The best way to sell a house is to go on vacation

Sometimes, we all need a bit of a break.  For me, a break takes many forms, and usually a short one is enough.  On days when I know I’m going to be especially busy, I usually have a hard time sleeping the night before, so I get up early and go for a quick run to clear my head.  Or, after an especially tough day a couple of fingers of higher-than-average-priced bourbon and a movie after everyone else goes to bed helps me to unwind.

But sometimes there is no better way to take a break than getting on an airplane and flying somewhere.  Especially if the destination is to see my brother, and his family in San Francisco.

This last weekend I did just that.  I hopped on a plane and went to the city by the bay.  I took my little guy (his first flight) and my Dad even flew in for the weekend from Tucson.  I love my job.  Selling luxury properties, and modern homes is a ton of fun (and work), and I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I’m always talking to people about their dream lifestyle, and for 4 days I got to spend some quality time with my original immediate family.

I don’t talk much about my family on this blog – I like to keep my private live just that.  Locked up.  Mine.  I try to not bring work home (as much as that is possible), and the reciprocal count’s too.  So enough of the personal stuff, and back on to the original topic:

The best way to sell a house is to go on vacation

I’ve heard it dozens of times before – When you are trying to take a break in real estate, the second you try to take some time for yourself, your phone is going to ring.  This time was no different.  As soon as I was packed, I got the call that every agent wants to hear – “check your email, I’m sending over an offer.”

World Cup Sailing in San Francisco Prada Boat
I grabbed this pic of the World Cup Cats under the Golden Gate bridge with my iPhone while on vacation in San Francisco

Over the next few days we did the usual negotiations – buyers come in low, we counter, and eventually a compromise is reached.  It’s a very exciting process, and a high that you want to feel over and over.  When I returned to Austin, we were just finalizing the contract, and  the deal was done.

Plus, And the best part?  Because of technology, the seller’s agent never knew I wasn’t even in the state.

I know I was technically working while on vacay, but this is the fun kind – the part of the job we all love.

 

TAR 1902

I hate it when buyers get cold feet.  Today I got, via email, a copy of the TAR 1902 form, the Notice of Termination of contract.  Exactly 9 hours before the option period for the contract was to expire, I got an email from the buyer’s agent with a link to a Docusign form signed by the buyers.

Here’s how it went down.  About a week ago I had some buyers for one of my listings.  This particular house had been on the market for only 4 days, and I’d already received one low-all offer for the home from a flipper (71% of the asking price) that I presented to my sellers, and they of course rejected it.  I was informed that the couple who put in the offer were first time homebuyers, and I even got a letter from the agent saying how excited they were to be able to buy this house.

Cool.  This is exactly the kind of people I like to be able to work with.  A family who wants to move into the area, and fix up the house.  This is the best kind of client as they become proud home owners, and make upgrades that are in line with what is in style, and eventually increase the value of both the home, and the neighborhood

My sellers accepted the offer, and they buyer exercised their right to an option period.  An option period is basically buying a way out of the contract if they need it.  I like to do this for most buyers, as it gives them the ability to make an offer on a home, but get a little more time to do some inspections and research to see if it is priced correctly, or if there is a lot of work.  Option checks range from $250 – $1000+ (depending on the price of the house), and generally last for a week.

When you get an option check as a seller, you should immediately give it to your client, and tell them to cash it as it is their money,  The buyer is buying a way out of their contract.  They paid you money to do it.  It’s your money.

The seller immediately scheduled an inspection for the house, and it came up with the usual items that needed fixing. Most old homes have some issues, and in this section of Austin, there were the usual problems.  Nothing I didn’t see when I priced the house, and nothing unusual for the age and style of the home.  No surprises here.

But the inspection took a little longer than they wanted and they needed to get some repair estimates from some contractors.  So they asked for an additional 2 days for the option period.  I talked it over with my clients, and although I was reluctant to offer it in this market , we decided that it was OK, and granted them the extra time.

Well, they came back with a reasonable list of repairs, and wanted a credit to the overall price of the house.  I didn’t see anything unusual about this, and this is a normal part of negotiations.   No worries.  Again I went back to my clients and they asked me about the requested repair credits, and we came up with a number as a counter offer.  I had them sign the amendment, and as I was on my way back to the office to present it to the sellers, I got an email with an attached TAR 1902 form.  This is the paperwork needed to exercise their ability to back out of the contract during the option period, and get back their earnest money, but they loose their option fee.

I was shocked!  I didn’t even get the chance to negotiate!  They never got to see the reply to their counter offer.  They just got cold feet, and wanted out.  And they had spent a pretty penny, too.

