new locks or invest in a legitimate lockbox instead of one of the basic combination boxes.

2) Are they involved during the marketing process and demonstrate overall pride of ownership? The best of the best will even be at their own open houses so they can respond to potential buyer’s questions or requests.

3) During the negotiation of your offer, are they generally easy to work with, forthcoming with information and willing and happy to answer questions? Or do they give you flip answers for things? I recently asked a seller’s agent where the light switch was for a closet light that was always on. When he replied, “magic,” I didn’t laugh. Turns out they never put in a light switch. Can it be fixed? Sure. But it’s an indication of corner-cutting.

4) Is the backsplash crooked? This makes me laugh because I have used this for years as the example to clients who are apprehensive about purchasing “flips.” During our initial consultation I always said, “Is a crooked backsplash an issue? No, but it indicates a lack of attention to detail.” All these years of this generic example and last month it finally happened – there was the sloppy backsplash in a flip my client loved! It would have been so easy to fix, but they didn’t. This indicates more corner cutting.

Unfinished Backsplash; Outlet should be GFI as this is next to the sink.

Unfinished Backsplash; Outlet should be GFI as this is next to the sink.

5) Is the house clean and staged? I realize this sounds a bit elitist here but in Washington DC’s Real Estate Market the stakes are high. If there are leaves swirling around on the floors, a thick layer of dust on the counters and you have to jump over abandoned construction equipment, this seller/flipper is not in control of their asset. What else have they turned a blind eye to or left to chance?

The more houses I see the faster I get at the game of “Find this house’s crooked backsplash.” You will also notice your skills sharpening if you pay attention and if your Real Estate Agent points these things out to you as your tour homes.

Hire a thorough Home Inspector known for detail and don’t be afraid to bring in additional consultants (structural, mold) to evaluate the home and the condition of the renovation.

Four Things to Do Now if You Plan to Buy a House This Spring

Also published on the Huffington Post.

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You are so close to that roasted turkey you can practically smell it. Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, you are looking so forward to this. Planning to enter the turkey-induced coma for the next several weeks, stopping at some holiday shindigs along the way, and landing at New Years sounds pretty good.

Not so fast.

Do you want to buy a house after the new year? Lots of people do. Those people will be your competition when it comes time. If you do a tiny bit of prep work now, you can alleviate your future crush of stress and get ahead of the competition so that when the houses are listed, you can respond quickly.

1) Find a Real Estate Agent

This one is the easy one, but it also takes a bit of time if you want to do it right. You’re going to be making what might be the biggest purchase of your life. You should ensure that your team has no weak links. There are plenty of agents out there but you don’t want to be stuck with one you have to replace mid-game. Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations, check online reviews, and make a short list. Then you should schedule times to chat, pre-holiday, when many agents are winding down for the year and gearing up for next year. You want to look for many things in an agent. Responsiveness, industry knowledge, strong negotiating skills - all of that is a given. But there’s also an element to this relationship that’s a non-tangible, as in, do you “click.”

2) Call a Lender

This is the scary one for a lot of people. But it’s so necessary. Most people wait until they see a house they love online before they make the agent and lender calls. But it’s often too late. How? Because remember all those other buyers who did their prep-work already? They’re ready to write an offer while you’re still lacing up your kicks to go to the open house. If you have the agent interviews mentioned in Step 1, ask them for their recommendations as they usually have contacts who close without a lot of hassle. You aren’t committing to anyone – just starting a conversation. Get their list of required documents that you will have to provide so that you can start looking for those now. And get a sense of what you need to do between now and purchase time. There may be a mistake on your credit report, it happens to all of us. It’s important to know now so you have time to fight it out with the credit agencies and get it cleaned up in time for spring.

3) Clean out Your House

I love throwing things out. I’m not sure why I had to read that tidying book to embrace how much I love throwing things out but it’s one of my favorite things. Don’t be shy in telling people now what your after-holiday plans are to buy a house and to not inundate you with fake wreaths or give your kids with more stuffed animals they don’t need. Just say no.

