I recently heard cable culinary commentator Alton Brown quote Miss Piggy as having said that "(a)fter all the trouble you go to, you get about as much actual ‘food’ out of eating an artichoke as you would from licking 30 or 40 postage stamps." I’m rapidly coming to feel the same way about all the trouble my clients go to house hunting on the Web.
Now, don’t get me wrong — I am not one of those brokers who thinks that putting listings on the Web was the final nail in the coffin of the professional real estate service industry. Rather to the contrary, actually; I’m a buyer’s broker and grew up in the Internet era. So I’ve always seen the availability of free listing data online as an empowerment issue. It empowers my clients to have two or four or 10 sets of eyes looking for homes for them, and it empowers me to take a half day per weekend off, as I’m not the sole source of listings for them.
My clients are clear on the vast value I provide to them in their decision-making process and transaction, so the Web listing sites are no threat whatsoever.
In fact, assuming that my clients’ ultimate happiness with their home is directly proportional to the repeat and referral business they send my way, and assuming (as I believe) that providing clients direct access to listings on the Web makes it more likely they will find a home they’re happy with over the long run, it’s not just in their interests, but also in my best interests for them to have the easy ability to find and view listings online.
And in that vein, during my initial client meetings I often let clients know the various modalities in which I will send them listings, then also discuss with them which public listing sites I like, how to use them, and how to inquire with me about interesting listings they find on these sites. Then I deliver my benediction and send them off to the Web to house hunt to their hearts’ content, until we meet again.
So, I find listings and show them homes for sale. And they look online, too. First, on occasion at work. Then, during their evening reality show viewing time (come on — who isn’t online during "Real Housewives" and "Top Chef"?). And before long, they’re up at wee hours of the night e-mailing me properties’ multiple listing service numbers and addresses — often properties that don’t fit the search criteria they had given me, but are of interest nonetheless. (Behold the power of Web house hunting: it allows buyers to grow their flexibility with zero perceived pressure from me!)
Lately, though, after all that work, I get their e-mails and start whittling away at their list of listings to my (and my clients’) joint chagrin.
How do I shrink this expanded universe of online listings? Fast, and a lot?
Let me count the ways I have to strike properties off my dear buyers’ lists of potentials:
1. Infeasible and likely interminable short sales. (I don’t automatically exclude all short sales, just the ones with indicia of can’t-be-done-itude.)
2. Properties that are already in contract. Due to a lack of time or attention, or the occasional extenuating circumstance, these listings’ status has simply not been kept up-to-date by the listing agent.
3. Properties that can be financed only via an act of Congress, or one of God. These include the properties listed as "no kitchen," "no plumbing," "no FHA" and/or "no conventional (loan)." Doing business as: all cash. Sometimes, for entry-level FHA buyers, these can also include listings that were recently bought at auction and are being flipped by investors who have owned them less than a couple months or condos in complexes with sky-high delinquency rates on homeowners association dues or rock-bottom owner-occupancy rates.
4. Tenant-occupied properties with tenants who ain’t going nowhere. My area has rent and eviction control laws. The going rate for getting a tenant out is about $6,000 — unless the seller is willing to deliver it vacant, these listings are quickly scratched off the list. …CONTINUED
5. Owner-occupied properties with owners who make it too hard to show the place. By appointment? Fine. But 48 hours’ notice to be given via an inaudible cell connection to someone who doesn’t speak English, doesn’t speak Spanish and also doesn’t have any idea why on earth I’m calling them, to boot? Sorry — off the list.
6. Bogus listings. By this I mean all the preforeclosure homes that some Web sites show as for sale, which are actually not for sale but have received a notice of default or trustee sale. In my experience, many of these homes will be rescued from foreclosure via loan modification or some other miracle. Those that aren’t rescued won’t be "for sale," strictly speaking, for months or years. Not actually for sale equals: off the list.
I’m a big believer in what I call Expectation Management, or the theory that what you can anticipate won’t hurt you. So my initial client meetings these days are chock full of anticipatory adages, like, "Don’t get your heart set on any given home until we get a signed contract back, because of X, Y and Z," or, after a warning and explanation about my list-slashing propensities, "We’re on the hunt for a needle in the haystack — just know that going in."
Nevertheless, with all that said, buyers are independent thinkers, and almost inevitably descend through the (admittedly twisted) version of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief: House Hunt Edition.
Stage One: Denial — Before writing an offer on a short sale: "Short sales can’t possibly take that long to hear back from the bank. I heard on the news that banks want to cut their losses." After 10 weeks of waiting for a bank’s response to their short-sale offer: "I don’t want to see any more short sales, if you don’t mind."
Stage Two: Anger — at the system, the market, at themselves (or their spouse) for having waited too long for "the bottom." Anger at their friends who bought in January. I won’t elaborate any further, as you can probably imagine the phraseology involved at this phase.
Stage Three: Bargaining. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, so this looks less like bargaining with God, and more like, "I invoke the Law of Attraction to manifest a full slate of homes actually available and really for sale to view this weekend. I promise in turn to focus my mental energies on the home I want to have." Sound crazy? Go rent "The Secret."
Stage Four: Depression. "Maybe it’s not meant to be for me." This, until some online house hunting during the final episode of "Project Runway" turns up a few more listings that sound like they might be good options.
Stage Five: Acceptance. "OK, Tara. I get the needle-in-the-haystack thing. Let’s keep looking."
At this point, personality plays a big role in exactly how events unfold. Some buyers elect to wait until I weed through all the truly available listings and send those to them. Others keep up their online house hunts but maintain a deep emotional reserve on a "don’t get your hopes up" theory.
Many take a few days of house-hunt vacation — it helps to unplug from the frenetic clicking and go spend some time in nature or at the spa, or something. Just not house hunting. No matter what route they take, the eventual path is to a post-close of escrow appreciation of their home akin to an epicure’s affinity for artichokes.
Agreed, Miss Piggy — lots of work for the marginal reward (the potential for finding a place on their own that I wouldn’t have found or sent over to them). But in terms of the feelings of power and control over their own destiny: well worth it, nonetheless.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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