May 2011 Archives

May 27, 2011

Few Real Estate Agents Write "Just Right" Marketing Prose

Have you noticed how agent-speak, as seen in real estate ads, tends to be either over the top or underwhelming?

IMG_2954.JPGMore often the former, of course. Just looking at today's local real estate section, it's easy to pull out grand, sweeping, and did I mention grand, statements like:

  • "Spectacular views & magical sunsets!"
  • "Enjoy the spacious sun drenched living room with views!" and
  • "Truly an entertainer's delight and magical at night!"
(Does it say somewhere in the real estate agents' handbook that you must use lots of exclamation points and the word "magical?")

Oh, and here's my favorite: "This gracious, four-bedroom, two bath . . . Tudor emotes a bygone era."

I'll give the agent a small gold star for ditching the exclamation points, but what's with "emotes?" Sounds like the house has taken up method acting. I'm guessing she meant to say "evokes." Or maybe she just got tired of the same old words and decided to get, uh, creative.

Now, for the underwhelming bits of prose -- the ad language that makes you go, "That's supposed to appeal to me why, exactly?"

Again from today's paper, we've got, "Shows very well."

Okay, now that's something an agent might say to another agent, but if I were a prospective buyer, I'd wonder what it says about the house after the staging is gone. It's like saying that someone looks really good with makeup on. 

Or this one: "Grass covered back yard!" Whoa. Better put that one on your must-see list.

And my fave from this list, which isn't an ad for a house, but for a mortgage broker, which contains the following customer testimonial:

"Buying a house is stressful, but working with Sue was one of the most positive and least stress-inducing aspects of the process." Hmm. So how stress inducing was working with her, exactly? They should've stopped at "most positive."

Just for a last bit of fun, here's an ad from an agent who tried to do something a little different: "SWEET STARTER SEEKS SINCERE BUYER. Me: Mature 2BR stucco near shops and San Francisco express bus. You: Looking for affordable cottage in desirable area."

At least he left out any mention of magical sunsets.

P.S. Choosing a selling agent? Read their ads first. Some of the larger brokerages have a marketing person handling all the writing, which can add a layer of professionalism and quality control. In any case, when it comes to your house, ask to read the copy before it goes to press.


May 19, 2011

Fighting Over Fixtures: Not Just a U.S. Syndrome

The United States practically invented litigiousness, so you might think that the frequent arguments between home buyers and sellers about what stays and what goes was a uniquely U.S. phenomenon.

Disputes regularly crop up about curtains, light fixtures, appliances, plants in the garden, cabinet knobs, and more. Sometimes the seller leaves the buyer a rude surprise and strips the house of favorite features just before departing. 

So, we can take some small comfort in discovering similar behavior goes on right across the pond (albeit with more charming vocabulary, for those of us with Anglophiliac tendencies). It's all revealed by Country Life magazine from the U.K., in a December 2010 article called, "Fighting over fixtures and fittings."

Here, we learn about:
  • the seller who demanded money for each of the "loo-roll holders" in the bathrooms
  • the seller who counted up all the lightbulbs he was leaving in the house (mansion, really) and asked to be compensated for those
  • the sale that nearly fell through over the sit-down lawnmower (the real estate agent saved the day by purchasing it for the buyers out of his own pocket)
  • the seller who insisted on removing both the integrated dishwasher and the "bespoke panel" that topped it (I had to look up "bespoke" -- it means custom-made)
  • the seller who removed the mahogany loo seats without replacing them
  • and more!
lightbulb-735969.jpgDo these disputes become more understandable when we realize that Country Life focuses on high-end properties, as in multi-room manors or country houses? Those lightbulbs and loo-paper rolls can really add up.

But the human tendency to get bogged down on small details seems to transcend country or price.

As one agent quoted in the article aptly put it, the two parties tend to develop "stiff-legged terrier syndrome. . . . even with houses worth several million pounds."

For a reminder of what a home seller is expected to leave behind in a U.S. property -- although the buyer and seller can always negotiate differently -- see the first question in Nolo's "Selling Your House FAQ."  
May 13, 2011

Real Estate Agents Developing Specialties

bottles4_exb_HSTR2103.jpgJust as with flavors and caffeine levels of soda pop, the choices to be made among real estate agents has expanded over the years -- despite, or maybe because of, the down economy.

As Marilyn Kennedy Melia points out in her article, "1. Change, 2. Choices," you can now find agents to help with short sales, foreclosures, buying or selling a "green" home, and more.

Meanwhile, other agents have (according to seemingly good authority within the article -- namely me!) packed up their offices and headed for careers with less uncertainty and competition.

Marilyn also quotes me as saying it's worth asking agents about their negotiating style before signing them up. Indeed, carefully observing an agent's personal style and trying to get a handle on how he or she will represent you in front of the other party is particularly important for both buyers and sellers, because negotiations can get contentious.

Buyers have leverage in today's market, and they know it. Many deal have fallen apart over amounts of money both large and small, for example because the buyer negotiated hard over repair costs after the home inspection. It's all too common for either the seller or the buyer -- or both -- to start to "take a stand" on mere principle, forgetting that the ultimate goal is to transfer the house.

WIthout a skilled agent to smooth relations with the other party, not to mention provide a voice of reason when you yourself most need it, a deal that looked rosy one day can simply wilt and die the next.

By the way, I've got a whole list of other questions you might want to ask agents before signing them up -- you'll find it in the article "Choosing Your Real Estate Agent."
May 4, 2011

Sellers: Fixer Uppers Are So Passe!

It's not too surprising, really, what with buyers having lots of leverage in the real estate market, and probably working hard to save a buck (or thousands of 'em) for a down payment: Fixer-uppers just don't have the allure they once did.

Big fixer upper.jpgIn fact, a recent Coldwell Banker survey (reported on in the International Business Times article, "Buyers Bypass Fixer-Upper, Want Move-In Ready") found that 87% of home buyers are looking for a move-in ready home.

Not only that, agents say that buyers are willing to pay extra -- or overpay -- to avoid the responsibilities that come with a home in need of repair.

That brings sellers back to the perennial question of, "How much fixing up is enough?" Do you need to simply patch the cracks, replace some roof shingles, and repaint, or is it time for a complete overhaul, or at least a remodeled kitchen or bathroom?

Definitely start with the basics. But before doing any major remodeling -- which you won't even get to enjoy, if you're planning to sell soon -- consult with your real estate agent and check out the advice in Nolo's article, "Do Home Improvements Really Add Value?"
May 2, 2011

Not Even Bail Bond Agents Want Houses as Collateral!

jail cells.jpg

Planning to commit a crime? Wait, that's not a very good way to start a blog entry.

But let's just say you were -- and that you'd foreseen the possibility of getting caught and having a judge set an amount of bail that you'd need to post in order to get yourself out of jail while awaiting trial. (Actually, real criminals never seem to have that much foresight.)

Okay, let's cut to the chase here: A bail bond agent (the one who fronts you the cash to pay your bail) might accept your jewelry, laptop, or boat as collateral, but is likely to turn up his or her nose at your offer of your house. That's according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, "Bail Bond Agents Feel Pain of Housing Crash," by Dawn Wotapka.

Not a real good sign for the housing market, is it?