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My $0.02 Category

The Death of Vanity Telephone Numbers

I discovered today that Vanity telephone numbers are on their way out. What do I mean by this? First a little history: In the 1960’s, the telecommunications industry created the DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) system. This technology is the basis for our touch-tone telephone which replaced the old rotary phone systems. Long story short, it made dialing a telephone number much easier. Growing up, we had a rotary phone in our home (in fact, my grandmother still has one in her apartment!). Our telephone number was (415) 397-0973. If you are old enough to remember rotary phones, you’ll understand how difficult this number would be to dial (especially the 9’s and 0’s). It would often take me many attempts to dial home, as I would put my finger in the wrong hole, or forget which number I was on.

Alas, I digress… Back to the topic at hand…

So, today I was in my car talking to my insurance agent, trying to file a claim. My agent gave me the claims number and said ” just dial 1-800-allstate“. She even offered to do a conference call and dial the number for me. Being the independent person that I am, I declined and stated that I would make the call myself and hung up.

Here’s where the story gets interesting…

So, I’m driving in my car, trying to dial at the same time. On my previous cell phone, this would not have been a problem, as the keypad had the alphabet stamped on each number. You know the sequence right? ABC, DEF, GHI, JKL…

Guess what? I just got a new BlackBerry! Here’s what my new phone looks like:

Notice anything different about it?

Yeah. The letters under my keypad are different than my old cell phone.

So I’m driving in my car, trying to remember what letters are associated with what numbers. I’m trying to call 1-800-allstate by dialing 1-800-144-6717. I get a message stating “The number or code you have dialed is incorrect”. Darn! I try again. Let’s see, #1 is ABC, #2 is DEF, #3 is GHI… Still no luck. I then called my girlfriend for help. Only then am I reminded that the letters start at #2, not #1. How stupid is that? So the actual number I should have dialed is 1-800-255-7828.

With the BlackBerry phone’s rising popularity, maybe allstate should change their number to 1-800-EDD-ZXEX. On the other hand, maybe they don’t want people dialing their claims line anyway…

The value of an Open House?

So, I’m sitting here at my new listing (see previous post) on Sunday July 6th waiting for the right buyer to drop in and make an offer on this great home. Yesterday, I knocked on doors within the neighborhood letting folks know that I just listed a home in their neighborhood. I handed out flyers and let everyone know that I would be holding the home open today from 1-4pm.

I’ve spoken to many other agents in the area who think door knocking and Open Houses are a waste of their time. They would rather stay home and complain about how bad the market is. In this slower market, I think a good agent has to think outside of the box and do things that may be outside of their comfort zone. Knocking on doors and sitting an Open House isn’t the most exciting way to market a home, but I did get to meet several of the neighbors, and one of them even recognized my name from some of the other homes I’ve sold in the neighborhood.

Market Dynamics from a different perspective

I saw a question posted on Trulia.com recently from a user wanting to know when the market would return to normal. My first thought was: What is a normal market?

Is “normal” what we experienced in the last several years, or do we go back further in time to gain a proper perspective? How far do we travel back in time to get to that “normal” market? 10 years? 20 years? In order to define normal, we first need to determine a baseline as to what constitutes that definition.

American Heritage Dictionary defines normal as:
Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical: normal room temperature; one’s normal weight; normal diplomatic relations.

hmm… Seems like a circular reference to me… Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Seller…

seller

“My family and I would very much like to purchase your home. I am a single gay man with 2 adopted, handicapped children…”

Have you ever written a letter like this to present to a seller of a home? I’ve done this on behalf of my clients before (not this exact letter, but something similar). And with good success, I might add. The New York Times recently ran a piece that spoke about this tactic (however, the content differs dramatically from what I’ve seen and written in the past).

Letters like those written in the article are perfectly acceptable in my opinion. What should be mentioned from a cautionary standpoint, are words that could be misconstrued as discriminatory in nature as defined by HUD (Housing and Urban Development). Title VIII of the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against a variety of classes. So, even with the best of intentions in mind, a letter like the sample above could be a lawsuit in the making. I am thinking of using the letter from the NYT article though…

What are your thoughts?

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Is it my agent’s fault? (Part III)

So the house looks great, the information in the MLS and online is correct and attractive, the advertising is going strong, yet still only a handful of buyers have visited?

One myth that many sellers seem to believe is that real estate agents sell houses. We don’t. Okay, I’ve let the cat out of the bag. The wizard has come out from behind the curtain.

When I describe what I do to folks, I tell them that I help people buy and sell houses. The key word is “people”. Without “people”, I would just be looking at homes, and living on welfare (which may be soon if buyers don’t start buying). Sometimes, you can do everything right, and still have nobody come and look at your home. If there is nobody in your price range looking for a home with features that your offers, there is nothing that I nor any other real estate agent can do. I can’t wave a magic wand and have a buyer appear. Some agents might promote that they could do this, but they’d be lying.

How do you gain visibility for your home if there are no buyers? I can’t make buyers appear, but you as the seller can. How you ask?

