Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Liked It; Didn’t Love It: Querying your novel as a real estate agent

My buyer took a final look around the million-dollar condo. “I like it, but I don’t love it,” he shrugged. “At least, not enough to pay a million dollars for it.” I like it, but I don’t love it. Where had I heard those words before? Oh, yes. Attached to every book I’d ever written. 

For seven years, I was lucky enough to have a literary agent. In writing workshops and classes, when I mentioned that I was represented, the instructors treated me differently. “Getting an agent is harder than getting published,” they’d say. “You’re almost there.” 

Spoiler alert: I was not almost there. And this spring, after four books that had gone “on sub,” three of them multiple times, my agent gave up on me. Now I was back in the query trenches, which, according to other aspiring writers on Twitter, were tougher than they’d ever been. I’m thickening my skin and bracing myself for a lot of bad news. And I’m hoping that my years of work as a real estate agent has given me some perspective into the process. 

Like my buyer who “liked it, but didn’t love it,” literary agents and publishers aren’t just looking for a good book without any obvious flaws. They’re looking for a home that they’ll love for years. I want my book to be that home. But I know they have so many options, and there are so many more writers out there than publishers. 

Here are a few more ways that real estate and publishing overlap: 

Buyers take forever. When I first got into real estate, my broker warned me that the average buyer takes between 12-18 months to find their home. At the time, this seemed ridiculous to me—I hadn’t taken nearly as long to find the houses I ended up buying—but as time went on, I found it to be true. Buyers start off excited and energetic, but as the search goes on, they lose enthusiasm and the desire to look. And then things change in their lives, or in the market, and time passes and sometimes your buyer decides to leave town completely or use a different agent, and a year has gone by and you have nothing to show for it. I still have books out that my agent sent last year. The editors greeted her pitch email with, “Sounds fabulous! I’ll read it right away!” Then… crickets. Some editors never get back to you. Some agents don’t, either. 

  Editors sometimes have really picky reasons to reject a book. Many times I’ve gotten “pass” emails praising character, setting, plot, theme. But they didn’t like the ending, or they found a minor character unbelievable. I could fix this! The same way a paint color in the kitchen could be changed, or a bathroom could be updated. But publishers want something they love, and so do buyers, and you can’t talk someone into falling in love with a book or a house. Either they’ll fall in love and are willing to work with you to fix the problems, or they only like it, and they move on to the next book or the next house or the next woman in their dating app. 

The pitch is sometimes better than the product. As real estate agents, we pretty up a house with staging and terrific photos. As writers, we hire editors to pretty up our prose and help us write query letters and synopses. But putting a gloss on something that doesn’t work only postpones the inevitable. Buyers will see that your lovely photos hide a too-small kitchen or that your polished first 20 pages hide an episodic plot. 

  The process is similar for both. You list the house; you send out your queries. You get a buyer who wants to see the house; you get an agent who wants the first 20 pages! You show the property and send off your pages, filled with hope and excitement. For the writer, disappointment often follows. For the agent… well, that’s where things get a little different. 

 The big difference between the real estate agent and the writer is that eventually the house will sell. You might have to lower the price by a little or a lot, you may have to replace a roof or an AC unit, but someone will buy that house. Especially these days, when, despite decades-high interest rates, we’re still about a million homes short of what the population needs. There are no such guarantees in publishing. In fact, it’s more likely that one outstanding book will attract several agents and sell at auction, while ninety percent of submissions fail to find a single buyer. There are many more books out there than there are agents to rep them or traditional publishers to distribute them. The only guarantee writers have is our belief in ourselves and the commitment to keep writing no matter what. Maybe this book won’t sell, but the next one will! 

Keep writing, writing fam. And I’ll keep looking for new agents to query, and new condos for that picky (but wealthy!) buyer of mine. 

