Don’t Kill the Deal

Getting Advice from Friends and Relatives about your First New Home

It turns out that I work with a lot of first time home buyers, and I am a HUGE fan of it. I love, and feel honored by, helping people with this first big step in life. Most of my first time buyers are smart, young, professional contributors to society and I appreciate them; and I make it my job to protect their financial input to their purchase. I just love helping them. Nearly all of my first time buyers make it to closing and actually into their first ‘move-up’ home. But not all of them. Some of them never get to the closing table.

I do a good job of helping my clients be ready and able to purchase when they find the home they love. That starts with finding a good lender, getting pre-approved, and looking at homes they can actually afford. In other words, they don’t find out at the 11th hour that they can’t afford the home they chose.

Most often, though, the ones that never get to close are the ones taking advice from ‘friends and family’ behind the scenes. These would be people who do not have a stake in the purchase, or do not have a realistic expectation of the process. In other words, they are not professional real estate agents! For example: Some parents forget that THEIR first home was 1000 square feet and needed work. They walk through the homes with their children with completely unrealistic expectations of the price point, and their child goes forward feeling disappointed. Parents walk through pointing out all of the flaws and elevating their child’s expectations beyond what the child can afford. Sometimes you have to start out without granite countertops and hardwoods throughout. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said this: “You’re going to have to go up in price to get that.” So parents with the best intentions in this case, end up crashing their child’s dream.

Another example is the handyman dad who says, “I can build you a house’. Or…”Find a foreclosure that needs work and I’ll fix it up for you.” Well….first of all, those houses have to be bought as a cash purchase, because no lender will do a mortgage on them. Want to build from the dirt up, handyman dad? You have to pay cash for the land and here, that’s going to start at twenty grand for a lot in a less desirable area, more in the more desirable ones. Think about this: How many people do you know who have a regular job, that can go out and build a house in their ‘spare time’, and afford the cost. Think: Refrigerator, stove, dish washer, water heater, HVAC system, wiring, plumbing, roof, flooring. I don’t have any handymen like that in my contact list. Why? They do not exist.

So yes, family and friends can foul the whole process, and they do. Because they are not real estate agents, they don’t understand the process or market, and they don’t know the ‘rules’ for lending on certain types of property. Do they have the best of intentions? Most of the time, but not always. Some just ‘don’t like realtors’ and some always feel like someone’s out to get them. Those people are never happy, for anyone.

But. There are often parents and family who ARE interested in the happiness and success of their children. How can I tell? They come and meet me, and we sit down together and talk. I answer questions for them, and ultimately let them know that I am honest, excited for their child, and very good at what I do. It doesn’t take long before we are all on the same page and excited for the child buying her or his first home. And that’s the magic formula.

So, if you are a family member or ‘interested party’ who will advising behind the scenes, if I don’t meet you face to face, I expect you to cause problems. Not because you’re a bad person, but because you are not a real estate agent and some of your advice will be wrong, or just plain bad. Talk to me. Bring me your concerns and let’s talk through them. I love a team working toward a common goal. It’s the best way to succeed. Most of all, I want my client to be happy.

Edward Snowden’s ‘Thoughtcrime’ on Netflix

Sometimes, I like to write to you about ‘stuff’ not related to real estate, so you get an idea of the kind of person I am. You will choose, or not choose me, to represent you and I’d like you to have a lot of data before you make that choice. So here goes.

I watched Edward Snowden’s documentary, “Thoughtcrime”, in part because I like him (the media persona; I don’t know him personally) and I like his passion for his cause. I disagree with a lot of what he espouses (and I agree with some), but that doesn’t make me dislike him at all. So it’s a bit of a conundrum for me, because he is a criminal talking about crimes against Americans, as though it’s okay for HIM to be a criminal, who committed a crime against America. This is a glaring sign of an egocentric view, which points to an underdeveloped psyche (youth). That’s not a slam against him: remember I LIKE him. He’s just clearly young. And cute.

Edward stole government property when he walked away from his job and began his crusade. That made him a thief, a criminal. Then he published sensitive government information, making him a criminal in the eyes of the government, the NSA. So, he’s a criminal. He is subject to the law and we are a country governed by laws that apply to everyone. Even Edward.

And yet, much of what he says makes sense. It feels bad to be spied upon; it IS an invasion of privacy. These days, much spying is done by companies trying to get inside our head so they can get our money. I don’t’ like that, and yet, when an ad pops up for cool jewelry, I check it out. So…I guess I KIND OF like it. When it suits me. Targeted marketing has helped me at Christmas time, in particular. Hey, I wish I had makeup on when I’m online, so I’ll look good when they check me out, but I’m getting over it. And I have my computer camera blocked. Like using a little pail to bail out the ocean rushing over the dunes, but it makes me feel better when I’m online at 3 a.m. with bedhead.