4) Call Mama

Or Dad. Or your Great Uncle Earl. And drop the hint that you’ll be buying a house. If they plan on giving you any gift money, now’s the time to pony up. Parental gifts are subject to less rules than receiving money from other relatives so it’s not as imperative to actually get the money in your account, but just know the amount that may be coming your way so you can figure it into your search. Typically, money from people other than Mom and Dad has to “season,” meaning, it has to be in your account for a specified time period. Otherwise, the lender will have to “source” the deposit, which means Great Uncle Earl has to provide proof that the money left his account and you have to show where it was deposited to yours. Poor Earl will spend an entire day at the bank and asking them for copies of his withdrawals, then to the post office to snail-mail them to you and they may not arrive in time for closing. Trust me on this. Unless it’s Mom or Dad, get the money from whoever is providing it, now.

I know, that last one is tough. If there’s anything I know it’s the complication wrapped up in families with money. But it will be more difficult to track later on, so have the tough conversation now.

Five Ways to Prepare Your House For Sale

Also published on the Huffington Post.

~~~~~

There are two seasons in DC Real Estate – Spring and the Holidays. Once “Spring” gets into swing, the Washington DC Real Estate Market continues unabated until the holidays. Since my house is awash in candy wrappers, and my mini-me’s have been on a week-long sugar high, I know we’re heading from Halloween right into the holiday season.

I am currently in planning mode for spring. Never mind that I’m still wearing flip flops. Never mind that the temperature has yet to dip below 60. Never mind that winter is still coming. My mind is on spring.

I hope I’m not the only one looking 3 months ahead right now. If you anticipate selling this spring, is there anything you can be doing besides planning your holiday menu, scrapping your holiday menu and booking a flight to Mexico instead of enduring the circus that is your extended family at the end of December? Well, yes! There ARE things you can be doing. And not, it’s not the usual bit about painting neutral colors and freshening up the landscaping.

Lucky for you, I like lists and I made one just for you.

1.Tell anyone who will be buying you holiday presents – don’t. I know, this doesn’t sound like the holiday spirit, but your main goal is to clean out the house so that it shows well. We need to tackle what you already have, but most important? Stop anything further from coming in. Shoot, I’m not planning to sell my house but today when I was talking to my parents I said, “Don’t buy the kids any stuffed animals please, I just sent three dozen out for donation.” (They won’t listen. They never listen.)
 
2.Split your house into manageable zones and tackle one zone each weekend. Be very critical of each item. If you haven’t used it, you don’t need it. If you haven’t worn it, you won’t ever wear it. Make a donation pile after each task and then move it to your car before anyone has a chance to retrieve one of the items from the pile and drop it back into rotation. (I know how this works. I am both child and parent of “they who will not throw anything away.”) Drop the items off at your local donation bin during the week. Every week. Gone. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Do it again next weekend with the next project area. Watch your house slowly become manageable!

 

3.Before you leave a project area, make sure it is tidy. Sure, you’ll have to do this again as we get closer to listing time. It’s unrealistic to think it will stay perfectly organized until February. But a bookshelf? Once that puppy is cleaned out and organized, it should stay that way. Unless your holiday parties are real literary ragers.
 
4.Consider hiring a home inspector. They can give you a critical rundown of the areas in your house that need attention. Some people will say this is a double-edged sword because once you have the report, an item has been disclosed to you and you then must disclose to any buyers. True, but anything serious you either already know about or should know about and it should be fixed anyway. We want to remove as many potential objections a buyer may have to not buy your house. If you hand them a report with most items marked as “fixed,” it may give them some peace of mind, even if you note that you didn’t fix some of the smaller issues. It’s more often the “not-knowing” that bothers buyers.
 
5.Take basic care of your house. Living with 22 dead track lights in a home of 38 total is ridiculous. (This once happened to me. Seriously. It was a very dark house.) Don’t let your house go on the market without changing the a/c filter and cleaning the caked-on dust off the vent. (So many people are guilty of this.) Do the little deferred maintenance projects because buyers can sniff these out in a heartbeat and will wonder what else you haven’t tended to.


If you work on the items on this list for the next 3 months, you will be in great shape to sell when spring arrives! If you want help, call me. I love throwing things out. Especially if they’re not my things.
Next week I’ll cover what buyers can be doing for the next few months to gear up for spring.

 
Also published on the Huffington Post.

Multiple Offers 2.0 - Part Deux

Also published on the Huffington Post