And if you need a realtor in Pinellas County, Florida, hit me up.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

What Realtors Can Learn from Selling Sunset And what Selling Sunset can learn from Realtors

The clothes! The catfights! The C-list celebrities! There are so many reasons to watching Selling Sunset! As a Realtor, I don’t think I’m alone for watching for the houses. What’s it like to list a property for $30 million? What’s it like to have a buyer with that budget? Most Realtors can only dream. And because this industry pays on commission, most of us won’t earn in a year what the Selling Sunset gals make for one deal. Sadly, there’s no correlation between the amount of commission and the amount of work necessary to close the deal. Personally, I’ve had homes selling for under $200K that have been a nightmare and helped buyers with million-dollar condos that took under five hours of total work. I tell myself it all balances out in the end. Eventually.
Even though the personal drama seems to dominate Sunset, there are still lessons to be gleaned from these real estate fashionistas. When Jason sat down his team and warned them that the high interest rates had put a damper on the top end of the market, he echoed what my own broker had been saying. Here are some moments from this season that rang true to me… as well as moments when I wanted to give those agents some advice!

*“In real estate, you can’t sit around and wait for the phone to ring.” – Chrishelle.
This is so true. Although most agents don’t have a TV show to help with their exposure, we’re all encouraged to continuously reach out via text, phone calls, videos, etc. For the most successful agents, trying to drum up new business is a fulltime endeavor. Those of us who do sit back and wait for the phone to ring are often the last people sellers actually call.

“My deal fell out of escrow. Turns out the fire insurance was $200 thousand dollars.” – Emma. Are you surprised that someone willing to pay $20 million for a house doesn’t want to pay $200,000 a year for insurance? So was Emma. But she shouldn’t have been. While we don’t have to worry about fire insurance in Florida, flood insurance is a big deal, especially for one-story properties right on the water. Savvy Realtors put up insurance quotes on the MLS with their other disclosures so there are no surprises after the house has gone under contract. I’m sure Emma will know this next time!

“The penthouse isn’t worth that price. You and Jason are too personally invested in the project to see that.” – Chrishelle. More words of wisdom from the series main character, who has learned to stand on her own two feet as a woman and a Realtor during the series. Being too personally invested is enough of a problem that real estate agents sometimes ask their colleagues to represent them instead of selling their own homes to avoid making costly errors. Selling and buying a home is an emotional process, overlaid with memories and relationships. Jason, Mary, and Romain worked so hard on this penthouse, it’s easy to see how they may have lost perspective on its true value. Guess we’ll have to wait till next season to find out!

“Our sellers are canceling the listing because Jason didn’t go the showings.” – Emma. Maybe this is the same house that didn’t sell because of the fire insurance. Not sure. While Emma is dead right that agents need to fulfill the promises they make to their clients, blaming the broker for not attending the showings is silly. Houses aren’t rejected; price points are rejected. When a house sits on the market, the seller and agent need to either reduce the price or make changes so the home’s value equals the sales price. No one’s going to reject a house they love because the broker wasn’t at the showing.

“You texted my client and offered to show him listings!” – Bre. In an earlier meeting, Bre said she never asked clients to sign buyers agreements, saying that her clients were friends and she trusted them. Then she shows a house to a client, who tells her that Emma texted him, offering to show him properties! While I have no doubt that this show is heavily edited and conversations don’t portray exactly what happened, Bre’s dilemma is not uncommon. In Florida, a buyer’s agreement has no legal heft—no one is obligated to use a certain agent for a sale, even if said agent spent a year showing the client properties and writing up offers. Still, poaching is considered such bad form that I prefer not to speak to friends while they are buying or selling homes with other agents in order to avoid “tampering.” (Also because it’s seriously annoying when friends choose to work with other agents, then call me to complain about what their agent is doing wrong.) Did Emma really try to poach, or did the producers edit Bre’s conversation with her client to make Emma’s text sound worse than it was? I don’t know. Last season Emma had a client who told her that Christine had offered her $5000 to use her instead of Emma, which was such a weak bribe it seemed almost unbelievable. The lesson: Only work with people you trust.