But more importantly, while Snowden points backward in time to the intent of our forefathers who wrote our Constitution and other laws…at the same time he is riding the present train of technology and breaking those very laws himself…specifically the ones about liberty. Bear with me. In THIS current age, we cannot just hope for the best behavior of others. Mores and norms have changed; and we are dealing with global cultures which are NOTHING like ours. They don’t care about our LAWS. There are people in the world who want to see America and everyone in it perish. These are the ones who want to behead us because we have different religious beliefs. Really, it is because they want power, but that’s another book. Still, THESE PRESENT TIMES are not like the ones Edward cites as foundational. There WAS no internet when the Constitution was formulated; people were not ‘on the grid’.

So, very simply, if Snowden has his way, American liberty will be eradicated, and all of us along with it, BECAUSE, terrorists don’t give two hoots about our PRIVACY. And while Edward is lamenting the fact that we don’t do like we USED to do, terrorists are crawling all over the internet, seeking destruction and death. And Edward would like to see that be just fine. Just sit down and wait to be nuked out of existence. And if you don’t believe that can happen, rewind to 9-11. To some who ARE using the internet for ill intent, human life means nothing. Those people are the ones the NSA are trying to track, by the way.

Metadata: Edward rants on (and on) about how it is so wrong that all of our emails and phone calls, the things we order online and say on facebook, where our GPS says we went or are going…are captured by whomever, because that’s Invading Our Privacy. And, according to Edward, there is NOTHING we can do about it. Well, there is something we can do, if it matters THAT much. We can get off the grid. And by the way, if anyone wants to read my emails, they are welcome. I don’t have anything to hide. I am law-abiding and honest. Boring, to someone like Snowden.

Back to getting off the grid: Stop using a smart phone, stop being on facebook, no GPS, no smart TV, no iPad. Just stop it. I couldn’t take in much of what he said toward the end because I thought, “Why are you not off the freaking grid?” It is because he wants to change the world. But he’s starting in the wrong place. And it is because…are you ready for this? HE HAS TO BE ON THE GRID, because that’s where his battlefield is! Are you seeing the irony here???

When you buy a home on the fairway of a golf course, you ‘assume risk’ along with the joy and privilege of living there. You’re gonna get broken windows, golf balls in the flower beds, dings in siding, maybe even a lump on your head. And guess what? If you try to sue the errant golfer, the lawyer will cite “assumption of risk” and you will lose. Period. No matter how much you FEEL that is wrong and want to change the world, the law is the law and it makes SENSE. If you don’t believe me, golf with me sometime and see me shank one. Then buy a house RIGHT THERE, knowing what you now know.

So if you go online, for WHATEVER reason, you assume risk. It’s that simple. It’s THAT simple Everybody knows your data are not secure. And yet, here we go. Doo de doo. Online we go!

I believe it is imperative, for our NATIONAL SAFETY (liberty), for surveillance to find the correspondence that will thwart a dirty bombing attempt, or another 9-11 style attack, and track down and arrest the killers. I believe that we absolutely MUST look for these correspondences, and today, we have the wherewithal to do it. How many terrorist attacks do YOU think have been averted? Oh, yeah, there are millions of people who are NOT risky who are being surveilled, but…it’s part of the program, folks. Ya gotta do it. Might they find people who are trafficking drugs or ammunition or humans? Yep. GOOD! You don’t deserve privacy if that’s what you are doing with it. And you might say, “But I am a GOOD PERSON! I don’t need to be surveilled!”

Define good.

Yes, as Edward says, our government has the financial and technological resources to track those emails and phone calls, to intrude on our “privacy”. Yes they do. I’m pretty sure they can’t see me in the shower, and that’s about the worst it can get with me; but listen to this:

Terrorists also have the financial and technological resources to track us electronically (and they do) to try to murder each and every one of us. I don’t relish the idea of being murdered, and that is exactly the goal of terrorists. That sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Sounds a bit overdone? Well, I’m guessing the people in the twin towers never thought they’d be targeted for murder and yet, they surely were. THREE THOUSAND of them. Are their families glad the NSA is collecting data? You bet your ass they are.