~~~~~

Let’s dive in because I know you’re chomping at the bit to figure out how to handle this property frenzy. You feel totally out of control playing a game where rules change all the time. A new property hits the market with no offer deadline. You quickly submit a great offer at the encouragement of the listing agent and get some mumbo jumbo which amounts to worse than a rejection. They want to hold until other offers come in. Now you have to wait through the weekend for the seller to have their open house, collect more offers and use those offers against you. What do you do, besides chew the insides of your cheeks off?

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Let’s review the options.

1) You think “Oh, okay, well I want this house so I’ll wait.”

2) You think, “I should have offered more, I’ll do that now.” And you re-submit hoping for an acceptance.

3) You think, “Eh, whatever. I’ll withdraw my offer and maybe resubmit in a few days.”

Option #1 isn’t a good strategy. In fact, it sucks. Being nice, flexible and patient will get you absolutely nowhere. Think about it - the listing agent has your offer in hand and holds the open house. People ask “Do you have any offers?” And the listing agent says “Yes, we’ve received an offer.” Now what happens?

Well, remember that old boyfriend you dumped who used to clip his toenails in bed with you and let the nails fly everywhere and not clean them up? Yes, him. You find out he’s got a new girlfriend and suddenly you want him back because he’s the one that got away and just seeing him with Suzie makes you realize that you love him so much? Yeah. That. Except this time, it’s YOUR offer that incites someone else to desire a property they were formerly indifferent about. Nothing makes someone want something more than when someone else also wants it.

Option #2 is also the sucks. Think about it. Even if you go high from the start or you bid against yourself to go higher when the first offer is rejected, at some point there’s a cross over into “too much money.” The seller sees how much you want to pay and they don’t read that number as the representation of your desperation plus the extreme lack of inventory. No, they read that number as “My stupid listing agent made me list my house too low, and it must be worth 18 million dollars so now I’m holding out for that. Step aside small potatoes, I’m holding the equivalent of goldmine here!”

What can you do about this? When you submit an offer to an agent who has no memorialized deadline and the seller does not accept, WITHDRAW YOUR OFFER. Do not allow yourself to be used as a pawn to drive the price up at your own expense. So you see, #3 was the right answer. It’s always the right answer.

What if you just can’t withdraw your offer? What if you want to take a chance and hope you have a reasonable seller who may just accept an offer on Day 1 and cancel the open houses, what should you do to improve your chances?

1) Write an offer higher than list price. I know, I know, I hate escalations and offering more than the seller agreed to accept. But since you’re submitting early and you’re the only offer, there is no escalation that would kick in even if you included one. Add some money to that offer and be prepared to waive your contingencies. Sorry. If this is something you can’t or won’t do, then do not go running out to look at properties on Day 1. You’re going to make yourself insane. Just don’t do it.

2) Deadline. Deadline. Deadline. And stick to it. Put a short window of time in which they need to respond or the offer is withdrawn, and stick to it. Time is not on your side here, don’t afford the seller the opportunity to “shop your offer.” This strategy obviously isn’t for the faint of heart or the emotional though. You have to be prepared to walk away otherwise your integrity is compromised. But at least you will know you didn’t cave in on all your principals. There will be another house, I promise.

 

Multiple Offers, 2.0

Also published on the Huffington Post

Forgive me Huffington Post for I have sinned. It’s been a really long time since my last confession. It’s an indication of just how busy things have been in DC, in Real Estate, and in life.