“Jason put you on my listing, and then you didn’t do anything!”
– Nicole. Nicole seems to be taking the villain spot vacated by Christine. Or maybe she and Chelsea are sharing it, I don’t know. This entire storyline confused me, because as Chrishelle pointed out, the sale in question happened three years ago and she and Nicole had been friendly since. And Nicole’s beef should have been with Jason. More broadly, this issue of Jason putting agents on listings is a problem I don’t have, and I don’t know any other agents who do. Maybe it’s a California thing, but here in Florida, agents get their own listings. Still, agents sometimes split listings with other agents who who might not do their fair share of the work. It happens, it sucks; you learn your lesson and move on. Chrishelle said she had referred clients to Nicole, so it seemed like she had paid her back in any case. To me, this just seemed like more manufactured drama to make Nicole look bad and Mary seem like an ineffective manager. The lesson here, again: Only work with people you trust. If you make a mistake, chalk it up to bad luck and remember that things even out in the end. One day you might be the agent not pulling her own weight but getting a check at the end of the day.

Selling Sunset may be a guilty pleasure, but the show also reinforces important lessons for agents. As a realtor, I may not have billionaire clients, a camera crew or a size 0 body, but I can do everything possible to sell my listings and get my buyers ready for the biggest purchase of their lives. But if anyone knows a billionaire looking to buy in Pinellas County, Florida, please send her my way!

*quotes aren't exact, but I tried!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Things We Should Know But Are Clueless About

It’s time for another blog hop with my favorite blogging friends! This week’s theme is: Things We Should Know But Are Clueless About… Enjoy!

When I was a kid, I thought there would be some magical age when I would know everything. When I was 12, that age was 16. When I was 16, that age was 21. When I was 21, that age was 30. When I was 30, I realized it was never going to happen.

I’m 55 now, and while the list of things I don’t know has grown shorter, there are some things on that list that I’m never going to master. Things like:

-- How to walk in high heels. I’m 5’6 (alright, maybe 5’5 now), so heels were never a must. I think I bought my first pair in college? They are so painful, and I don’t like being in pain. I read recently that they are designed to be painful and women are just supposed to put up with it. That sounds monstrous to me. I wear sandals or boots. Nothing with a heel. And my feet are good!

-- How to parallel park. I know I did this a few times in my life, because it was on the driving test I passed in 1985. And I got my license (after two tries) so I definitely knew how to do this at one point. Nowadays I have a few strategies for dealing with this troublesome parking requirement:

o Make my husband drive

o Make my friend drive

o Take a Lyft

o Park out of the way on a curb that has no cars nearby

o Pull in at the end spot

o Stay home! There’s good stuff on TV! Why go out?

-- How to Slack or whatever it is that people with real jobs are using to communicate with each other these days. It’s like a text message for the whole company? Or a private Twitter? Who invented that? And why? (I do know how to use fun real estate tools like Dotloop and Moxi though!)

-- How to boat, jet-ski, or operate any other kind of watercraft. I live in Florida, one block from Tampa Bay. But I don’t like crashing and/or possibly drowning, so I’m pretty much a landlubber. I will get on a boat if someone else is driving it, but I have yet to be coaxed onto the back of a jet ski.

-- How to cook a turkey, steak, ham, or other big-meal type dish. I can make pasta but that’s about it. Luckily I married a man who can cook and for the past few years we have hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house. I gladly do the dishes!

I’m so interested in see what Deb has failed to master in her years on the planet… I’ll be checking here for her blog post tomorrow, and you should, too!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Your friend is a Realtor. Should your friend be your Realtor?

Recently, two separate advice columnists I follow both had letters dealing with hurt feelings after friends and family members chose another real estate agent. The first letter writer was upset that her friend, a Realtor, was giving her the cold shoulder after she chose to list her house with someone else. The second writer was angry that his family members were not using his stepson for their real estate needs. In both cases, the columnists brushed off the concerns, asserting that no one should be forced to use a certain real estate agent, even if they were a friend or family member.

