I was in the grocery store on Friday when I overheard the man chatting on his cell phone: "Boy, am I glad it’s Friday." Stopping just short of whacking him upside the head with my 10-pound bag of kitty litter, I instead chose to silently loathe him. Friday. I wish I could get me one of those things.
Everything about my chosen profession is just so difficult these days. First, there are the longer market times. Time is money, and not only is my overburdened Decade at a Glance threatening to file bankruptcy, but never have I had to throw my checkbook in so many directions for such prolonged periods as I do these days.
When people ask me how business is going, and the question is most often accompanied with an expression usually reserved for the terminally ill, I can sincerely respond by saying that the number of transactions we have been involved in this year is no fewer than last. It is not the level of business that has me dangerously close to modeling straight-jacket attire but the level of effort required to achieve the same results.
I’m not alone. During a routine "Where is my contingency removal?" phone call to another agent this week, she confessed she had spent the morning in tears. It was job-related stress. While chatting with my husband last Saturday evening, his cell phone rang, and seeing that is was from a number beginning with "666," he chose to let it go to voicemail. We, being rational and educated adults, were fairly certain Beelzebub wasn’t having trouble with his financing, but given the way our week had been going, we agreed that it was safer to not take any chances.
What makes otherwise well-adjusted professionals lose it? Well, there are the lender-controlled sales, the short sales and REOs that are sadly so commonplace in my Southern California market. Whether representing the seller or the buyer in these cases, the process is as much fun as a child birth, but the labor is far more difficult. And if you are lucky enough to survive the delivery, you often end up with a really ugly baby. Banks are busy, busy folks, we are told. Apparently they are far busier than we are. This is why phone calls are not returned, incoming calls are redirected and misdirected, and entire approval packages are lost, and lost again, and once more with feeling.
This week, a proactive phone call on our part to check the status of a short-sale package awaiting approval (approval, we had been assured, was a mere week out) was met with the news that the entire package had been "destroyed." Why? Because the estimate of proceeds we had prepared, one page out of 50 and one that had been prepared according to the lender’s explicit instructions, was "improperly formatted." Lacking the clairvoyance to know that their requirements might have changed or even that our first and second and third points of contact might have given us the wrong information, we were back to zero. "Were you going to call and tell us?" we asked. No. It seems they are busy, busy, busy.
Then, there is the 100-house rule. Oh, sure, I have seen the studies professing that, because of the availability of property information on the Internet, the average buyer sees something like 1.37 homes with an agent before making a purchase. This may be true in, oh, a dream sequence or even on a "reality" show, but in the real world (the one in which I live most of the time), the average is closer to the combined weight of the Olsen twins.
Buyers, sensing no urgency whatsoever and better prices tomorrow, start by seeing their 1.37 favorites, cherry-picked from their search site of choice. Where they finish is a different story entirely. And I am speculating here, because we are currently working with enough buyers with unfinished business to populate a small municipality. Price ranges, needs and neighborhoods morph, and the information highway spawns a weekly e-mail conduit of new candidates, all of which we must now investigate (that one is pending), evaluate (this one backs to the freeway), and show (you like maple, but these cabinets are maple-finished oak, which simply won’t do). We know what our clients want, but our new system of checks and balances has quadrupled our workload, with most of our time spent explaining why the homes they have found online are not a good fit or worse — to appease their curiosity we are obliged to show homes we know are not right.
On the listing side, we mostly chase our tails. Back in the ’90s when I first began my illustrious career as a revered and respected real estate professional, I had a mentor hand me a template business plan. This plan assumed that 70 percent of the listings I would take would actually sell. "Hah!" I thought. "This is not the plan for me. Only losers can’t sell their listings!" Today, seven out of 10 sounds like mighty fine odds. More importantly, it’s the pro bono work we are doing along the way that is crushing our budget and our spirits. In the past month alone, we have had to tell three people that they can’t afford to sell because of a little debt-versus-value dilemma and several more that they can’t sell because of unrealistic expectations. Sometimes, this news can be delivered by phone. Most often, the revelation comes only after a listing appointment involving much preparation, a costly presentation package, and a couple of hours at the kitchen table — only to learn of a secret second, an unrecorded HELOC or a cash-out "need" that sounds like it is being expressed in pesos.
Then, when my noodle is one boil beyond al dente, we get the call from an elderly couple who needs to sell, wants to sell, has never had to hire a Realtor, and doesn’t even know the questions to ask. They need help. They have no computers; they have no preconceived expectations; and they haven’t refinanced in the 30 years they have enjoyed their home. Their life savings are tucked under that one three-bedroom, single-story roof, and it is our job to help them make that withdrawal. There will be no bank or Internet involved as de facto co-lister in this transaction, but just one seller with a goal and one agent committed to helping reach it — with a lot of trust and mutual respect mixed in.
Thank goodness it’s Friday.
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