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i turn REALTY into REALiTY

My $0.02 Category

Lost and (not!) Found

So, I used to post all of my Blogs to Blogger.com. Then, when I changed website hosting companies, I used their blogging system for my blog entries. After awhile I realized that their blogging platform stunk (didn’t do what I had hoped it would do), and now I’m back to my old site. Unfortunately, there was no way of merging the two sites into one where all of my posts would show up. If you look at the dates of my previous posts, it looks like I’ve been absent for a year, but that’s not the case. I’ve just got no way of showing my past blog entries here.

So now I’m kinda starting from scratch again. On my links page I mentioned my kitchen remodel, and how you can see some of the photos (before and after), but that’s no longer possible until I repost them again. I’ll try and do that this week.

Good Customer Service

Isn’t it sad that these days, bad customer service is more common that good customer service? In our society we’ve lowered our standards, and what should be considered average service now stands out amidst our daily experiences.

There are some exceptions to this and I’d like to sing the praises of a recent experience of mine. This past December, I was shopping for a new video camera for work (see my first video in a previous blog entry below). I searched online and in the local retail stores for the best camera at the best price (isn’t that what we all do?). To make a long story short, I ended up purchasing the new Sony SR1 digital video camera at Video Only in Bellevue. Their prices were comparable to other stores, but it was my experience with Russell Fuller the Sales Manager, through his exemplary service and can-do attitude that won my business. Interestingly enough, the camera was back-ordered for over a week at this store during the huge windstorm in early December. I could have purchased the camera elsewhere and gotten it sooner, but my experience with Russell, and his honesty and helpfulness made me determined to give him the sale. In this day and age where people are always shopping around to get the best deal or the lowest price, whether for a retail product or real estate services, I’d rather pay a bit more for the service. How about you?

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What has happened to good, honest customer service?

After putting nearly 200,000 miles on my 11 year old car, it was time to put it to pasture (that’s code for handing it down to my newly licensed teenager). So, after much deliberation and many sleepless nights (not just about the car, but about my son driving too!), I decided to bite the bullet and go car shopping.

After listening to all of the advice from my family and friends, I chose to purchase a used vehicle (2005 model), thereby avoiding the instant depreciation that occurs as you drive the new car off the lot. Thus my saga begins…

You know the story – You arrive on the car lot and the smiling salesperson steps out to greet you – My tale was no different. The nice salesperson met me, asked several questions, let me take a test drive, etc… Long story short, I ended up buying the car. Notice I said that I bought the car. He didn’t sell me the car. There is a difference. I knew what I wanted, and my salesperson told me that the car I was driving had all of the features that I had requested. That was mistake #1 for me. I was too emotionally attached to the car that I didn’t bother verifying whether or not what he told me was the truth. Turns out, it wasn’t! No IPOD connector, no satellite radio installed.

So, I’m a few days into driving my car, and I’m wondering why my salesperson hasn’t called to see how I was doing. I always follow up with my clients after they buy a home from me, and I just expected that this salesperson would do the same. Turns out, he no longer works for the car dealership and nobody will tell me why. I then found out that the other items promised to me (thankfully these were itemized and written down in the contract) were never ordered.

I end up speaking with the General Manager of the dealership, explaining my situation, and he’s empathizing with me, trying to calm me down, basically doing all of the things a good Sales Manager should do when a problem arises. The thing is, my problems aren’t being solved. All I’m getting are explanations and excuses. So, I give him time to further research the issues. Mistake #2 (open ended time with no specific date for deliverables).

About a week goes by and nothing gets resolved. All I got were more excuses when I called. This time, I drive down to the dealership (45 miles away!) to speak with the General Manager in person. More excuses ensue, but this time he tells me that my salesperson never would have promised me the things he did because that’s not how they do business. He then proceeded to tell me that I must have misunderstood what I was told (forgetting the fact that I had in writing one of the promised items), and that they could not honor the promise because they didn’t make very much money on the deal to begin with.

What is wrong with this picture? A salesperson makes a promise to close a deal, then leaves the company (or gets fired), then the General Manager says they can’t honor the promise because they didn’t make any money on the deal? I’m then asked to “work with them” and “compromise”. I don’t think so! I believe that if somebody makes a promise, they should live up to that promise (verbal or written).

As consumers we should expect to be treated fairly and dealt with in good faith. Otherwise, we can choose to take out business elsewhere. If you are wondering about the name of this dealership, it is Robert Larson Mercedes of Tacoma.

As of this writing, I am still waiting for my issues to be resolved (3 weeks after my purchase). But, I do love my new (used) car, and my clients get to ride in luxury (even without the satellite radio and IPOD music). I’ll keep you posted on my progress…

Licensed to Sell!

A recent report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) stated that the number of licensed Realtors is up 44% since 2003. That’s a whole lot of new agents in the field. Although home prices have appreciated significantly over the last several years (in my area at least), there are fewer homes on the market. This translates to more agents assisting fewer home sellers and buyers.

Another interesting statistic from this article reported that the median income for agents with less than two years experience was $12,850, while agents with 6-10 years experience had a median income of $58,700. Also, NAR reported that 86% of newly licensed agents drop out of the business during their first year. I personally had two clients try and sell real estate, but ultimately “changed their minds” after seeing firsthand just how difficult it can truly be. They stated that I made it look so easy to them that they thought it really was easy. Boy, were they surprised!

What’s the take-away from all of this? Not to stand on my soapbox for too long, but I work pretty hard to make what I do look pretty easy. Those that think this job is easy should walk in my shoes for a bit. When I started selling real estate back in 1996, I was considered the “new guy” in my office. Since then, I’ve seen about two dozen or more agents come and go in my office (and my broker is VERY particular about who he hires).