In response, it is not only prudent, but also just commons SENSE that we have to operate in the paradigm set before us, and that paradigm is driven by technology and subversion. And so, if the government, the NSA, has to capture any of my emails or phone calls, more power to them. If it stops another 9-11 style attack, I’m all for it. I’ll make that sacrifice for liberty. In other words, the cat is out of the bag: greedy companies have figured out how to surveil us now, and decide we need to diet. So here come the diet ads on Facebook. Who cares?

Do I think this will get out of hand? YES I DO. Why? Because human nature is such that humanity will screw up an ANVIL with a rubber hammer. That’s the sad truth. And Edward Snowden is not going to change human nature. And if he could, that would make him dangerous, because he would change it to HIS view of how it should be…and that’s called dictatorship. See how that works? And I keep coming back to this: If Snowden has HIS way, we are all doomed. America is OVER. And I wonder if that isn’t the real goal, consciously or subconsciously.

So many times with antiestablishment rhetoric, the source is a young, idealistic individual with the best intentions, and with a heart that believes people are basically good. They are not. ANY system you put in the hands of humans will be corrupted. Once you reach a certain level of maturity (fully developed psyche), you become less self focused, less ‘feelings’ driven, and you understand that. And you get a better sense of the ‘world’ and importantly, that you are just a part of it, not the absolute center and generator of all that is good and right. Eventually you also understand that there are people out there, a lot of them, who would hurt you for the pleasure of it, to take what is yours that you worked for and they didn’t, because you won’t just come around to their way of thinking, or because their god is a bigger god than your god. You get the idea. Create your utopia, put humans in it, and watch it go down in flames. That’s how it is.

So to Edward: I’m going to predict that one day you will change your mind. I fully understand that your world view is now stunted because you are in hiding and you don’t know the real world anymore, so it could take a bit longer. But I fully expect that one day you will turn yourself in and take your punishment. You were wrong to do what you did, and you know that; I know you do. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been so scared going out of the NSA building that last day. There was a better way. Maybe the best way now is to own up, stand up. And the impact of that action would be monumental, by the way.

I know, you cite whistleblowers from the past to defend your actions. That tactic, and it is a tactic, is called “affiliation’. It’s a manipulation tool. It is actually a very good marketing tactic; but it is also a tool often used in desperation. I have to say that this time when I watched you, I wondered when you would change your mantra to make it less of a repeat, to acknowledge…or better yet REALIZE… that if you hand over your secrets and your weapons to killers out to behead you, they surely will not hug you and send you on your way; THEY WILL KILL YOU.

I couldn’t help but wonder what might you have accomplished if you had put that big old brain to good use. You would have been a superstar, I have no doubt, because you have what it takes. But the truth of this present situation with regard to surveillance makes sense, as unfortunate is it is. And it should make sense to you, PARTICULARLY when you are a data person.

Nobody knows the whole story. It is too intricate and multifaceted to know. And I’m sure there is abuse happening, but I believe it is not the intent of NSA. The intent is to prevent mass death at the hands of terrorists, and WHO would not want that? Listen, there are hackers all over the world (including Ed Snowden). And there are some very bad things being done, because the systems are run by humans who are flawed. Some will do dishonest things. But that doesn’t mean we can trash the whole system. We need it too much.

DECLUTTER: the Seller Dirty Word

Nobody wants to hear that their home is too full of stuff. But let’s face it: If you live in a home long enough, you accumulate a lot of it, and only you become blind to it. Everybody else walks in and says (hopefully to themselves), “Wow, there’s a lot of ….” you get the idea. I’ve lived where I live for almost 7 years, and I KNOW if I list I’m gonna have a LOT of work to do.

I’m a realtor who actually likes to see personal items in the home, because to me, it makes the place warm and…well, home-like. The other half of the realtor word will tell you to take out all personal items and paint everything and put in new carpet. In other words, try to make your used home a new home. I don’t necessarily advise that, unless the particular case needs it. For me, it’s only pix of your children that should go, and alters. Yes, people do have them, and yes, they can effect your selling ability. But CLUTTER (sorry about the dirty word) has GOTTA GO.

You will say, “If they don’t like my stuff they can take a hike.” Yes, I have heard that. But that statement comes from a person who has not gotten their brain around the true idea of selling. If you are not willing to take the advice of your professional listing agent, then you don’t really want to sell you house. It’s that simple.

