We are slowly nearing the sale of my beloved beach house, which I bought with boom real estate profits in 2001. I had wanted an apartment, but my then-Realtor (and now my current boss) convinced me that a two-family house would make much more sense in terms of financial planning flexibility.
"You can live in one half, and you can always rent out the other half," he said. "If you keep the house long enough, that will provide retirement income."
While he was right about that, I don’t think he had any idea how challenging a first-time home purchase would be, even for an experienced buyer of apartments. The roof leaked, the basement flooded, the water heater broke. I had to evict a bad tenant, and found that even a "good" one brought dogs that destroyed the screen door with their clawing.
What’s more, the sale has been a pothole-filled road, and I’m supposed to be good at sales.
In New York City, the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed with money. This is not so in the suburbs, or at least the suburb where my beach house is. There, every little detail of the sale has seemed to involve me taking yet another day off from work. The first three weeks of October have essentially been shot in terms of income because I haven’t been able to string up three straight hours at my desk, let alone with a client.
One example (unfortunately of many): I have spent three entire days dealing with an electrical problem that is essentially a piece of neatening work — $1,500 to eliminate some excess wiring. Fine, extra wiring is probably a fire hazard, and I did tell the buyer that I’d fix it. But dealing with this bit of straightening up has cost three days off of work in a time period riddled with religious holidays. I don’t make a fortune, but I would have gladly paid the buyer $1,500 over and above the cost of the problem just to get my time back. That’s how they do it in the city. On this deal, not an option.
So of course I am trying to hold this experience in my head and heart so I can be very nice and empathetic to my sellers. In the 2008 market, I think most of us agents have been more focused on price: How do we tell a seller that they won’t get the price of 2005 or 2006, or maybe even six months ago?
But it is worth remembering that there is an emotional component to a sale too, and that even as we are walking our clients through what may be some rather painful numbers we need to also be ministering to the other dislocations of a move. The nonfinancial emotional stuff may not be top-of-mind because it’s not making newspaper headlines right now, but it hasn’t disappeared.
When I first started as an agent, which was in New Jersey, my sponsoring broker told me to always refer to your clients’ house as their "property," not their "home." The idea was that "home" is an emotionally loaded word, and with sellers you want to start weaning them off that emotional tie as soon as possible.
That broker might have been overly optimistic about the power of word choice to change circumstance (what my Aunt Barbara would have called a silver-tongued devil), but at least the basic emotional component of the transaction was acknowledged: Sellers are selling their home.
I think in the current tough market it’s worth being sensitive to that, maybe even 10 percent more sensitive than you might have been a year ago, when you could have guided them through the transaction to 10 percent more money.
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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