Of course no one should ever feel forced to use a certain agent, but these columnists are not real estate agents, and I am. I’ve been an agent for eight years and have closed many complex deals and handled some ridiculous situations. And still, the most difficult part of being an agent is getting new clients. Real estate is an industry where 90 percent of the business goes to 10 percent of agents. Breaking in is very hard; staying in is really tough, and making a living from real estate is almost impossible.

So when friends choose to work with someone else—a stranger who is part of that 10 percent—it hurts.

And yet, the purchase and/or sale of a house represents the biggest financial transaction in most people’s lives. It’s no wonder that many people would want to cast the widest possible net in order to get the most savvy representative in town. And even if the best real estate agent happens to be your next door neighbor, sometimes it’s hard to see a friend as the professional advisor who can get you the best deal and smoothest transaction. At the same time, who’s better than a good friend to hold your hand during one of the most stressful life changes that people go through? A friend whom you can trust to have your best interests at heart, not her next paycheck?

Here's how to determine if your friend is the right person to hire… and what to do if she’s not.

Hire her if:

 She’s been in the business for a little while. She’s got a few deals under her belt; some of them complicated. She’s told you stories… they’re unbelievable! … but she got her clients through the hard part.

 She has her license at a well-known brokerage that provides her with plenty of support. No realtor has all the answers when things get weird, but a realtor at a large company will have brokers, lawyers, and other folks on hand to help you out if things get sticky. If she’s been in real estate for a decade or so, she might have all the support she needs from a smaller brokerage.

 She’s consistent, punctual, and rarely cancels plans… unless it’s due to a client emergency! Real estate is not only about taking pretty pictures of houses. It’s about meeting deadlines and knowing every word of the contract. If she’s reliable in her personal life, chances are she’ll be reliable when representing you.

 She always has her phone close at hand… and she’s up-to-date on the latest social apps. Sure, this is annoying when you’re out to brunch and she keeps getting texts… but in real estate, when things turn on a dime, you want a realtor who’s always available. And those social apps are going to help you sell your house and find your next one!

And if your friend doesn’t meet these criteria? What if she’s brand-new to real estate, has another job that leaves her little time to show houses, or just isn’t reliable? There are still ways to support her and her real estate career without putting your financial future in her hands.
 Ask her to team up with another Realtor in her brokerage. Inexperienced Realtors do this all the time. This way, she gets the credit for your sale, and you get the assurance that an experienced Realtor will be overseeing the entire transaction.

 See if she can refer you to another Realtor. If your friend doesn’t live in the town where you wish to buy or sell, this is an easy solution that will allow her to remain updated about your transaction and receive a fee from the referral.

 Split the transaction. If you feel comfortable having her list your property but not as a buyer’s agent, explain your reasons why and let her do half. Or give her a chance to prove herself on the listing before committing to the buyer’s side.

 Offer the home as a For Sale By Owner, and let your friend handle any unagented buyers that come along. You can save some money and help her grow her business at the same time.

No matter how you handle the situation, please don’t ask your friend for a discount for her services. If she’s helping you as a buyer, her commission is set by the seller. And if you’re listing the property with her, remember that cut-rate services won’t help attract buyers.

Buying a home, selling your home, or both can be some of the most stressful times of a person’s life. Why not hire a good friend to help you through it? But if you determine your friend isn’t the right person for the job, be honest and let her know why. It might be that the wrong person for your Realtor isn’t the right person to be your friend, either.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Ten Real Estate Myths (and Realities) in a Seller’s Market

It’s a market like no other! A severe housing shortage, coupled with an unprecedented migration to Work From Home, has created a sellers’ market like never before. In some regions of the country, including Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater Florida, home prices shot up by twenty percent over the year, and are projected to do so into 2022! So what does that mean for folks who are planning to buy, sell, or both this year? Are the conventional wisdoms about real estate still true? Or do new rules apply?

Here are 10 common myths about real estate that might not be true in a sellers’ market… and what the facts are!