I had clients who held on to their clutter so tightly that it cost them tens of thousands of dollars to sell the home. Kid you NOT. Clutter makes a difference in how much cold, hard cash you put in your pocket at the end of the transaction folks, and here’s why:

  1. Buyers will think you don’t take care of the house, i.e. MAINTAIN it, and therefore will not want it. OR they will make a lowball offer. Yes, it’s a leap to go from ‘too much stuff’ to ‘they probably don’t maintain the house’, but trust me! They do! Every time. Even though they, themselves, probably don’t run a tight ship, they will expect you to, and will judge you harshly if you don’t. And they will walk away with their money, which you are trying to get.
  2. Buyers need to envision THEIR stuff in the house. You want them to stand there and place their furniture and other ‘stuff’; and if yours overwhelms them, then they can’t see theirs. You WANT them to see THEIR STUFF there; that’s how you sell the house. If they think they can’t fit their stuff in the house, they will leave with their money, which you are trying to get them to give to you.
  3. Buyers are buying SPACE. The more ‘stuff’ you have in the space, the smaller the space looks. If the space looks small, the buyers will think, “Hmmm, this house is small.” And they will leave, taking their money with them. That would be money you would like to have. Following me?

So, here’s the deal: Ya gotta clean out the ‘stuff’. Get rid of the clutter. Now that doesn’t mean THROW AWAY the clutter. NO! It means go ahead and move it out. You’re leaving anyway. Just let it go first. Put it in storage or your friend’s garage. That would be a GOOD friend, but I digress. Then, dust in all the spots you couldn’t get to because of all of the stuff you used to have there, and your offer price JUST WENT UP. I am NOT kidding about this. Oh, and guess what? When you have to decide what size storage unit you need for your stuff? Suddenly you don’t mind actually getting rid of some of it.

Listen, I feel your pain. I think about the day I have to list my home and I literally shudder. I’ll even have to paint because I have so much wall art. So I get it. But you gotta do it.

And finally, let me say that when I say ‘stuff’, I’m also thinking of another ‘s’ word, that most buyers ACTUALLY USE, as in: “There’s too much s*** in here.”

Should I List My Home in October?

Short answer: Yes.

Listen, I think I’ve worn you guys out telling you that real estate is “local”, even sometimes down to sections within a subdivision. This is SO incredibly true, and is a fact, however cliche, which should not be ignored. These days, people look on Zillow and Realtor.com (both of which I visit myself, often), and they do their own market analysis without knowing the personality of their subdivision, let alone the town or region. There may be some great areas within the subdivision and some not-so-great ones, for a variety of reasons. And some towns are destination locations for students, doctors, patients, retirees…you name it. Each of those groups has a specific need, and you need an agent who knows the markets to satisfy them.

What you need to know about the Triangle and surrounding areas, is that we have a housing shortage here, and over 60 thousand people moving in EVERY DAY.

So yes. List. Your. House. In. October. Call me.

Buying a Cheap House

If you are a contractor or investor with lots of cash, just find it and buy it. You can find them for under 100K around here. Godspeed and all that.

If you are a first time buyer, or an ordinary, first time move-up buyer with one home you live in and a little bit of savings, forget it. It does NOT go the way you think it goes. Just doesn’t. Trust me. You won’t, but I am right.

If you are going to try to buy through an internet provider, just know that there are going to be costs. Like…1.95% ‘up front fee’, for example. That’s cash, up front, and you still have to get loan approval. Most cheap houses? NOBODY will lend on them. NO-BOD-Y.

If you want to go it on your own, you had better know how to find out what the REAL cost will be. Or get out the crying towel. These days in real estate, there are usually up front ‘money on the table’ outlays of cash, some of which are not refundable. Just call a realtor. And don’t call one to USE one, call one to compensate them for the help they will give you. I’m tired of hearing horror stories of people losing thousands because they didn’t know or wouldn’t listen. Really! It really bothers me when I hear this stuff, but on the other hand, if they have been advised well and they continue to blunder, well…that’s on them.

Want to just buy a piece of land and build…because land is 20K an acre? Just know that you can’t finance that land. You’re going to have to pay cash for it, even if you family member is “standing by” to build a house on it for you. And dare I say this? Your family member is not going to make you the priority if he’s doing the build on a discounted basis (or has a job he has to go to every day). And if you didn’t have that kind of cash to get you into a home the traditional way, how are you going to get it to pay cash for land?

Oh, I know. Buy a foreclosure house! NOT! If you find a cheap foreclosure house, trust me, the repairs will be astronomical. And you don’t have discretionary funds, remember? Oh, and this is important. You can’t finance it. Ya gotta pay cash. And, you know those seller disclosures you get with homes listed in multiple services? The ones that tell you what’s wrong with the house? Not gonna get one with a foreclosure, and if you DO, all of the boxes will be checked with ‘no representation’. That means: I don’t know and/or I don’t care. So you won’t know whether the foundation has major issues, the structure is termite ridden, half of the structure was not permitted, the septic system is collapsing, the well is contaminated…you know, those little details.