You could lower the price (you’ve heard that before, haven’t you?).
You could offer different terms (carry back a 2nd mortgage on the property or pay closing costs).
You could offer buyer incentives (appliances, etc.)

Lastly (and this is the hardest option for sellers),
You can be patient. A buyer will materialize sooner or later. They always do. Just don’t kill the messenger. If your agent is doing what he/she should be doing to expose your home to the market, don’t blame him/her for there not being any buyers around.

Is it my agent’s fault? (Part II)

So, you’ve prepared your home, and it looks great! It’s priced appropriately for the market and the photos are perfect. What? you’re still not getting any showings?

The first step is to look at the MLS printout. Is there something that is missing in the marketing comments that might entice a buyer to see the home? Check to make sure that all the included information is correct too! I’ve seen many listings with the wrong number of beds and baths advertised. I’ve also seen listings where the price is incorrect ($250,000 home listed for $2,500,000), or the address is input incorrectly (hard to see a home if you can’t find it).

Next, review the marketing plan with your listing agent. What advertising has been done? Print advertising is not as dominant as it once was. According to a 2007 survey done by the National Association of Realtors, 84% of home buyers used the internet when looking for a home. Can you find your home online? Put your buyer hat on, and look at the major websites for your home. In the Pacific Northwest, all of the large real estate companies have a major web presence. In addition to Windermere’s, John L. Scott’s, Coldwell Banker’s websites, there are also Trulia, Craigslist and others. If you can’t find your home, its possible that nobody else can either. Make sure that your agent remedies this immediately.

Public and Broker Open Houses? Yes, these add to the exposure of your home, although they have diminished in importance with the advent of the internet. I hold Open Houses for all of my clients, because I don’t like to leave any stones unturned. The probability of obtaining a buyer for your home is low with Open Houses, but in this type of market, all facets need to be explored. I just held a Sunday Open House for a client and had nobody stop by. I sent out postcard mailers to the neighbors and potential move-up buyers, advertised the open house online and in the local newspaper with no success. I’m not deterred however, and plan to try it again next weekend.

(Read part III of this article here…)

Is it my agent’s fault? (Part I)

A question was asked on Trulia.com recently from a seller wondering about the lack of showings on his home. Was it the fault of the agent that only 6 people in 6 weeks had viewed his home? Isn’t the job of the real estate agent to get eyeballs on the property?

My answer was a qualified “YES”. I qualified my answer because when a seller signs an agreement with a real estate agent to list and eventually sell their home, they are entering into a partnership with that listing agent. What do I mean by partnership?
As a Listing Agent, I have the responsibility to represent my clients’ best interests by marketing, advertising, and eventually selling their home. However, I don’t have the authority to make certain decisions, and that’s where the partnership comes into play. For instance, I have the responsibility to take photos of the home and put them on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), and many other sites on the Internet where they will gain visibility by the general public. But, what if the photo looks like this?
This is where the partnership comes in. As a Listing Agent, I have no authority over the seller with regard to the property condition. The seller is responsible for making the home presentable. If this photo was on the Internet, would you want to go and see the home in person or would you immediately eliminate the property from your list? Sometimes, sellers view their homes differently than agents (and buyers). I always explain to my seller clients that how a person lives in their home is not how they market it to sell.
The photo to the left is what buyers want to see. This photo was taken from a client’s home just prior to putting it on the market for sale. This is a dream come true for many agents – a client who understands what is needed and takes appropriate action.
Now of course, not all sellers are at the extreme ends of the spectrum as noted here. Most are somewhere in-between. This is where my role as Listing Agent is to educate and advise the client on what should be done to make the home as marketable as possible. However, as noted above, the final responsibility (and authority) rests with the client.
Now, what if the client does what is asked, but the agent takes a photo that looks like this? Here is what appears to be a clean home, ready for showing, and yet the photo is poor, not only in exposure, but in drawing the buyer’s interest. This is clearly the fault of the Listing Agent (btw, I didn’t take this photo). If this photo were on the Internet, would it spark your interest? Maybe, maybe not. It could certainly be better though. As a seller, I would ask my agent to re-take the photo.
I had to do this recently when I listed a home. At the time I took the listing, the weather was overcast and had been all winter and spring. Here is what I had to initially use:

I didn’t really like the photo, but our MLS requires a photo of the front of a property when listing a home. At the very next opportunity I had, I replaced it with this:

A much more enticing photo, don’t you think?

Bottom Line: If you think your agent isn’t doing his/her job in marketing your home, first take a look at yourself. Are you following the advice that has been given (assuming you have a competent agent who is providing you with advice)? Marketing and selling a home is a partnership, and both partners need to carry their weight.

(Update) – Read part II of this article here

Great customer service!

If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, I’ve ranted about some of the businesses that provided terrible customer service. This one however, is just the opposite. In a previous post, I described a home remodel that I had recently completed. In my remodel, I had purchased several appliances from my local appliance retailer, Frederick’s in Redmond WA. Eric Blakemore is the owner and he has been an acquaintance of mine for many years. I have purchased nearly all of my appliances for my personal residences and rentals from him (there were times he recommended that I go to Sears, because he couldn’t provide me with as good a deal).

