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!

Glass ‘n’ Me

Did NOT think I could get excited about a pane of window glass. Wrong, wrong, wrong! We have started replacing double-paned window glass at our house and got the first set installed yesterday. I keep staring out the windows in complete appreciation and awe of what just happened!!! It is the difference between squinting through dirty eyeglasses at the sunny landscape and looking boldly through expensive sunglasses- suddenly the view is clear and crisp, yet not glare-y.

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Before

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After

So here’s the deal about double-pane glass: the less reliable the glue between the layers and the less careful the process, the faster that factory seal will fail, ruining the vacuum between the panes. How do you know a seal has failed? You start seeing moisture between the panes of glass; moisture that cannot be removed from inside the house or from the outside. Or, you start seeing a whitish film on the window that cannot be removed because it is between the panes. Or, you see dirt between the panes.

We compared some prices, then called in Fair and Square Glass Repair, a local business that travels widely in the Austin/San Antonio area. They came out and we talked about the situation, and Trey Doran, the owner of the business, educated me on the type of window frames we have and the type of glass we have. He gave me a tutorial on how our particular windows function and on how I can best care for them. Then, I made a spot decision which windows I wanted to change out first. This is not a cheap project, but we had moved into this house with some milky panes, and I knew that it was a repair/update that I wanted to accomplish and enjoy. We decided to do it a little bit at a time. We are also replacing torn and damaged screens with Fair and Square, upgrading the glass panes and the type of screen while doing it.

About a week after Trey took the measurements, he and his son returned with glass and new screens in hand. I am sorry to say that I had to leave during a lot of the procedure, but I took a few pictures at the beginning.

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He popped out these strips that hold the panes from the inside.

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Using a strong suction device to hold the old glass in order to remove it to the outside.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a torch and a scraper sitting on the outside ledge. Missed this part, but it must have been exciting.

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Oooooo, cleaning up those beautiful new panes!

Aside from the tremendous pleasure that looking through clean glass brings, these panes are highly energy-efficient and they block 95% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. You know how your fabrics, paintings, and furniture fade near windows? Yeah, well, not with this glass. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

Although we have been pretty prompt on needed repairs to our homes and on decorating to our taste, we have a track record of putting off updating certain features that are still functional until suddenly we decide to put our house on the market. Then, we go into high gear and do all sorts of things to the house that we could have done years before and actually ENJOYED ourselves before we decided to move. We have made a plan for updating and upgrading this house so that we won’t be in a bind, or leave money on the table if we should decide to move, or if some circumstances force a move.

Here’s a question for you: if my house is on the market and my neighbor down the street has her house on the market, which windows are going to give a better impression when  buyers walk in- the milky windows down the street, or my clear, high-definition view of nature?

 

 

And Now For Something A Little Different. And a Cat Video at the End.

I am so excited about a seminar I attended last night and you’ll never guess the topic… keeping a record of my life and possessions so that my heirs can step in and run the show in the event of my unexpected demise! (This includes everything about running a home, so it is a direct tie-in to the overall purpose of this real estate blog.)

Have you ever been so stressed that you almost can’t remember your current address and phone number? I have! My mind shoots straight back to an address from 3rd grade, or something useless like that. So, how in the world could I cope with the avalanche of information I need at hand in the case of a family death? And how could I expect my family to cope in the event of my death? I have bits and pieces of information all over the place, some online and some on paper!  Some is stored only in my head. Yikes! What a nightmare to leave my family. They would miss me and be angry with me all at the same time, right?

On a related note, a couple of days ago, it occurred to me that, since my spouse is away for a week, and I am doing all the cat duties by myself, what would happen to these little living creatures if I keel over and become non-functional while he’s gone???? I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve got to have a plan! I have to write down every detail of cat care, cat medications, as well as cat-related chores. I have to write down how to run the two septic systems, the water softener, the HVAC, the potted plants, the swimming pool, the…… etc. I need to keep a notebook around here where close friends and family know to find it and access it in a mere 30 seconds to start up the routines and keep the place humming, if no one else is here to do it.”

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Amy Praskac

Voilá! Enter my friend, Amy Praskac, of On the Record Advance Planning, who conducted last night’s seminar. Yes, her workbook, available on Amazon or from her website, has a page for pets and their care! And an entire section entitled ‘Household Facts’!!!

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Amy even recognizes what a daunting organizational task this is for most of us, and she provides a three-month calendar along with tips for scheduling this bear of a project to get it finished. Remember the goal? To create a smooth path, rather than a nightmarish chasm for your family and friends to traverse after you’re gone. (Must put that over my desk as a reminder.)

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Here’s what the seminar provides me:

  1. Peace of mind for me, if my spouse dies before I do.
  2. Peace of mind for my spouse, if I die before he does.
  3. Reaaaalllly important: peace of mind for our kids, who would have to step in and take over immediately in the event that my husband and I are in an accident or something shocking like that.
  4. A concrete way to start these conversations with our children about funeral/burial plans, will and power of attorney documents, disbursal of personal possessions, whom to call, financial accounts.

We know from personal experience that this kind of planning is important for adults of any age. My sister-in-law died very suddenly and unexpectedly without a will, half-way across the country from us and from her parents when she was only 30, and getting her simple possessions and simple legal affairs wrapped up was anything but simple! Do your parents a favor- make a will and leave a record of everything they will need to know to pick up where you leave off.

And if you are a homeowner, seriously, how is anyone going to keep the place functional with running water and electricity, if you have not left them operating instructions? Somebody has to pay the gas bill to keep the gas turned on. Take it from me, if your heirs have to sell a house that has been neglected, even for a few months, it is much harder than if the house is in tip-top shape while waiting to go on the market! They will actually lose money if the house is neglected.