In this market, you’re crazy to hire a real estate agent! Everything sells! Just stick a sign out there and save yourself the commission! It’s true that no one likes to pay a percentage of the sales price when it seems that selling a house is so easy. But if the goal is to sell for the highest price possible, hiring a real estate agent, even in this market, is the way to go. Owners who sell their homes themselves often take the first offer that comes their way, not having the tools or knowledge to market the house in the best way possible. They also might not be familiar with what the contract does or does not expect of them as far as repairs and other issues are concerned. Staging a home, holding open houses, creating excitement about a new listing all help support a high selling price. And when the home is under contract, the real work of keeping the deal together begins, and many “FSBOs” (For Sale By Owners) are unfamiliar with that process. In this sellers’ market, to get the best possible deal and have the smoothest transaction, it’s worth it to invest in an experienced real estate agent.

In this market, why should sellers pay to get an inspection beforehand? It will sell anyway! For most sellers, the goal isn’t just to sell the property. It’s to sell as quickly as possible, for the highest possible price, with the quickest possible closing date and the smoothest overall process. Yes, paying for an inspection beforehand—a fee generally incurred by the buyer—will cost the sellers a few to several hundred dollars. And the inspection may uncover issues that the seller will then need to fix. But this kind of preventative maintenance allows the seller to offer a worry-free home. Including an inspection report—along with receipts for any necessary repair work—assures the buyer that no surprises will pop up during the inspection period. This peace-of-mind will result in multiple higher offers and may even encourage buyers to drop the inspection period entirely. To many sellers, that may be worth the extra money.

In this market, there’s no point in staging an empty house—it’ll sell anyway! Again, this is another area where investing a little money will result in a bigger payoff. Staging a vacant house used to be reserved only for homes that had unique spaces that made furniture placement and design difficult for the average buyer to imagine. Now experienced real estate agents have realized that adding furniture, art, and other touches to make a house a home creates a picture that results in a higher sales price. Empty spaces prompt buyers to note what’s missing and other problems. And, ironically, rooms without furniture seem smaller than the same room with furnishings. Beautiful design harnesses buyer emotions and allows them to project their own lives into the space. They fall in love, and will act accordingly.

In this market, offer buyers’ agents barely anything. Why not, they are hardly working anyway! Everything sells! With so little inventory, buyers’ agents are working harder than ever. In a balanced market, when a buyer makes an offer, it’s more than likely that that buyer will end up with that property. Now, with several buyers for every home, most buyers’ agents will end up making several offers for the same client, as most buyers’ offers will get rejected. With this market, buyers’ agents often drop everything to be the first to show a home or to attend an open house when their client is out of town. They are working harder than ever to sell your house. While it’s always up to the seller how much they want to offer a buyers’ agent, these agents may draw negative conclusions about sellers who underpay buyers’ agents and advise their clients accordingly. If a seller is hoping for multiple offers over asking price, paying buyers’ agents what they are worth is a good place to start.

Forget the MLS. Isn’t it best just to sell off-market? Let a few agents know you want to sell, and make a deal without ever having to formally list the property? Some sellers want the easiest possible transaction, and don’t want to bother with photographers and showings and open houses. The agent who lives down the street has a friend, so why not sell it that way? For many sellers, selling their home in this way meets their needs. But other homeowners who want the highest possible price for their home will be missing out on connecting with other buyers who might offer a higher price for the property. If the goal is to achieve the highest possible sales price, listing a property on the MLS is the way to go.

In this market, it’s better to wait until prices go down before buying. They have to go down eventually, right? Everyone remembers the international real estate implosion of 2007. Fortunately, this event is highly unlikely to ever happen again. Real estate experts believe the U.S. is short a million housing units nationwide. And 2007 notwithstanding, housing prices in general have moved in one direction—upward. (That’s not to say that specific homes don’t lose value—they can—but the trend is up.) While inventory should get better and fewer buyers will be chasing the same homes, that will result in slower price increases, not prices decreasing. If you want to buy, and you’re in a position to buy, then now’s the time to buy.