So you get to spend a LOT more money on inspections than you might otherwise spend, only to decide you don’t want the house. I call that a colossal waste of money! UNLESS you are a contractor or investor, flush with cash.

Want a fixer-upper? Great! You’d better like DIY home improvement projects, because you’ll be living in one for years! Now, I have clients who do love DIY and are good at it, and have the patience and love of restoration to enjoy the long term, patience-sapping experience. Not many people do. So. If you go this route, plan ahead. Know that if you run out of patience and money, you’ll have a heck of a time selling a partially restored fixer-upper. And depending on the nature of the ‘fixing’, you may have to wait for a cash buyer to show up. By the way, I can spend five minutes with you and know whether or not you can handle it. Yes, I’m that good.

See, this stuff is important! Real estate agents…the good ones…can walk you through the processes so that you don’t trip over your own feet, even if you ARE looking for a cheap house. And please please please remember, you are hiring an agent for her/his expertise. That’s what you’re paying for. So don’t let non-Realtor people yap into your head and ruin your deal. This happens so often that when I hear about a family member being involved, if that person is not willing to meet with me and talk it out with me? I don’t want the transaction. Why? Because they NEVER make it through to closing when the family member wants to be a behind-the-scenes puppet master. Usually they do not understand the process and don’t want that to become obvious to the professional.

I have done many transactions where I DID meet with family and talk things through. What’s the first job? Make sure everyone is on the same page. Listen, if you and your family member are at odds, stay out of the market until you reach consensus. Real estate agents do not get paid until the property closes. That means if you argue and tug back and forth with family throughout the transaction, not only does the real estate agent have to sit down and wait for you to get bad advice from a non-agent, but we also lose the deal and get NOTHING for our time. I know you like to be paid when you work, so please, remember that our time ALSO has value. So, bring your family to me first. Then I get to decide if the deal has a snowball’s chance….you get the idea. I love nothing more than a tight, loving family, working together. But one behind the scenes giving bad advice? No.

I have helped buyers purchase low priced homes many times. Some are investments; some are homes to be brought back to life to be loved and lived in. I love these transactions, because I hate to see homes fall into disrepair and be destroyed. But you have to know that there is a way to approach and close these purchases and a way to completely blow the deal.

Which would you rather do?

It Makes a Difference

I attended the funeral of a beloved aunt this week, meaning, that of my father’s family, there are now only two left: A young brother and his wife. At this stage of my life…and most of my friends agree…it seems as if loss gets a capital L. Loss becomes too regular a visitor. The phone rings and your response, before you answer, is, “Uh oh.” There’s a good chance it is not good news on the other end of the communication.

There’s a time in everyone’s life when we begin to try to rationalize the ‘circle of life’. I think it happened to me in my late 40’s, early 50’s. I think it’s the psyche’s way of preparing us for death, the great unknown. It’s the time when we have to acknowledge Death, that ever-present entity, successfully ignored until now. It’s when we have to accept that we will also die, that we cannot live forever. It is the loss of the philosophy of limitlessness. And it’s a sad day.

I can vaguely remember the days when I never thought of death at all, when I automatically thought everything would be okay. The only death I knew anything about, was that of other peoples’ pets (We didn’t have any). My first experience with death was the loss of my grandmother, whom I did not know, and the death of President Kennedy…which traumatized me. I was nine years old, and cried for weeks. It wasn’t a good way to get to know Death. It was as if it charged through the locked door, screaming, sensational.

Most of the time, Death tapping on our shoulder is done subtly, when on the news, we hear about the death of our parents’ favorite singer or actor, and we realize it and move on, never missing a beat. Then their parents pass on; but we’re usually very young, and it’s not a bulldozer that hits us. We stop and make sure our parents are okay, but it doesn’t alter our orbit. Later, when our parents’ older siblings die, we realize that Death is much closer, more real and scary. Death keeps creeping toward us, and then our parents go, and we’re next. It is us on the edge of the precipice. Gradually, we are forced to acknowledge Death. I started counting years ‘until’. Maybe Daddy will be here for five more years until he goes, maybe Mama has 8 more years. And now I count my own remaining years. Maybe I have 10. Maybe less. Until.

I’ve been to too many funerals in my life, and have been at the bedside of more friends and family members than I can bear. I have had those last visits, tactfully ignoring the angel of Death close by, trying and failing, to let that person know that they mattered, and how much. I’m not good at that part of the journey. I feel like they all left me, not really knowing how much I loved them; and maybe at that point, it doesn’t matter to them. I think the letting go on their part is an intricate process that gives them great peace, regardless.