Anyway, I purchased a Fisher Paykel Dishdrawer (3rd one, not because they fail, but because I keep moving!) and it stopped working yesterday. I called for repairs and the authorized service center told me it would be 10 days before they could come out to look at it. So, I called Eric. He knew exactly what the problem was (user error). And, he walked me through the very easy solution to resolve the problem. This isn’t the first time he’s solved a problem for me. Maybe that’s why I recommend him to all of my clients! If you live in the greater Seattle area and need appliances, stop by and see him.

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Happy Birthday Steven!

Yesterday, May 16, 2008 was my oldest son’s 18th birthday. Seems like only yesterday that he was such a cute little kid. It’s hard to believe that he’s old enough to vote and to fight for our country if necessary. Today is his Senior Prom and when he showed me his Tuxedo (white with pinstripes), I wasn’t sure if I was gonna laugh (he looked like a sports celebrity with his shaved head), or cry (he looked all grown up). I began reflecting on how the years have gone by, and how proud I am of his accomplishments. To be perfectly clear, he is a typical teenager; sometimes irresponsible, often impertinent, and yet still has an innocence about him.

Steven at 6 yrs Steven at 9 yrs
Steven at 11 yrs Steven at 16 yrs
Steven at 17 yrs looking like a dork playing DDR (Dance Dance Revolution)

So it also got me thinking about what was happening in 1990.

  • Mortgage interest rates were hovering around 10% for a 30yr fixed loan.
  • Homes were selling for about $80/sqft in Woodinville (vs. $270 in 2008).
  • The Hubble telescope was launched into space.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the nobel Peace Prize
  • Sammy Davis Jr. (of the famous “Rat Pack”) passed away on the same day as Steven was born. I don’t think he was re-incarnated as Steven (as evidenced by his dancing skills above).
  • And more

What were you doing in 1990?

My remodel

Last fall I threw myself into a major interior remodel project on a 30-year-old split-level home I just bought in Woodinville with a view of Cottage Lake.

With help from my girlfriend and kids, I first demolished the kitchen and bathrooms along with a couple of walls, scraped off the popcorn texture on the ceilings and then removed all the carpeting, kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, lights, window coverings, doors and trim and other dated or damaged things.

Next, I got to work on the fun part of remodeling: buying and installing new stuff! My girlfriend, her dad and I did most of the remodel work ourselves. We raised the kitchen ceiling, framed in a closet in the main bath, hung new drywall and doors, installed new hardwood and tile floors, new bath fixtures and trim including a tub, shower, and toilets, new kitchen appliances, electrical outlets, smoke alarms, lighting, and more.

I called in the professionals to install new kitchen cabinets, bath vanities, granite countertops, to retexture the walls, and frame in a pocket door for the master bath. I probably could have done the work myself, but it would have taken much longer, and sometimes, you just need to let the pros do the work.

Along the way, we encountered the usual problems such as underestimating the cost of materials and labor and the amount of time needed to complete each project. For example, we remodeled the kitchen and a bathrooms and installed the wood floors in four months instead of two months as first planned. We encountered some other problems during both the demolition and remodel, too. We kept finding dead rats, mice, and ants in the walls, under the floors, and in the attic (yes, several fell on us). We also learned that “contractor time” is not linear. Some contractors (granite, drywall texture, plumbers) never showed up when they promised or showed up several hours late. I’ll spare them the embarrassment by not naming them here, but if you really want to know who they are, drop me a line…

Here are some of the BEFORE photos. Click on the photos to see the larger views.

Here are the AFTER photos:

After four months of intense remodeling, we moved into our new home. We still have lots of remodel projects planned including installing wood flooring on the stairway, laying tile in the entryway, replacing the front door, deck, roof, and windows, repainting the house exterior, re-landscaping the yard, and replacing the driveway and so on. I’ve learned quite a bit throughout this project, and gained much respect for those hard-working folks in the construction industry. I’ve taken many more photos of my remodel than I’ve shown here, but there isn’t enough space to post them all…

Many thanks to the following contractors who I would highly recommend:

CSI Kitchen & Bath Design – Located here in Woodinville. They installed my kitchen and bath cabinets. I also purchased all of my tile, faucets, bath and kitchen hardware from them. They were always on-time, always cleaned up after themselves, and were reasonably priced.

Ken Baltzell – General contractor / handyman. He helped me install my doors, and answered all of my remodel questions. In addition to helping me out from time to time, he has also performed great work for several of my clients. His phone# is 206-669-7708


Fredericks Appliances
– Located in Redmond, Eric Blakemore and his group have supplied all of the appliances in several of my homes over the years.

Lumber Liquidators – I installed 3/4″ solid, pre-finished Brazilian Walnut floors throughout the main level of the home (kitchen, dining, living room, hall, 3 bedrooms). This is the 2nd time I’ve purchased hardwood flooring from this company. I’ve been very happy with the quality of their hardwoods, and their service.

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