All it takes is one buyer! In this market, you can price your home as high as you want, because people are desperate and it only takes one to make that sale! While it’s true that home prices have increased nationwide by about 20 percent, it’s also true that home sellers are cutting prices faster than ever. In this red-hot market, if a home doesn’t go under contract the first week it’s available, buyers wonder why. When that happens, sellers often have no choice but to start cutting the price. Even in this sellers’ market, a seller sometimes ends up getting less than they would have if they had only priced the home appropriately from the beginning. While every so often, there’s a seller who “stuck to his guns” and “held out for the price he wanted,” that’s usually a seller who didn’t have to sell. If the comps suggest you’re pricing your home too high, you may be waiting to make that sale.

If you’re selling your home in this market, it’s always better to hire a real estate agent who has more experience on the listing side than the buying side. When an owner decides to sell, often they contact the names of agents they’ve seen selling in the neighborhood, carefully interview many of them, and then choose. Conversely, many folks on the buying side call the first person a friend recommends. The thinking seems to be that it’s more difficult to sell a house than to buy one, so sellers choose their agents more carefully than buyers do. But in a market where nearly every home for sale receives multiple offers, isn’t the savvier person the buyers’ agent whose clients get their houses? Won’t this experience translate into receiving the best possible offers for your home? The neighborhood selling data is easily found on the MLS. In this market, buyers’ agents are working hard and positioning their clients to win. Their experience will result in the easiest possible sale for your home. And if you’re looking to buy, now’s the time to interview several agents and hire someone experienced who has won multiple bidding wars.

In any market, a cash deal is always better than an offer that comes with financing. Cash is king, right? Not always. If a buyer with financing offers more than the cash buyer, should you take it? Or should you go with the surer thing? The risk with financing is that a buyer might not be approved for the mortgage, or that the house might not appraise at the sales price. A savvy buyer, working with an experienced buyers’ agent, will offer terms as good as cash and an addendum that pledges to pay any difference between the appraisal and sales price. If your listing agent feels comfortable with the buyer, you could go with that higher offer, even if it comes with a mortgage.

And finally…

In this market, it’s better to work directly with the listing agent than a buyer’s agent. With several buyers for every home on the market, buyers’ agents are working harder than ever. If there are several homes you’re interested in, working with a buyers’ agent makes the most sense. They’re the experts on the market; they’ll do the leg work for you and help you make the deal. But if there’s one specific home you’re interested in – your dream home you’ve had your eye on for years – it may make the most sense to contact the listing agent directly. (Of course, the best tactic here is to let the home owner know you want to buy before she’s even thought of selling.) Since Florida allows a real estate agent to represent the “transaction” and not the buyers and sellers, she will make more money if she has “both sides” of the deal. In many cases, the seller will also pay less in commission. In a multiple-offer situation, you could stand out if you’re working with the listing agent yourself.

Please note these tips are specific to the state of Florida, and are intended to be general guidance and not legal advice! Writer is a real estate sales associate, not an attorney.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Buyer’s Agent in a Seller’s Market

It’s 9am on a Saturday morning. My husband and I have plans – sleeping late, a bike ride, dinner with friends. But all that changes when my phone buzzes with a text.

“Have you seen this?” It’s Kristen*, a friend of a friend who’s hot to buy a condo near downtown… or the beach… or somewhere in between. She includes a link to a building near St. Pete Beach. “It’s perfect! Can we go see it today?”

I click on the link and read the instructions. Open house today and tomorrow. No individual showings. Offers due in Sunday night. My husband rolls over. “No bike ride?”

“No bike ride,” I confirm. “And possibly no dinner.”

Welcome to life in a seller’s market. Real estate and housing prices are all anyone talks about. People who aren’t looking to buy or sell are wondering if they should become real estate agents. The market is so hot! Housing prices are exploding! How can you not be in this?

This is exhausting.

The National Association of Realtors defines a “balanced market” as one that offers a six-month supply of homes. I’ve been a realtor for seven years, and here in St. Petersburg in all that time, we have never reached “balanced market” status. It’s also never been quite this unbalanced. There’ve been weeks where the inventory was below a month.