This profession can be very difficult for single people. Those agents that I’ve seen be most successful are ones who have spousal support (emotional as well as financial) to get through the lean times. My first year income back in 1996 was a whopping $18,000 (+/-) and that was gross, not net! By the time you subtracted my expenses and taxes, I actually lost money! Thankfully, I have survived and actually thrived over the years (many thanks to my loyal clients who have referred countless other clients to me).

If I had to start all over from scratch, I’m not sure I would do it again, but you know what? At this point in my career, I absolutely love my work, my clients, and most of all, the freedom it allows me to spend time with those I love!

Zillowed!

This past week I was contacted by a friend/client to whom I had helped buy a house several years ago. He was interested in selling and wanted to know how much his home was worth in today’s market. It had been awhile since I visited his home, so I asked the standard questions such as what improvements he had made to the home, maintenance issues, etc. I then proceeded to do a CMA (Comparative Market Analysis) to determine a ballpark valuation.

When I gave him my results, he was a bit disappointed to say the least. He then proceeded to scour the web for his own comparables and sent me a long email with a list of addresses, sales dates, and Zesstimates from Zillow.com from which he used to create his own list price. That’s when the real fun began!

He mistook the Zesstimates as “actual” sales prices instead of what they really are, which are estimates of value based on tax data and other area factors. So, a home he thought had sold for $681,000 in reality had only sold for $635,000. In another example, he compared the $/sqft of his home with homes on Zillow only to later find out that the data on those homes listed on Zillow.com was off by several hundred square feet, which gave him erroneous results.

What’s my point in highlighting this situation? My client isn’t to blame for his assumptions (however wrong they were). He saw something on a website that he believed to be correct and relied on the data. Unfortunately, it is hard for the average consumer to know what is accurate and what isn’t. There is so much incorrect information available on the internet that even a very smart person (which he is) can be easily confused. Zillow.com, like other data analysis sites on the internet do the best they can to provide reliable information, but their computer modeling is only a small part of the equation when it comes to selling real estate.

My client then jokingly suggested that in order to “earn my commission”, I should be able to sell his home for what he thinks it is worth, not what I told him it is worth. My response was that I earn my commission by providing accurate and reliable data (and subsequent analysis) to my clients so that they can make educated and informed decisions instead of relying on Zesstimates.

What are your thoughts?

Slate on Real Estate

A couple of days ago, Slate wrote a piece on a Century 21 real estate TV ad. The author’s take on the ad is not new. It reflects the growing dismay of the typical consumer about the Real Estate industry. High prices, low inventory, and the inability of the average Real Estate agent to educate the customer appear to be the cause of the uproar.

To be sure, selling a home is not an inexpensive proposition. The average cost to a seller in my area is about 9% of the sales price. But, only 6% of that cost is commission. The remaining 3% is for excise tax, title fees, escrow fees, etc. that a seller must pay regardless if an agent is involved or not.

So, it appears that the debate centers around the sales commission, since that is what the author of the Slate ad focused on. I agree with his initial assessment of the Century 21 ad and how it could be perceived as further reinforcement of the common negative attitude that consumers have. However, I lost respect for the author when he commented “of course your agent wants you to buy a house you can’t afford – she gets a bigger commission”. Not only would this be unethical, but the increase in income to the agent is miniscule compared to the long term trust that the agent is trying to create.

It is easy to jump on the commission bashing bandwagon, but consumers should instead be focused on the services that we provide. Bottom line: If an agent cannot justify his/her value in the transaction, the consumer should shop elsewhere.

What are your thoughts?

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Pet Peeve for the day!

One of my biggest complaints about some fellow Realtors (the group to which I belong) is that they don’t return phone calls in a timely manner. Sure, we all get busy throughout the day, but it is common courtesy to return a call from somebody (especially when they leave you a message stating that they have an offer on one of your listings!). I left several messages for a listing agent on Tuesday morning about an offer I wanted to present and didn’t hear back until Wednesday! Imagine how you might feel if you were the seller of the home and your agent didn’t tell you about the offer until the next day.

What makes things even worse, is that as the buyer’s agent, I couldn’t even contact the seller until 24 hours had passed because of our MLS restrictions. So, I had my buyers calling me throughout the day asking if I had heard back from the listing agent (which I hadn’t), and hearing them voice their frustrations about the situation. My hands were tied, and that didn’t make me feel very good. But I will remember how this agent treated me, and the next time I have an opportunity to show one of her homes…

Builder penalties

I recently represented a couple who purchased a new construction home from a major builder in the Seattle area. In the builder’s addendum (which the buyers must agree to and sign), there were several clauses that I found disconcerting to say the least!

The first clause had to do with the buyers’ choice of lender. If the buyers did not use the builder’s lender for financing, they would be charged an additional $350 fee at closing for “seller’s additional time and expense involved when working with a non-preferred lender“. My question is this: What additional time and expense is involved for the seller? In over 10 years of selling real estate, I have never had an instance where a seller incurred additional time and expense by a buyer’s lender. For that matter, I’ve never heard of a seller having any contact with the lender at all! I admit that when selling a new plat of homes, there may be some additional paperwork involved since the homes have no prior recording documents on file, but is it really that much more difficult working with a non-preferred lender? Maybe this is just another way to pad the builder’s pockets?

The second clause in this builder’s addendum had to do with closing delays. It stated that if the buyers were unable to complete the transaction by the closing date, they would be charged a penalty of $250 per day until it closed. But, in that same addendum it stated that “Seller may at its option extend the Closing Date with no penalty whatsoever… up to 60 days past the original closing date“. Where is the fairness in all of this? This smacks of a double standard!

With housing inventory at an all time low, many builders believe they can bully buyers into submission. Unfortunately in many instances, they are right. But, just wait until the pendulum swings back in the other direction and it comes back to bite them in the …

What are your thoughts?