The point of this post is this: How we behave in our life matters. The things we do and do not do, make a difference. How we treat one another matters. So back to the funeral of my aunt. This was a woman who spent much of her life serving others. Over the years I saw her at the front of the line when someone was in need. I saw her doing things for people in need, even when she was very busy with her own life, even when she didn’t feel great, and even when the person she helped wasn’t really very nice about it. She was a kind, caring, and gentle spirit.

It showed at her funeral. The chapel was filled with love; people there knew we had witnessed the passing of one of the souls whose leaving left the world worse off. In that room filled with over a hundred people, not one could remember a time when she raised her voice in anger or said a cross word to or about, anyone. It made for a bittersweet time of fellowship and farewell.

It occurred to me that when we are leaving the world, perhaps the greatest compliment of all would be that nobody could think of a single bad thing to say about you. Can you imagine that? It won’t happen at my funeral, I am convinced, because our generation are just not nice anymore. There’s a lot of bitterness and jealousy and outright hatred within which we live, and which wasn’t so prolific in our parents’ generation. That’s our cross to bear, and shame on us for it. Regardless, it does make a difference how you live your life, how you treat your fellow man. We have the capacity to love one another, to choose that over hatred. It’s a choice.

I have come to believe that some people are born without the ‘care’ gene, as I call it: No compassion. To them I would say this: If you are able to read this, it is not too late to think about what kind of difference you have made in your life, and what kind of feeling will prevail at your leaving. I think Aunt Mary Alice would have been proud of the sentiment surrounding her last moments on Earth. She wouldn’t have taken credit; she’s have given it to us. And I hope she knows that our lives are diminished by her leaving.

Running with the Trends

I love white kitchens. Well, to an extent. I like white cabinets and appliances, and no tile backsplash. Why? Because I can add color to my kitchen with paint…which I can change when I darn well please. Right now I have white countertops too, which I will soon change to an off white (with veins of brown) granite or quartz. It’s a lot of white, folks. But I also have color on my walls, which helps, and cherry hardwood on the floor. In other words, it looks fabulous. And nobody EVER comments on the whiteness of my kitchen. Why is that? Because of my DECOR.

I just read an article about ‘mistakes’ people make in the kitchen, and the FIRST one was “White Kitchen”. I was incensed. Well maybe not INCENSED, but definitely my anarchy vibe kicked in. I’ve never liked following the herd: I am a leader, a first born, a trail blazer. So, if I WANT a white kitchen, I’m gonna HAVE one, and I don’t really care what the authors, who probably can’t cook ANYWAY, think about it. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen some really awful white kitchens, but that’s because THOSE kitchen never met a soapy cleaning cloth and warm water. White needs to be kept clean; but who doesn’t clean their kitchen?? Don’t answer that.

The new white appliances are quite snappy looking, very sleek and modern, and some of them will soon reside in my kitchen, replacing the older ones I currently love. I dread replacing my refrigerator, because my refrigerator works, has for years, and the new one soon to join my family will be disposable. That’s just how it goes with appliances these days. But man, they look good while they DO work. Like some people.

The bottom line for me, being a real estate agent, is this: Avoid trends. You know, black granite and cherry cabinets used to be all the rage, didn’t they? Now they age a kitchen. Nobody wants black granite now, even WITH sparkles…which are now blasé, by the way. So nobody can dodge the age thing; at some point you just have to upgrade. But French Country will age out; country farm will age out; open shelving will age out; factory will age out; barn DOORS will age out (don’t get verklempt on me here). So if you are wealthy and can change out your kitchen with the trends, go for it. But otherwise, make your foundation solid centrist, and decorate around it. I have tuscan colors in my kitchen, through paint colors and art, and decorative items that kick it up a notch. But these things can can also go away when I want a change, or the real estate winds dictate one. As in…PURPLE might become a great kitchen paint color. No it won’t. I’m REALLY kidding. No purple kitchens. I might have to list that sucker.

Meanwhile, my white cabinets and appliances remain solidly in place, looking great, clean and shiny, waiting for everything else to be swept away. So don’t buy into the idea that white kitchens are bad. They are not. They are beautiful. Just use the white as your canvas, and for goodness sake, keep it clean.