Time was, you’d find a few houses for your buyer, and your buyer would find a few more on Zillow, and then you’d pick a day and go see a whole bunch. Sometimes one went under contract after you’d made the appointment, but that was unusual. You could plan ahead, take your time, negotiate with the seller to get the best price for your buyer, and best of all, have your own life.

Not anymore.

Instead, it’s scenarios like Kristen’s. With too many buyers and too few houses, everyone looking is going to jump on a half-decent property that priced somewhere between “you’ve got to be kidding me” and “that’s insane.” We can’t wait a couple of days, or, in some cases, even a few hours. As a real estate agent, your life isn’t your own anymore. It belongs to your buyer.

And even when you find that perfect property, you’re not the only one bidding on it. Not by a long shot.

I drop everything to take Kristen to see the condo, and not surprisingly, she loves it. And according to the number of people at the open house, “oohing” and “ahhhing” and measuring the windows, she’s not the only one. We aren’t even in the parking lot when she grabs my arm, tells me how much she loves it, and begs me to write an offer that will win her this place.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. The $500K condo is right at the top of Kristen’s price range. It’s definitely going to go for more than that, and Kristen doesn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. Even worse, Kristen is financing this purchase… and so many other buyers have cash.

We put together the best offer Kristen can handle. A $500K sales price with an escalation clause up to $525K. $10K in escrow. An inspection period of just 5 days. We can’t afford any more, and Kristen doesn’t have the money for me to write a clause guaranteeing she will make up the difference in cash if the appraisal falls short of the sales price. Still, Kristen is hopeful.

But I’m not, and when the listing agent calls me to say the seller accepted another offer, I’m not surprised. She can’t tell me the sales price, but she does mention it was cash and the buyer waived the inspection period entirely. When it closes two weeks later, the MLS reveals the condo went for $50K over asking price.

Kristen is disappointed but not undeterred. Over the next six weeks, we make offers on eight more condos. But when our eighth offer is rejected, she finally gives us, signing onto her apartment rental for another year. Her surrender means for the hours I spent taking her to showings and open houses, working with her mortgage broker, and writing up offers, I get paid absolutely nothing.

And I’m not the only one in this boat. Buyers agents are working harder than ever, often putting in multiple offers before one is accepted. And even then, sellers are feeling stingy. Housing prices may have gone up by more than fifteen percent in a year, but they don’t see why they should pay an agent for help when the house sells itself. (Note: The house may sell itself, but it sure doesn’t close on its own.) Commission rates had been steadily going down from 3 percent to 2.5 percent; now 2 percent isn’t uncommon. Some sellers are only offering flat fees of a thousand dollars or so.

On the listing side, more agents are competing for fewer houses, and some sellers are taking advantage, becoming demanding, unrealistic or greedy. Others are staying out of the market entirely, tempted by what they could get if they sold but afraid they wouldn’t be able to buy a place as nice as their current home.

And there’s always the threat of Zillow or some other e-real estate service, offering to handle everything for the seller and buyer and leaving real estate agents out of the equation entirely. Luckily, most people like having a human being they can count on to guide them through the biggest, most stressful purchase they’ll make in their lifetime.

So why stick with real estate? Most realtors I know genuinely love their jobs. There’s nothing better than helping a buyer get their first home or their dream home, especially in a challenging market like this. It’s fun to help a seller stage their property, adding the little touches that could mean a lot more money. It’s emotionally rewarding to guide them both through the anxiety and uncertainty of the entire process. And the more people we help, the better agents we become.

What goes around comes around. A few weeks after Kristen signs her lease, she introduces me to Mike, a co-worker who is being transferred out of state. His house is a bit spartan – he’s a single guy, after all – but he takes my advice on staging and repairs. Our open house gets multiple offers, and we accept one for cash that is well over asking price. We close two weeks later.

My husband and I book a vacation.

