Are your clients’ real estate wishes feasible or fantasy?

Mood of the Market

As a real estate agent, every client or family you work with has their own personal quirks, individual wishes and unique needs that must be met. That said, over the years you end up running into some of the same fact scenarios over and over again. One such set of scenarios is the frequent expression of various real estate fantasies, things you hear buyers and sellers say they wish would happen, year in and year out.

These fantasties offer a window of insight into the way we think about our homes, finances, and decisions around real estate and our lives. Here are just a few that most agents encounter dozens of times during a career:

1. I wish I could pick THIS house up and put it in THAT location. Alright, clearly the buyers who say this are living in the land of the hypothetical. Generally, this is said by someone whose agent has shown them an awesome house in a less-than-awesome location and a less-than-awesome house in a great location — both within price range.

If you’ve ever uttered or thought this wish, let me break it to you: You probably can find a house just like the awesome house in the awesome location. But you can’t likely find both within your price range. If it could be found, I assure you that your agent would show it to you — every agent wants to be the "perfect house"-finding hero. THIS house in THAT location might cost twice what you can spend.

So, for most of us, the task at hand is to prioritize whether the house or the location is more important, and to make conscious compromises that we can live with over the long term. Unfortunately, picking up THIS house and putting it in THAT location is, nine times out of 10: FANTASY.

2. I wish I could get rid of this wall, but it seems like it’s structural. This one is almost always spoken while standing at the wall between kitchen and dining room, wishing the area’s layout was more of an open plan. It’s funny — a generation ago, homebuyers sought to have kitchen areas where food preparation and messes could be cordoned off and out of view; now, we all want to be able to make food preparation part of our entertainment experiences, and kitchens that are open to the dining area allow for the party to include the cook!

Fortunately, even structural walls between kitchen and dining room can often be removed, leaving a beam at the ceiling to provide continued support. That doesn’t always mean such a remodel is uber-affordable, as some folks have in mind building in a new island, reworking the flooring, even putting a stovetop or sink into the area that once included the wall. But more often than not, this is a real estate wish that can be filed under: FEASIBLE.

3. I wish someone would just knock on my door and offer me a mllion bucks for this place. Everyone seems to remember the scene in "War of the Roses" in which Kathleen Turner’s character stalks the house she just loves and one day finds that the owner has died and is able to buy it from the family. And many sellers have actually gotten seemingly handwritten notes in the mailbox from a driveby buyer offering to purchase their home. But those who call to follow up on those notes often quickly realize that these notes were commissioned by an agent or would-be investor who is sending them all over town trying to find someone who will list their home with them or sell it for a song — and with seller financing.

Does it ever happen that a commercial interest or just a passerby makes a wild offer to buy a property that’s not for sale? Ever? Yes. But by and large, if someone has a ton of cash to spend, they want to max out the property they get for it. So, this one is going to have to fall under FANTASY, in my humble (but experienced) opinion.

4. I wish the sellers would just love us so much they want us to have their house, over all the other bidders. So, here’s the deal. In a hot market, when homes are selling quickly and multiple offers are the norm, some agents do advise their buyer clients to put together a little letter about their family, complete with a picture of a baby with a dog (hopefully the buyers’!) to help sway the seller their way.

And this is not bad advice. In situations where a couple of offers are very close or a tie needs to be broken, I have seen sellers issue a counteroffer to the buyer who otherwise would have been lower or break the tie in favor of the buyer who submitted the letter with the cute dog or great life story.

But this is rare.

Home sellers almost always need the cash from the sale of their home to move onto the next phase of their lives. It is almost always the case that this home is their largest asset. So, it is very, very rare to see a seller forgo more than a very small amount of money in order to give their home to people they like more than others who are offering more cash for the property.

Even in cases where a family is selling the old family home, the fact that the proceeds of the sale will need to be divided up simply motivates the sellers even more to pick the highest and best offer.

Long story short: Letters and pictures are free, not counting the time it takes you to write them. And if there are dozens of offers, anything you can do is something you should do. On very rare occasion, you might win out because of your letter or pictures. But if you’re hoping that a seller is going to be willing to "give" you a major discount on their home because you’re sweet, nice or cute, you’re probably living in a FANTASY world, friend.

5. I wish I could find a cosmetic fixer for a steal. The days of cosmetic fixers going for uber-low prices are gone, if they truly ever existed. For the most part, sellers and listing agents are so savvy now that if a house needs mostly cosmetic work, they’ll do the work before listing the place. If it needs more than cosmetic work, they might leave it all to be fixed by the buyer and sell the place "as is," but then, of course, the buyer would be taking on a more costly and potentially problematic repair challenge.

If a place needs cosmetic-only work and the sellers don’t do it before listing the place, they are not likely to give you half off the market value to compensate for new paint, carpet and countertops. They are more likely to claim that the list price was actually already discounted for the fixes that need to be done or, at most, to offer a closing cost credit to cover some of the post-closing expenses you’ll incur.

Can you get a good discount on a home that’s a purely cosmetic fixer? Sure. But will you get one for a steal? Unless it is also a distressed property or in a market where homes generally are tough to sell, chances are that a massive discount for purely cosmetic fixes falls into the FANTASY bucket.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is a real estate broker, attorney and the author of two critically acclaimed books on real estate. Tara also speaks and writes on the art and science of life transformation at RETHINK7.com.

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