Training

Thursdays around here are supposed to be “Thematic Thursday”, which loosely means, “The theme of this blog is real estate, so on this day, I will describe the work of a real estate professional.”

I have heard lots of misconceptions and confusion about what real estate professionals actually DO, so I will give you some helpful information from time to time about what the business of residential real estate is. I will also veer over into raw land and farm and ranch from time to time.

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Here’s what a real estate professional might look like after she exchanges her ‘appointment clothes’ for her blog-writing t-shirt and shorts.

In order to become licensed in the State of Texas, a person must complete:

180 classroom hours of the following qualifying real estate courses

Principles of Real Estate I (30 classroom hours)

Principles of Real Estate II (30 classroom hours)

Law of Agency (30 classroom hours)

Law of Contracts (30 classroom hours)

Promulgated Contracts Forms (30 classroom hours)

Real Estate Finance (30 classroom hours)

(This is directly from the Texas Real Estate Commission website.)

Then you take the licensing test and pass it. That will give you an inactive license. A salesperson’s license only becomes active when she works for a broker.

So, a broker has even more experience and courses to become a broker because a broker is responsible (and legally liable!) for everything her licensed salespersons do professionally. A licensed salesperson does not work for a client. A licensed salesperson works for a broker, and it is the broker who is working for the client, even if they never meet. This is spelled out for the public in a handy-dandy document that TREC requires me to give you at our first conversation about specific real estate: Information About Brokerage Services.

Now, back to ‘training’. The state legislature is the body that sets the licensing requirements, and in Texas, they have prohibited themselves from increasing classroom requirements by more than 3 hours per legislative session. So far, in recent legislative sessions (which happen every other year), our requirements have been increased. I am all in favor of this- real estate is a complicated business and a salesperson does well to choose a brokerage that gives plenty of additional training and mentoring!

Salespeople and brokers are required to renew their licenses every two years. I am coming up on two years and I have already renewed my license until August 2019. First-time renewals require 90 classroom hours on certain topics and an additional 8 classroom hours on legal issues. I chose to get my Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI) designation with my 90 hours.

While it is possible to do all the ongoing training online, I choose the more challenging route of taking classroom hours. I find that being in a room of 20-60 people is stimulating and offers me countless insights from everyone else’s experiences. Discussions are great! How to take days and days of classroom time during a busy set of transactions in my professional life? It’s HARD and will probably require temporary sleep deprivation. My truly challenging moment was two full back-to-back days of classroom instruction while fielding 20+ offers on a property. We can’t work during the class hours, so it all has to come in breaks and after driving home at night.

If you look on the TREC website, you can find me (License #659436) and see that I have taken more than just the 98 hours of instruction time in order to renew my license- all my official classes are listed. There are unofficial classes, too, especially from lenders and from title companies. I love going to these and finding out, or reminding myself, of laws, practices, and procedures.

The next designation I plan to earn is Senior Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®), helping older people with finances, living arrangements, and modifications of real estate.

I took last week off and went to the Seattle area to help out with:

These two grand-persons, while their parents were teaching.

You know what? Even when I’m out of town, I still have my phone, I still check messages, and I still have real estate conversations.

Have a question for me? Call me at 512-970-9121, or email me at lynnbridge@kw.com. I’m here!

Negotiating

It could be that growing up an ‘only child’ gave me a foundation for intuiting a lot about negotiation. After all, I perceived the world as myself “against” two parents (who had my best interests at heart), but whose decisions I saw as overly-restrictive. I am sure I argued them out of their minds! But, over time, I did start becoming more sophisticated about ‘reading’ those parents of mine.

With age and experience, I have a completely different perspective on the goals of negotiation. I no longer want to win just for the sake of winning. I am interested in figuring out what the opposite party wants and needs and in seeing a way to align those interests with the wants and needs of my side. I must remain clear and communicative about the needs on my side, especially because perceived needs are usually more fluid than we like to think they are.