*Names and some details have been changed to protect the innocent.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

My Year on Pandemic*

Thanks to Deb for suggesting this blog hop, and thanks to Caroline for linking me with your readers! (Here’s her post from yesterday)

With this crazy year when everyone stayed home, you’d think more writing would get done, but that’s not really what happened. At least not for me. Oh, what a year…

It was January 1, 2020 and I was on a plane to London with my fiancĂ©, reading newspapers and magazines. A biology professor, he showed me an article about a new virus that had infected some people in China. “Oh, that’ll never make it over to the U.S.,” I assured him. “Things like that never do.”

Ha ha ha. Boy was I wrong. By the second weekend in March, the country was locked up tight. (At least parts of the country were.) As I’d spent the entire winter rehearsing and performing in a community theatre, I was particularly frustrated. Steve and I had things we wanted to do, people we wanted to hang out with, and now it was just us, the dog, and the TV set. (At least the TV set was big.) I was hopeful that the whole thing would blow over in a matter of weeks, and it would definitely be done by the time our wedding rolled around in October.

Not so fast…

The state of Florida was a weird place to spend a pandemic. Even in my city, St. Petersburg, which trends “blue,” the rules were relaxed. By May, restaurants had started opening up again for outdoor seating. The beaches were closed for awhile, but then the Powers that Be realized the virus doesn’t transmit too well outside. And with a governor like Ron “DeathSantis,” a Trump wannabe, the economy came before people’s health. There was talk that he lied about the number of cases and deaths; a scientist was fired and arrested in front of her small children.

So places that had closed down started back up again. Not all of them, of course. Small restaurants, gyms, yoga studios… none of those places were considered essential. But real estate was considered an essential industry, and so was construction. (My second job is sales for a roofing company.) So instead of holing up at home, working exclusively online, I was still going into people’s homes, trying to sell their houses or convince them to buy a roof from my company.

It was stressful.

Some homeowners were so terrified of the virus, they had me leave material on their porch and go over it on the phone. Others were dismissive, refused to wear a mask inside, and spent most of the appointment declaring COVID a hoax. While my real estate brokerage stopped having meetings in the office, the roofing company was business as usual after a few weeks. Some people wore masks, but others did not. Some worked at home, others came in. It made getting timely information out to customers… challenging. Add the labor shortage, the lumber shortage, a shingles shortage, and then a real estate sellers’ market like no one has ever seen before… work-wise, it was a very stressful year.

I have to admit, when I read stories about folks who hadn’t had to leave their houses in weeks, who had binged on every streaming service there was and watched everything on Netflix, I was a little jealous. I still had to shower every day. I still had to wear nice clean clothes. I still had to leave the house to do my job. And I still gained the 10 pounds everyone else did!

And the virus dragged on. When we finalized most of our plans in the summer of 2020, we were optimistic that a beach wedding followed by an outdoor reception would pass the COVID test. But when fall rolled around, our out-of-town guests—and most of the people on our guest list were from out of town—couldn’t fly to Florida and return to their home states without quarantining for weeks. Luckily, our hometown friends stepped up, and my parents live in driving distance, but our wedding was much smaller than we’d originally envisioned.

We still have some of the specially ordered masks, though!

So what a year. On the plus side, I moved in with my fiancĂ©, married him, and spent lots and lots of wonderful quality time with him, including hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas. On the minus side, I barely saw my friends. On the plus side, I continued to sell houses and roofs. On the minus side, I finished two manuscripts that my agent deemed “unsellable.” On the plus side, my son spent several weeks with us during his breaks from law school, and earned his J.D. this May. On the minus side, now he’ll have to get a real job with only two weeks of vacation and our visits will be short.

What will this year bring? Lots of travel to make up for the trips we missed. (Unfortunately our July trip to Italy has been postponed to 2022.) Get togethers with friends. Perhaps hosting a party or two. And more writing!

Now let’s see what Deb’s year looked like!

*When I first started this blog, I called it “My Year on Vacation,” so this title seems apt.