Now, here’s a warning for you: COLORED appliances are coming back. I know. I saw a red…RED!…refrigerator the other day, I think in HGTV magazine. Here’s an idea: Buy a red KitchenAid mixer and let the refrigerator NOT be red. Come to think of it, it’ll probably have to be replaced in two years when riding refrigerators come out. Just never say you weren’t warned.

Mark my words here: One day there will be a robot refrigerator that will bring your snacks, beer, iced tea, whatever, TO YOU. Remember me when it hits the market. As for me: I’m waiting for a robot salad maker. That’s what I need.

That’s it. Don’t feel bad about your white kitchen. It’s fabulous. Trust me.

The Value of Experience

Around here, we dump thousands of new real estate agents into the market each year. Many agencies have a school for the purpose of (making money) making new agents. And each one of the new agents will solicit your business, eventually. Many of them are going to be fantastic agents, too, one day. And many of them will not. But just today I had yet another reason to be mindful of the value of experience.

Anybody can search out tax records and recent sales; after all, that information is all over the internet. So it can look very simple to price a home to list. But there are SO many more data points to consider in listing a home in particular, but also in buying. These events are far more complicated than it might appear on the face of them, and worthy of attention.. There are SCORES of Q&D (quick and dirty) companies out there trying to convince you that buying and selling a home is an instantaneous proposition that you shouldn’t have to put effort or thought into, and these organizations are proliferating BECAUSE…they make money off of your lack of knowledge of how things work. I use a whole toolkit of data points in order to list a home, each one being less than impressive on its own, but a powerful influencer when coupled with the rest of the data points. This process can end up putting thousands of dollars into your pocket that you might otherwise hand over to the Q&D organizations. I mean, they wouldn’t be popping out of the woodwork if you were the one benefiting, would they? Just know that a big purchase or sale SHOULD take some effort on your part…unless you’re okay giving your money away for lack of effort.

But I digress. Back to experience: Pricing your home for sale can result in thousands of dollars of loss to you, or thousands of dollars of benefit to you. Which would you prefer?

OR…stay with me now…The wrong price can make your home LANGUISH on the market for months while others go on the market and get sold, go on the market and get sold! You have to know what data points to gather in order to find the sweet spot between a reasonable time on the market AND a profit for your sellers. And people, that takes experience.

Real estate is LOCAL. Local doesn’t mean ‘your town’. It can mean your PART of the SUBDIVISION. And it is the experienced agents who will know that, because we’ve watched the market for YEARS. And by the way, if you are a buyer, we can protect your purchase before you buy, by not putting you in a stagnant area, or a declining one. Again, the value of experience.

So don’t assume that older agents who don’t necessarily look like they just left college won’t do a great job for you. I promise you, the seasoned agents will have YOUR back. And our expertise and experience will make your transaction easier and smarter. And by the way: the technology that’s so important today? We invented it.

Radon in Drinking Water, ETC.

“There is currently no federally-enforced drinking water standard for radon. EPA has proposed to regulate radon in drinking water from community water suppliers (water systems that serve 25 or more year-round residents). EPA does not regulate private wells.” From an EPA publication, Basic Information about Radon in Drinking Water

“As uranium breaks down, radon gas forms…” From and EPA publication, Basic Information about Radon in Drinking Water

So. This is the new real estate hot button. We went through mold and radon gas panics; now we have radon and other ‘contaminants’ in drinking water. What we need to know is that this is a newly raised issue, and frankly there are no real stats to which to refer, in some cases. IN THE MEANTIME…If you are on a water system supplied by a reservoir, for example (open to the air system), the EPA says the radon gas will evaporate long before it reaches you. It is well water that’s the real concern, according to research, and relax; not all well water has radon in it. The EPA seeks to determine a limit, and it will be based on what amount could evaporate into your home and create a number above the ‘radon in air’ limit, if I read correctly. The only thing that worries me is that the EPA is seeking to determine a limit. But that’s just me.

Uranium in water has also bubbled up as an issue. By the way, radon and uranium are typically present to some extent in soil and air, and therefore often in water too. We live with many, many elements that are deemed harmful, every day. But some of these rock borne contaminants have established contamination limits (meaning ‘some’ is okay; it has to be because we live on a rock), but the limits are high, relatively: “The EPA has estimated that the additional lifetime cancer risk associated with drinking water that contains 30 ug/L (the MCL for uranium) is about 1 person in 10,000 who drinks two liters of uranium-contaminated water a day for 70 years.  Bathing and showering with water that contains uranium is not a health concern.” From a publication by Western Upper Peninsula Public Health Department, citing the EPA regulation. By the way, MCL is maximum contamination limit, and I added the underline.

I don’t drink 2 liters of water a day.