Nothing has equalized yet, party people. The insanity presented to buyers in the Spring 2017 DC Real Estate Market has continued right into summer, unabated.

It is time to revisit the Multiple Offer, 2.0. This topic is going to be split into a couple parts. We’ll spend the first installment revisiting the lay of the land and getting up to speed on where we are now and how we got here.

Prior to this year, the approach and handling of multiple offers by both buyers and sellers seemed to follow the same essential process: Property listed for sale on Thursday or Friday with the offer deadline in the listing notes. There was the obligatory Sunday open house and offers were due on Tuesday or Wednesday. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. This seemed to work well for the past several years. Everyone had the same information, knew what to do and by when they needed to do it.

Last Fall (2016) there was a definite slowdown in the market. It was a bit surprising, but in a city with all eyes on the Election and subsequent craziness, the collective yawn was the best we could do. Properties on the market sometimes still included notes stating that offers were due on a certain date, which was well into the past. It was hard to know if a 41-day negotiation standoff was in process or if the property was still fully available.

I always call the agent when I see things like this because I’m nice like that and if you have a snot hanging out your nose I’m going to tell you. (I just lied. I don’t always call. Sometimes I don’t have time or the energy to help other people do their job too.) Funny enough, each time I made this call, I received the same answer from all these different agents, every single time:

“Oh, my assistant must have forgotten to change that.”

That poor, potentially non-existent assistant. To be fair, last fall, many of us were off our game. The cooling off came swiftly and no one really expected it.

That's Clark the assistant. Never once blamed for anything.

That's Clark the assistant. Never once blamed for anything.

Of course, no one expected either that when spring arrived, the bulls would charge out of the gate. Despite the strength of the market in 2017, there are a lot of listing agents who are still hesitant to commit to an offer deadline the day the property is listed. See: Still feeling the chill of last fall.

Despite the market strength right now, this hesitancy to decide an offer deadline on listing day is because some properties out there are defying the odds - and not in a good way. There are properties listed right now that everyone cooed over. And they have yet to elicit an offer. I know – you want to know how I can say the market is so strong in 2017 but there are also properties sitting on the market. The answer is simple. Some sellers got too greedy

(I’m sorry, but if your neighbor Bob sold his house 4 months ago for $500,000 and your house is the exact same floorplan with a slightly nicer yard but in worse condition inside, where exactly do you get off thinking that you are entitled to $625,000 because you’re including a faux-stainless steel microwave and a garden gnome? We’re real estate agents, not magicians. And buyers? They’re savvy, not morons.)

Today, maybe one in ten listings will have an offer deadline noted on the day the property is listed. The other nine are waiting through the weekend to hold the infamous open house to gauge interest before setting a deadline. No matter how strong the market, there are new rules to the game. And we (well, you) have to figure out how to play.

My personal feeling on a property listed with no deadline is that it’s fair game. If my client wants to write an offer an hour after it’s been listed, I’m going to write it and submit it. Why should they wait until after the Sunday open house for a deadline? I always contact the listing agent who always encourages me to write up the offer. It’s always the same thing: “We don’t have any offers in hand right now but if your client presents something that is too good to pass up, my client will look at it.”

Of course, they will look at it. It’s likely one of the biggest investments they will ever own, why wouldn’t they look at it? Their whole purpose in listing their house is to look at offers.

My client gives me their terms and I write that bad boy up and send to the listing agent. And this is where things get interesting, because no matter what the offer says, the listing agents always say the same thing: “The seller decided to wait through the open house to give everyone a fair chance to see the property.” One agent told me he already had the ads set to run in the paper. The what?

Anyway, what happened? This isn’t the playground. We don’t all have to have a turn. But, okay, you pick yourself up, dust off and try to regroup. What happens now and what could you have done differently if you really want the house?

Meet me around the corner for part 2.