When I am on the buyers’ side of a negotiation, I have learned to ask lots of questions of the other agent in a transaction to find out as much as I can about the sellers’ situation. I also pick up clues from the listing, from the photos, from the house itself, from their expressed timelines. I pick up a lot of clues and often, I’m not even sure how I know what I know. That’s intuition.

A real estate buy/sell negotiation starts at the very first contact with my own client. That is when I start setting the tone for how I do business through negotiating with the client on the terms under which we will act in concert to achieve what they need to achieve.

On the buying side, each contact with a listing agent in setting up an appointment to view a property, in letting the agent or the occupant know when we leave the property, in letting the agent know positives and negatives of my buyer’s and my thoughts about the property sets a standard for a later negotiation, should the buyers decide to make an offer. Being unfailingly courteous and respectful toward the other agent and their clients helps them understand that we are not out to ‘get the best of them’, to fool them, or to be arbitrary in our approach. This relaxes everyone, which reduces fear and defensiveness in later discussions.

When I am in a position in which the opposite party tries to bully me or my client, I take this as a sign that his position is weak and the only tool he has left is to try to force his will onto me or my client. Or, that she is pathological! Bullying behavior sends me into my hyper-calm exterior, hyper-alert interior mode in which I see the possibilities and strategies for disarming the bully and forcing her to face the realities of the situation. Working with reality is more productive than dancing around imagined wrongs and slights with power-moves.

Working the seller’s side is interesting because they have had the time and inclination to build a fantasy world of how the market works before I even talk with them about real estate. My job is to give them the experience of market reality so that they can start moving away from notions and into the actual world. And my job is to walk away from the relationship, if it appears that the sellers are not going to face reality in price or in preparation for a sale.

Being in a position to calmly walk away from a negotiation is gold. Knowing the bottom line frees all parties to search earnestly for a way to work together, if both have a stake in the result, and both realize that the other party can and will end the negotiation if there is no positive movement.

On the selling side, it helps that I am familiar with a buyer’s perspective, and I can help the seller understand that perspective, too, in order to remove as many barriers and negotiating points as possible before the house even goes on the market. Imagine if there are only two or three points of contention in a contract, rather than ten! How much less time and annoyance we all expend when we have taken into account a buyer’s perspective ahead of the negotiation!

On the buying side, it helps that I am familiar with a seller’s perspective; all the time and preparation that has gone into getting a house ready for market, and sometimes, even legal issues that have had to be resolved in advance of listing the home, as well as the ongoing inconvenience or even financial stress that comes from having  a home on the market.

Our Texas residential contracts are set up to be very much to the advantage of the buyer, as if the seller is a business or corporation which might be trying to fool the unsuspecting buyer into acquiring a ‘dog’. Of course, there is an element of that in a sale, and I believe in being vigilant in observing potential problems when buying a house. But, unlike a business or corporation, most sellers are emotionally attached to their property and their dignity, and honoring that impulse really helps a buyer’s side in a negotiation about any part of the contract.

I really love negotiation. I love the feeling of being emotionally calm and mentally charged. I love the flow of intuiting the unspoken and using all clues to reach what the parties feel is a satisfying, or at least fair, outcome.

I love when my buyers pay less than their lender’s appraiser says the property is worth. I love when my buyers win with their offer, even when it is less money for the seller than other offers. I love when a seller gets above-asking price for their home, especially when the house has been priced in accordance with what houses in similar condition have been sold for in the neighborhood. And I love when even the people on the other side of the transaction feel satisfied and free to move into the next phase of their lives unencumbered.

There are two or three basic theories I’ve read about how negotiations should be conducted, but my experience shows me that my best approach is to use intuition coupled with adjustments in my side’s response based on the results of each step we take, learning the hidden parts of each parties’ needs and tolerance as we go, until we reach a satisfactory conclusion.

I’ll be happy to negotiate on your behalf, starting with our first contact.

Ruth Marie was about 14.