But these two contaminants are not poisons; they are either the result of decay, or actually DO decay, releasing energy that can burn/damage human tissue, if present in large enough concentrations, over a long period of time. What you need to know is that unless you have your water tested, you won’t know what’s there or how much, and once you have numbers you will need to investigate for yourself how or whether you want to remediate. And remember that the EPA do not regulate private wells.

In the meantime, don’t panic. Do your homework! Remediation…just the word, brings dollar signs to the forefront. But you will shortly be asked, if I know my business and I do, to choose whether or not to have your water tested for these elements, and it will cost you. Be ready.

Neighborhood Covenants

I know. Some of you think those are dirty words. But let me try to mitigate, because I see this all the time: Someone moves in and suddenly starts screaming about rules, which were in place WAY before that person moved in.

Covenants are for the purpose of protecting your property value…mostly from the influence of others who would destroy it. Imagine you buy a gorgeous $500,000 home in a community where there are no ‘restrictive covenants’ (I know, wouldn’t happen but bear with me). Then your new neighbor comes in and puts a pig pen next to your master bedroom. Then imagine that your new neighbor couldn’t give a hoot whether or not you like the smell. And imagine you say, “Well you are not supposed to build anything this close to the property line!” Then he says, “There’s nothing saying I can’t put my pig pen RIGHT HERE.”

Now try to 1) live there in peace; or 2) sell the house. Call me when either one happens.

Are you following me?

Imagine you live in a town home with assigned parking and your new neighbor has five cars, two of which he always parks in your spaces. Imagine that there are no covenants, no HOA. What are you going to do? Let me help you. You’re going to park in the next closest parking spot that’s not assigned, even if it is a quarter mile away…the distance you have to carry your groceries. With a broken leg.

Imagine you have a neighbor who works on race cars at night after he gets home from work, and does it until after midnight. Imagine you have to get up early after listening to race car engines roar all night. OR, imagine your neighbor paints his house neon orange while you are trying to sell you house. It happens!

The key is: Trying to sell your house. Covenants are often called “protective covenants” because they actually are designed to protect your property value.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has his or her own opinion of what landscaping looks like. And what a good exterior paint color would be, or what constitutes a ‘pet’. Because giving peoples’ opinions free rein would result in out and out war, we have covenants. Now: If you are a nonconformist, then you are probably going to buy a property with plenty of privacy and acreage, and that’s okay. If you are a nonconformist, you don’t want anyone telling you how to live your life (I get that comment a LOT). I know that right now, this minute, you don’t live in a community with covenants. I also know that someone starting a pig farm next door to your property will NOT go over well with you. And, I also know there’s not a thing you can do about it.

But for the rest of us, believe me, covenants and a strong HOA board to enforce them, are critical. Why? Because most people don’t care whether you like the smell of animal poop; most people don’t care whether or not your leg is broken and they’ve taken your parking space. Most people don’t care a hoot about your property value, nor, in many cases, their own.

What I’m saying is this: Protective covenants are necessary because you need to know what’s going to be happening in the community where you just sent a half a million dollars, if you would like to get that back someday with a bit of equity growth. Most people do.

An HOA governing board is made up of community members, with oversight, usually, by a management company. These people are not paid. They have to deal with a thousand complaints because…everybody has their own idea of…everything. You get the idea. And, most residents pay their dues on time, every time. But some people don’t. That means they are riding on your payment of fees. That’s why the HOA has an attorney; that’s why there are late fees. I’m thinking when it’s time for the road to be paved, you’d like everyone to pay their share of the cost. If you don’t have an HOA, you might have to pay their cost.

An entry monument to your neighborhood has to be cared for by someone, and the HOA pays for that out of the dues you pay. Why? If you try to sell your home and potential buyers see weeds and dead plants at the entry, guess what they do? Right! Keep driving.

It’s about property value. Yours! But all other things aside, if you ARE moving into a community with covenants, READ THEM BEFORE YOU BUY. That way, if you want to raise pigs, you won’t end up losing your property over it, or paying fines or having your home foreclosed on (and yes, that can happen).

If you buy a property with protective covenants and you have not read them, then you have no business complaining when you get fined for breaking those covenants. Just be sure you do your due diligence. That way you will HAVE good neighbors, and maybe more importantly you will BE a good neighbor.

Covenants are available in the tax website, listed as deed restrictions, covenants, restrictive covenants, protective covenants….there are a lot of names for them. So when you plan to buy a home, find them, or ask me, your agent, to get them for you. Know what the HOA dues are, and what the covenants say. Then you’re good to go!