So now the seller was out $250 for the option period, and probably another $300 or more for an inspection, plus all the time and effort of making an offer.

There really is nothing that I as a realtor selling your house can do when a buyer decides to use this procedure during the option period.  It’s the way the system is set up, and if the buyer is willing to pay (which they were), they have the right to get out of the contract.   If they were to wait until the end of the option period and wanted to back out, they would forfeit their earnest money, which is a more significant sum.

Again I’m not worried.  The Austin market is a seller’s market, and I expect to get another qualified offer on the home in the next day or so.

Stay tuned! and be sure to subscribe to my blog to learn what happens next.

Modern Paint Color

I’ve written about paint colors before.  Painting a room is the single biggest thing you can do to freshen up a room, and has the biggest bang for the buck.

But the number one question I always get is “what color should I paint”?

I know know the answer, and will share it with you.

One of the great things about being a JB Goodwin agent is that there are so many experienced agents who are willing to share their secrets and tricks of the trade.  One of the brokerage’s more successful agents, Peggy, is an experienced house flipper, and she sat down with a bunch of us and told us anything we wanted to know.  She has a great Tumblr account where she  shows before and after photos of the houses she does.  The talk that she gave to us went much deeper, and she revealed all of the little things nobody ever talks about.

What color should I paint?

 

When you walk into a house that Peggy has remodeled, you immediately feel at home.  She takes a home that was built for the 1970’s lifestyle and updates it to suit today’s modern family.  Doorways are removed, kitchens are gutted, popcorn is scraped off of ceilings, and so much more.  She works on everything.  And when she is done, she stages them with tables, rugs, and artwork.  You can easily imagine where all of your furniture would go.

Bathroom color scheme

Every room has a fresh coat of paint on it.  And the colors she chooses are the ones that everybody wants, but never knows.

Let’s start with the ceiling.  It should be white.  Use a regular white ceiling paint.  Don’t try to get all fancy using a semi-gloss or eggshell or other funny sheen. Stick to the basics.   I also always recommend to remove all texture.  Scrape off that acoustical foam, otherwise known as ceiling popcorn.  Then resurface, prime, and paint.  Your room will look immediately bigger.

On to the trim.  This is the wood around the windows, doors, and baseboards.  It should be crisp, and bright, and white.  Dover White is the exact color to use, and use a semi-gloss.  This paint can be purchased at Sherwin Williams, and is the perfect color to make your room pop, and look spanking brand new.

Now on to the best part.  What color to paint the walls.  I learned there are three basic color palates you can use.

There is the MD palate, The CL Palate, and the NT.

Wait.  I thought you were going to tell me what paint colors to use.

But I did.

What color should I paint my room You see when you go into Home depot, and look at that display of paint colors, each little sample has a code at the bottom.  They are kind of hard to see in this iPhone pic, but they are there. And they look like this
htc-nt-20u or hdc-cl-17u
I’m not sure what the htc or hdc codes mean, but the nt means neutral tone, and the CL means contemporary living or something. The last three letters/numbers are the actual paint color like: yuma sand, sand fossil, sandalwood tan, or cotton grey.

All the samples with the NT code will all match each other.  Every single one.

All the samples with a CL will match each other.   Perfectly.

Simple!  So just pick out a color you like, look at the code, and find other samples with the same code.  Your house will match perfectly!  I promise!

Do you need to stage your house?

Have you ever noticed some houses sell really fast, while others, that look great sit on the market, even after several price reductions?  It happens all the time.

I always recommend to stage your home.  Home staging in Austin is important – we are seen as a fun and quirky city, and lots of people want to move here from all over the country.  Whenever somebody moves, they want to enhance their lifestyle, even if just a little, and their new house needs to look the part.

Most people think that staging only needs to happen to vacant homes, ones that have any furniture in them.  But that’s not true.  While adding furniture to an empty house helps homebuyers visualize where things will go, it is helpful to stage houses that are currently being occupied, too.

Of course, you can hire a home staging company, or you can do it yourself

One thing I’ve learned is staging a house, is beneficial, regardless of how it looks when you live there.

You could be Jeff Lewis, and your home might be perfectly decorated and featured in magazines, but home buyers.  But buyers are different than residents, and look for different things when previewing homes to buy.

I’ve walked into so many homes that look absolutely perfect when we begin the selling process.  The floors are great, the colors on the wall are just so, and the place is very well decorated.

However, as we live in a home, we personalize it, and make it our own.  We put up framed photos of our family on the walls, stacks of our favorite moves collect near the TV, and our bathroom counter is covered in personal products that we use everyday.

All these little items, and many more turn off buyers.

Let me put it a different way.