Esteemed teacher and young student.

There is a lot of unspoken AND spoken negotiation in playing music together. If one player has a strong idea about which way to take the mood, the tempo, even the pitch, it is well that others adjust, or persuade that outlier otherwise, all in real-time! 

What I’ve Been Thinking About Today

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Yes, kitchens do become dated, and most buyers in our market long for acres of luxurious countertops rather than a dog trot breezeway on which to churn their butter.

In advising people who have been in their homes for a long time and are thinking that they might be moving into a smaller place, or into an assisted-living apartment* in the next couple of years, I realize that folks get information on How To Sell A House from  a variety of sources. Those sources are often national in scope, and are helpful in a way, but never specific enough to a market or micro-market to be completely believable.

In planning home renovations with an eye to a home sale, there is no substitute for consulting with someone who has local market expertise and has walked the walk with a multitude of buyers, hearing their comments and feelings about homes they see. Just because you think you know that most buyers want certain features in a kitchen, or a bathroom, or a certain flooring choice, does not necessarily mean that you will do yourself a favor by spending a lot of money following through with that type of renovation.

When I do a thorough market analysis, I look at every home in your neighborhood, and sometimes, other similar neighborhoods, to see what has sold in the past few months, what those homes looked like inside and out, where they were situated in relation to through streets, scenic views, neighborhood amenities, noise sources, as well as the prices they brought to their sellers. In a neighborhood in which many of the “perfectly good” homes are being torn down to be replaced with a modern version of home, your beloved home might become a tear-down, or a major remodel project, too. If that seems likely based on what the market is telling us right now, it would not be prudent to spend a lot of money updating your home for a sale. It would be more prudent to adjust your expectations to accommodate what the buying public is telling us about price, and for you to put a sales price on the home that reflects what is actually happening in the market.

Please, please do not set off to modernize a badly-dated kitchen or bathroom without getting a pair of expert eyes in to advise you on the likelihood of payoff from such a project.

Much better to keep an eye on home trends all along and periodically make judicious upgrades to your home as you are able. You want to be able to enjoy the fruit of your labor while you are living in the home, right?!?!

*Some of these apartment centers I refer to as “party barges” because the residents live in a stimulating atmosphere of slumber party pranks, laughter over wine and parlor games, endless field trips and educational adventures, and the occasional nap thrown in.

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Happy birthday to this fabulous country of ours, home of beautiful mountains, vast skies, innovative thinkers, and generous hearts. What a great experiment our founders flung out into the world, and may we continue that experiment with creative and supple minds and bodies, that all who enter will sense an awakening to possibilities and promise for everyone and everything contained within these 50 states.