Contact Amy on her website if you want more information about the seminar. And contact me at 512-970-9121, if you need to sell a house. Let’s chat!

There is something unimaginably appealing about The Critical Information Workbook: Creating a Road Map for Your Family!

 

Buyer Questions

Here are some buyer questions I hear a lot:

  1. What is a typical timeline for making an offer?
  2. How many offers will I have to make on homes before I have one accepted?
  3. Why are the ‘for sale’ prices so different from what the county tax appraisal says?

love these questions! Question #2 especially indicates to me that the buyer is savvy about our particular market.

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1. What is the timeline for making an offer? After further questioning, I find that the buyer usually means ‘How much time is there between looking at houses and going under contract? How much time from having a signed contract until I own the house?’ 

A couple of generalizations about this set of questions: are we talking about Austin? Or, are we talking about one of the surrounding cities? What is the price point?

Austin is generally the fastest-moving market because there are so many more buyers than there are available properties (hint, hint, Potential Sellers!). If you are not ready RIGHT NOW to make an offer and show the seller your ability to pay down payment, closing costs, and get a loan, you could be a day too late in getting the house you want. Once you start shopping, you could be getting an offer accepted in the next couple of days.

If you are looking in an outlying area, you might have days or weeks before you find what you want and have an offer accepted, BUT some situations require you to act as fast as you would in Austin. If it is a fabulous property at an appealing price, be prepared to act that very day, or it could be gone!

The next generalization about this question is: what is your price point? In general, the lower price-points, say $600K and lower in Austin and the lake area, and $350K and lower in outlying areas are highly sought-after and you will have lots of competition for that house. The price points higher than that tend to last longer on the market, but it is still true that a fabulous property at an appealing price will go quickly, especially if the price is under a million dollars for a truly million-dollar property and/or location.

If you have a cash offer accepted, you can close quickly- you will be waiting on the results of your own inspection, the title company’s commitment to what the property being passed to you legally is, and possibly, the seller’s schedule of when they can vacate the premises. I have heard of closes in just 4-5 business days, but it is typically 10 days or 2 weeks, realistically.

If you have a loan that needs underwriting, your close won’t happen in less than three weeks after you have a contract, although about 4 weeks is more typical. If you have a lender who is not motivated to get you to the closing table, it can take longer.

2. How many offers will I have to make before I have one accepted? The answer to this is dependent on the price range in which you are looking and on how close to your personal upper limit are you looking. The lower prices, say $250K and below, are full of buyers looking and making offers. I know many ways to make the offer really great for the seller, besides the sales price. BUT, the sales price you are offering is still the most important part of what you ‘lay on the table’ for the seller.

Which leads us to the second part of the question- how close are you to your personal upper financial limit in the homes you choose to look at? If you are already close to the top, you won’t have room to offer more, sometimes much more, than the asking price. Some of these properties receive 10, 20, or 30 offers in a couple of days. Being able to offer a lot more than the asking price becomes important, or you just lose out to someone who can. People looking at close to their upper limit in price might lose 5 or 6 offers before they finally have a contract on a house.

3. Why are the ‘for sale’ prices so different from what the county tax appraisal says?

The way I have had this explained to me in my real estate classes is this: there are three prices on a house; the price the county puts on the property, the price an appraiser says the property is worth, and the price the open market says the property is worth.

a. County appraisers are not necessarily trained, licensed appraisers. They might be people hired to drive around to see if there is anything obvious that has changed about the property since the last drive-by, and then the next year’s value is slapped on the property based on what the last year’s assigned value was, plus whatever increase in revenue the county might need to keep paving the roads, paying the sheriff, etc.  Often, the county’s appraised value is lower than actual market value.

b. An appraiser has been trained to use algorithms plus experienced judgment to interpret the results in order to arrive at a value for the property. Your lender will hire an appraiser from the appraiser pool to calculate a value for the property before the loan is approved. You will pay for the appraisal at closing and not all lenders are careful to hire an appraiser who truly knows the peculiarities of the local market. I encourage you to use a lender whose policy is to “hire local” when it comes to appraisers.

c. The open market (available through exposure on the multiple listing service) will place a value on property for you. Given enough exposure, the current pool of buyers will select a price at which a property will be purchased. If the property you are looking at is listed by a competent agent who has been able to convince the seller of the reality of the market [both important caveats], the price you are looking at on the glossy brochure or pretty website is somewhat close to what a buyer will pay at this particular time. An exception would be if the seller, assisted by the listing agent, calculates that putting a lower price on a home will produce many more offers from which to choose. In this case, the listed price may be lower than you could expect to pay.

There is, of course, a lot more I could say about each of these questions, but this will get us started.

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Photo from 2006, when I was with a church group that worked on new post-Hurricane Katrina homes for the musicians of New Orleans. These were built to be appealing, safe, and affordable to build up the community again.

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.

Undercover Detective

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Quick- what is this person doing?

If you said, “looking for where the main sewer pipe exits the house to go out to the street”, you’d be right! Ding, ding, ding…

Why do we care about a sewer pipe we can’t even see? Because old sewer pipes can rust from the inside out, develop cracks and leaks, and allow tree roots to invade and clog up the system.

How do you know this has happened? When your sewer line stops working and your toilets and sinks back up. Fun, huh?

The solution, of course, is to install a new main sewer line from the house to the street, digging up the yard.

What if the sewer line now travels through the roots of a large, desirable tree? Some companies are experienced in using a water-and-air shovel to delicately dig through the roots without harming them.

Costly, but necessary.