Home stagingI love staying in hotels.  Especially well decorated places like the W.  I’ll bet you do too.

Next time you stay at a hotel, either a fancy one, or something else, take a look around as soon as you enter the room.  Not only will you notice that there isn’t anything extra in the room, but you will also notice that there are places for you to “unload” all your stuff.  The table tops are free of any items, leaving you room to put down your suitcase.  The nightstand is empty, so you can put down your watch, and water bottle.  The bathroom has lots of space for you to use.

Your house, when you are selling it needs to be like a vacant hotel room.  Nothing valuable in it, and lots of space for people to imagine their things going.

This is Home Staging while you still live in the home.

Current conditions in Austin’s housing market

Right now, in Austin, we are in our 22nd month of declining inventory.  Yep, that’s right.   There aren’t enough houses to go around. (as of September 2013)

Usually, in a regular market there is about a six month supply of houses for sale.  That means at the average rate of selling a house, and if no new houses are added to the market, there are enough to last 6 and a half months or so.

A six month supply means there is probably the perfect house out there for you to choose from.  One in the neighborhood you want to live, in the style you want and of course the proper size for your lifestyle and family.

But this year, 2012, Austin is at half that – a 3 month supply of houses for sale, and it’s decreasing.

Why?  Because everybody wants to move here.  There are tons of great jobs, opportunities, and things to do.  Austin is all over the news, in the best possible way.

On a recent trip, a realtor friend of mine went to Vegas for a short vacation to get away from work, and wherever he went, once people from all over the country found out he was an agent in Austin, all they wanted to do was talk about houses.  So much for a relaxing vacation for him.

So, back to my original topic.  Why don’t you need to stage your house to sell it?

Should I stage my house?

Staging a roomBecause the Austin market is a sellers market right now.  There are more buyers than sellers.

Remember the basics of supply and demand?  Yep, it’s that simple.  Less houses on the market mean they will sell for more, and we’ve been seeing housing prices creep up and up.

But not because they are priced higher from the start.

Studies have shown that when a house is overpriced from the beginning it sits for much longer on the market.  MUCH longer.  It’s better to price it accurately and in line with the other homes in the area.

I’m really good at determining how much your house should sell for.  I know all the houses in your area that are for sale.  I’ve been in most of them.  I know which ones have hardwood floors, or updated kitchens, or views of the lake or downtown.  If you want to contact me, I can tell you more.

The same studies show that when a house is priced correctly from the beginning, and you are in a seller’s market, multiple offers are common and even bidding wars can happen.  Trust me, you want me on your side when this happens.  I’m a great negotiator, and I have connections with realtors all over town.

Instead of staging, I encourage you to talk with me about evaluating the price of your home, and pricing it to sell quickly.  I’ll work with you and provide you with realistic numbers that will get your house sold – FAST!  Give me a call, and let me tell you more.

Conserving Texas

I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a huge fan of development. Creating something new from something old, and sharing it with a group of people who normally wouldn’t have access. As someone involved in the Real Estate business, this is exactly what I do. Connect you with a buyer or seller to get you exactly what you want.

But getting you the lifestyle you want isn’t always easy.  Especially when you ask for something with a view, or with land.  That’s why I’m a huge fan of the Hill Country Conservancy.   Instead of me telling you what they do, just  take a few minutes and watch the video above to get an idea of what they are all about.

Help us help the Hill Country Conservancy. They are a group that can help ranchers preserve the open spaces that make this are so special, by creating a conservation easement that protects the land.  It’s a fine line, maintaining growth, while preserving history.  But it’s not impossible.  It can, and is being done.

Live Oak, Cedar, Running Streams and of course Wildflowers, are all a part of life in Central Texas.  Let’s just do a little bit to ensure the Texas life we remember will be the same one our kids do.

Selling your house – Maximum broadcast or targeted exposure

It’s not like you can go into a store and shop for a new house.  OK, you sort of can, but the entire city would be the store, and each neighborhood would be a different section.  Sort of like a grocery store.  All the food is loated inside the store, and each aisle has different things.  There’s the Fruits and Veggies section, the Meat counter, the Milk and Dairy area, Frozen Foods, Dry Goods, and so forth.  Cities are sort of the same way – There is the older neighborhoods, the areas with more apartments, a few sections of new construction, the expensive homes are usually grouped together, etc…

Most of their arguments begin:
“A buyer begins their search for a house on-line”.

But with the Internet, it’s super easy to see all the new homes in any city in America.  Just log on to your favorite real estate website, enter an address or zip code and start researching.  But did you know that not every house for sale is listed on these websites?  A lot are, and there is a great selection, but you are missing some of the properties for sale if you do all the work yourself.