Ten Things I Look For When I’m Helping You Buy a Home*

  1. In Austin: Are there any open permits for previous additions, swimming pool, HVAC updates, electrical updates? Why this matters: In the past couple of years, the City of Austin has gotten very strict about not issuing new building permits (including plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc) until the old permits have been inspected and approved. There is no such thing as permitting in arrears. Pool built five years ago with no permit? Sorry- it has to go before the home gets another permit for anything. (This actually happened to someone!)
  2. What is the foundation? Why this matters: If pier-and-beam, I want you to use an inspector who understands these systems in this environment.  Because pier and beam has not been common in our area since the 1950’s, there are fewer of these homes, and they are not as well-understood by the average inspector as are the more common slab homes. Some inspectors really make a study of the pier-and-beam situations. And, we have two very different soil types in our area, each of which has an effect on the foundation.
  3. How are the neighboring properties zoned, or who or what owns them? Why this matters: You don’t control what you don’t own. For example, you can buy a home that is backed up to what looks like a beautiful greenbelt, but guess what? If it isn’t public land, the use can change and you can have a whole new subdivision just beyond your back fence. If you bought your home for peaceful privacy, you might not appreciate all the neighbors.
  4. Does the home have a septic system, and does it use well water? Why this matters: It is imperative that you have these systems thoroughly inspected by a specialist. There are lots of ways to mistreat a septic system, and you want to know what you are getting into before you buy. Same for the well water. You will want to get a well specialist in to check the system and you will want to assess the water quality and what it is going to take to upgrade a current treatment system, if necessary. Inadequately treated well water can ruin your dishwasher, your clothes washer, your house plumbing, your tubs, your toilets, your clothes, your dishes and drinking glasses. You get the idea. You need to be prepared; that’s why you have me by your side.
  5. What do you see on the survey and what does the title insurance commitment except? Why this matters: I am not a lawyer. Let me repeat that: I am not a lawyer. But, I have looked at a title commitment or two and a survey or two, and if you don’t already have your own lawyer looking everything over related to your home purchase, I will happily point out some things I see that you might want to get further professional help in understanding. Sometimes the survey is obviously not accurate. Sometimes there are puzzling aspects to easements on the property.
  6. Is the property in some category of flood zone? Why this matters: Even though flood zone maps change around here regularly, not everyone has had experience with a flooded home. I would like to help you understand what flood recovery entails, if you are thinking about buying in a flood zone. Also, a previously-flooded house can be harder to sell in the future, so that is something I would want to explore with you.
  7. If the home is in a condominium association, especially, but, also, just a property owners association, we want to look carefully at those documents. Why this matters: In both cases, the health of your purchase is closely tied to the health of the entity that oversees most aspects of the dwelling and the neighborhood. If it is a new condominium association, there is no history to look at, and so you want to ask lots of questions. If it does have a history, you want to examine it carefully, see what lawsuits or special assessments it might be facing; figure out if you want to be tied to the situation. Yes, we will make a point of being out and about to meet potential neighbors and ask them about the association. I am not shy about doing stuff like that to keep you in the know.
  8. What is surrounding the neighborhood you are interested in? What zoning is there? What businesses might be moving in? Why this matters: For example, if you are buying a lower-end home in a neighborhood that is about to welcome the new location of a huge source of employment, you could be in for some good luck ahead when you want to sell, due to demand. Or, if your new neighborhood is one that is about to be bordered by a new toll road, your property could be harder to sell in the future because of noise. Location matters.
  9. What is the sales history of the home? Why this matters: by looking at the dates of sales, as well as the buyers and sellers, we can guess at whether or not this home has been purchased in poor condition and fixed up for resale. Some “flippers” do a wonderful job and you will be glad to live in your remodeled gem. Some “flippers” do a minimal job, putting lipstick on a pig, so to speak, and you could run into foundation problems, water incursion problems, or other expensive problems down the road, even though the amenities look shiny right now. We want to do some research!
  10. What is the local school like? Why this matters: Of course, I will link you with the Great Schools website, but I can make contact with local principals and neighbors with children so that you can hear about school from the people who know. Even if you have no children, a home in a district with a reputation of one kind or another can take on that reputation, too, making it easier or harder to sell in the future.

Because Keller Williams Realty is my brokerage, I have access to lots and lots of other people’s experiences in real estate transactions. I don’t just have to learn from my own experiences; there are about 900 other agents in my brokerage and I can find out what has happened in their experience, too. Not only do I see other agents at weekly meetings, classes, and coaching sessions, we have our own closed Facebook group from which I learn every single day. And, when I take continuing education classes, I don’t do it online. No; I go to the Austin Board of Realtors for my classes so that I am in a room and in discussions with 20-60 people from various brokerages, and I hear about their experiences. I have a buncha stuff filed away in this brain, and I have the purpose of helping to keep you safe in your transaction.

*Of course, there are more than ten, but this is a good start, and it illustrates some things a lot of people wouldn’t think to check.

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How buildings get built fascinates me. I can’t count the number of times I have participated in  building projects just over the border in Mexico. Here is the early stage of constructing a medical clinic.

(Almost) Every House is Unique

Cat video. You’re welcome.