You see, there are pocket listings, new listings, and houses for sale by owner that aren’t part of the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).  Plus there are a lot of Real Estate Agents that starting to choose to not list their listings on the MLS.  I can even imagine a few scenarios where high-end owners don’t want to broadcast they are selling their home.

It is a common belief that every house should be listed in the MLS – so it can gain maximum exposure, and attract the most attention.  But just like everything, you need to know your  market, your audience, and your inventory to make the perfect real estate sale.  In Austin a great many agents are heavily opposed to holding listings and not including them in the MLS.  They say it is anti competitive, not fair, and not in the best interest of the seller.

As of today there are three kinds of Real Estate Websites:

  • The Biggies – Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow.  The “big box stores” for real estate.  Some really popular websites that get a lot of traffic, but all look the same, and can be quite confusing.
  • Local Brokerages – these are the big names within a city.  The popular guys who have all the connections and do the majority of sales for a community.  Their websites pretty much all look the same, with some stock photos of a city on the front page, a completed search box, and your average real estate verbiage describing the houses for sale.
  • Smaller Real Estate Bloggers – (like me or this guy who blogs about the Mueller Development in Austin) who are leveraging technology to their benefit.  These websites will become the true neighborhood experts, if they aren’t already.

Most of their arguments begin “A buyer begins their search for a house on-line”

Let’s take a look at that phrase a little more closely.  On first pass one may think that the real estate websites have control of the listings, and this is absolutely true, but upon further examination, the RE website results are controlled by the search engines.

A lot of agents believe that the MLS or IDX syndication system is what is getting the buyers to view their listings, but this really isn’t the case.  It all filters through the big search engines  Google, Yahoo, and even Bing.  Everything I read about real estate SEO says to write for the buyer/seller and know your audience.  I am also reading a lot about how the search engines are integrating trust and the results of your friends recommendations and searches into your search results.

Phoenix real estate guyI interpret this to mean that when someone does a search, the results are going to be more focused, and provide results that could be quite different.  This is where the Long Tail theory comes into effect (I blogged about this a while back)  A very popular Real Estate Blogger in Phoenix,  Jay Thompson even suggests this trend in one of his recent presentations.  Jay laments that while choosing the key phrase “Phoenix Real Estate Guy” was a good decision,  he should have concentrated more on the names of subdivisions, MPCs, and niche markets.  This is coming from a guy who as been real estate blogging for 6+ years, and gets the majority of his leads directly through his website.

Jay did the exactly correct thing back when he set up his blog.  Actually two things:  #1) He chose a phrase that had great search results, and #2) he uses WordPress for his blogging platform.  Because of this second choice, he can easily add custom categories to take advantage of this change in search technology.  But I digress

Selling a house is remarkably like selling any other product.  You need to  make sure your product is in front of the people who are going to buy it.  But as we all know there are lots of different stores – from Target, to local boutiques, to high-end luxury brands.  Each advertises in their own way, and is successful as well.

Ultimately, it is up to Real Estate Agents to decide how they want to market their listings.  As a home seller, it is up to you to decide if how you want your house sold.  I firmly believe that there should be a choice in choosing to use the MLS to list a house or not.  What do you think?

Family Pictures

“What do I do with all my family pictures when I’m selling my home?”

“I have lots of personal pictures around my house?”

“Can I leave up pictures when I’m listing my house?”

These are all great questions, but no matter how you ask it, as a home seller, you should take down and hide all your family pictures.  This includes any portraits hanging on walls, framed pictures on tables, shelves, and bedside tables, and personal items on the refrigerator.

This should be one of the first things you do, when you decide to sell your house.  Just walk around and carefully take them down.  I like to put them all in one extra-safe place, like a well labeled Rubbermaid Tote.  That way they are all in one place, and easy to get to when you move to your new place.

It’s important to de-clutter and de-personalize because lots of different people will want to look at your house.  Everybody has their own style, and even though it was your home, you are now selling (top priority), and soon you will be able to start the fun part of decorating your new house.  Plus you don’t want anything to happen to them during an open house.

Diplomas, certificates of achievement, and even trophies should also be removed as well as kids names on doors, or in their rooms.

“But what about all the little holes left behind, pencil marks or scuffs on the wall?”  A magic eraser with a little bit of spackle does a great job cleaning up, or if you are going to repaint in a neutral color, just find a brand of paint with a built in primer.

I know it may be tough to put away all your great memories.  It is for me whenever I move, but it’s something we all need to do to sell your house quickly.  Like I said earlier, it’s just an opportunity to re-decorate at the new house, and create some new memories to add to your old ones.

If you have a question about preparing your house for sale, please leave a comment below.