Recently, I have found myself consulting with a number of different people about future moves that are not necessarily imminent. I think this time spent together with potential clients is rewarding! Every situation is different and every house is unique in that it is situated in a particular place in the city, in a neighborhood, of a certain age, amount of updating, and is experiencing street changes, or street stability, according to what’s happening in the market.

After asking lots of questions about goals, future desired location, amount of support- family, and otherwise- financial strengths and weaknesses, and determining which emotions are most at play, I put together a suggested plan for tackling all the issues, including prepping the house, for that future move.

Before our meeting, I drive the neighborhood carefully, even if I already know the area well, looking for signs of change, looking for clues to what’s happening. If I see on the MLS that an older home that is mostly in original condition has recently sold, I’ll check from the curb to see what it looks like now. If it is in an area where older houses are being torn down to make way for new ones, I want to know if this particular older home has met that fate, or if it is still being used as a home. Toys and playthings in the front yard six months after the sale are a pretty good indication that this home isn’t being replaced this year.

In advance of my neighborhood drive, I study the MLS and all the properties that have sold in the past six months, or year, depending on the area, searching for sold prices, condition of homes, location in neighborhood, etc. I study the photos that the listing agents put up on the MLS to see the condition of the interiors. I look for homes that might be comparable to the home I am scheduled to visit. I make graphs and charts of market activity in that neighborhood or that feeder district to a particular high school, depending on which parameters I think are most relevant to that house in that location.

When I show up at the door, I already know a lot about the situation, and I bring my graphs, information on comparable homes, a Seller’s Disclosure that the owner will have to fill out sooner or later, and other useful papers. After we sit down and talk about the personal situation, I walk through the house, taking snapshots and noting things that need to be repaired and/or updated.

Depending on the house and the micro-market it inhabits, I use one or more sets of these eyes to examine the property: the flipper-investor eyes, the buy-and-hold investor eyes, the move-up buyer eyes, the downsize buyer eyes, the coming-from-a-different-state eyes, the moving-out-of-the-city eyes, the second-home eyes. The recommendations I make to prepare the house for sale are usually based on the least amount of stuff the homeowner can do to make the house desirable. Of course, price of the home and price of updating and repair is a big factor, too.

Some homes merit new faucets, new flooring, new paint, etc., because through these improvements the homeowner is likely to make a quicker sale, or sell at the higher end of a reasonable price range. Some homes will be purchased by a flipper and price is the only thing that will matter to those folks. Even within my written recommendations, I make two tiers- one is “must do” and the other is “would be nice to do, if possible”.

Here are three short samples from some write-ups I’ve done recently:

The two most important points at which we must capture a buyer’s imagination are from the street and then again just outside and just inside the front door. Those are our ‘hooks’. People have no clue when looking at your neighborhood from the street that there is an amazing view behind the privacy fences, so we have to pull them up and in until they arrive where we want them to be.

The goal of any effort put into your home between now and putting it on the market is to transform it from your ‘home’ into a ‘house’. In other words, it will become a commodity when it hits the market. Your best chance for getting the highest price the market will offer is to get as many buyers aware of its existence as possible (that’s my job) and to pull them from the curb and into the front door (your job and my job). What I am describing now is changes you can make to the real estate to help pull those people in. Staging, our last effort before taking pictures and putting it on the market, will come later.

Because you are looking at a limited time for owning and enjoying the house (5 years is your general estimate, but it could be much less), you will only make changes which, if not made, will result in more days on market to sell your house, or will make the price lower than it needs to be. The changes you elect to make to upgrade the house in the eyes of future buyers must be changes you would enjoy, too, for the length of time you own the house.

Now… why the cat video?  Today I met with a friend and fellow agent who has recently marketed and sold a house that was home to an elderly couple with dozens of rescued cats! What a feat! (It took a village.)  Our rescues in the video? There are only 11 and they are well-loved and cared for. But, I hope we don’t have to move anytime soon!