Thursday, January 14, 2021

Mean People Suck

There are somewhere between seven and ten thousand real estate agents in Pinellas County, and like a good little Bell Curve, eighty percent of the business goes to twenty percent of the agents. With so many realtors available, most folks choose someone they already know when looking for help buying or selling a house. That makes it even more challenging when you’re trying to expand your business beyond your personal sphere. But in order to close transactions regularly enough so you can pay your bills, most of us need to move out of our comfort zone and work with complete strangers.

With so many other realtors in the county, I’ve discovered a hard truth: When a stranger who lives here comes to you looking for help, it’s often because she has alienated the real estate agents she already knows. Working with her is going to be a challenge, and you might not even see any money for your troubles.

While my biggest transaction to date came from someone I met on NextDoor (who told me her last agent was horrible—warning bells!—but turned out to be a sweetheart), here are some quick anecdotes about some of the lovely people I’ve been lucky enough to meet while trying to expand my business….

--A woman DM’d me on NextDoor after I posted about real estate, wanting a listing appointment. I got back to her immediately with some questions about the property and trying to nail down a time for the appointment. An hour later she said she already had 4 appointments set up and I had been too hard to get a hold of. But I responded immediately to your first text, I thought to myself. I sent an understanding reply, saying that I’d been in other appointments but of course everyone wanted to be the first priority of the person you’re hiring. She exploded at me, accusing me of calling her a spoiled brat and telling me she was blocking my number. Now I keep a careful eye on postings on NextDoor, worried that she’ll make up a reason to attack me in public!

-- A woman I’d met through a referral service had me take her out several times to see properties. On our third trip, she brought her dog, saying she felt guilty leaving him home alone. I told her that since every home we were seeing had a dog on the premises, the dog would need to stay in the car. She sulked and pouted and the next day texted me that “my services were no longer needed.”

-- A man I’d met through that same referral service had a strict limit of $125K. He wanted a single family home in St. Petersburg. There are very few homes available in that price range, and the ones that are available are not dream homes. But all this guy did was bitch and moan at every house I showed him. Why was there rotting wood around the door? Why was this window pane cracked? Why hadn’t the homeowner fixed every little problem before putting his home on the market? When I explained the concept of the “fixer-upper” and the price range he was looking in, he got angry. After two separate showing trips, I never heard from him again.

-- A woman who’d emailed me through the company website, asking for help buying a For Sale By Owner. After I took her to the house and went over the timeline for an offer and sale, the owner called me a few hours later. My client had called her directly, wanting to do the deal on their own and cut me out completely. (Because I’d had the owner sign an agreement before the showing, she couldn’t do it.) When I tried to call the client, she blocked me.

--A woman I’d connected with through another referral service who was dying to see a property north of Clearwater. She insisted she was a cash buyer and ready to make an offer. It was a good price, so I made the appointment and drove the 40 miles to meet her. She never showed and never returned my calls or texts.

--A buyer who called me from the sign on my listing wanted to buy a beach house on St. Pete Beach. I showed him my listing; it wasn’t right for him but he was committed to being on the island. I did all the research he asked for, showed him other listings, analyzed the pricing of homes he was interested in. After spending hours and hours on this gentleman, he emailed me to say that my research had convinced him that “St. Pete Beach isn’t where I want to be!” I never heard from him again.

-- In 2014, a man emailed me wanting to sell his property. He was in Europe and the property was near Madeira Beach. I spent several hours with my broker, coming up with the pricing analysis. Did not hear back. Two years later, he emailed me again. Now he had two properties on the street and wanted to buy a third. There was one on the market! What did he want to offer? Crickets. Last month he emailed me again, wanting to sell those two properties again. Or build on it. Or whatever. I sent him the info he wanted. Again, crickets…

The worst story isn’t even mine. A good friend found a client through the referral system. He started bitching to her about how he was frustrated because he was in a sexless marriage and he really needed a BJ. And she didn’t fire him because she needed the work!

I could go on and on, not only with real estate stories, but also the jerks I deal with at my other job doing roofing sales, even as far back as when I worked the counter at McDonald’s in the 1980s. The broader issue, I think, is that people sometimes see folks who work in retail or sales as their job, and not as a person doing a job. It’s okay to treat them without respect or concern because a job isn’t human, it’s a thing.

These experiences serve as a reminder to me why I prefer to work with friends and direct referrals over strangers. But it also reminds me that when I’m interacting with strangers on the job—the call center worker helping me after my order was messed up; the repair person who’s the third guy to try to fix the problem—that these are real people who (usually) are just trying to do their best.

Usually.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Long and Painful Process of a Short Sale

A ceiling that’s lying in pieces on the floor is usually a problem. Even more so when that inversion is discovered during the buyer’s final walk-through, which usually takes place just before the deal is closed.

Luckily, this wasn’t a typical sale, and my buyer wasn’t typical, either. It had taken literally a year for us to get to this point, and by now she knew exactly what she was getting into. She was completely unfazed by the pieces of plaster on the dining room floor, the exposed wooden slats in the ceiling above. And hey, at least the ceiling collapse hadn’t exposed any mold. Or bugs of the alive or dead variety. Or a body.

I’d met Meredith (not her real name) over a year ago. In response to a query on NextDoor asking for Realtor recommendations, I’d posted a list of questions and answers that home sellers could use to determine whether a Realtor was a good fit for them. Meredith had sent me a direct message, looking for someone who’d help her buy a place. She’d worked with a Realtor before, but it wasn’t a good fit.

Fresh out of her residency, Meredith had been approved for a physician’s loan (a program that ignores the standard debt-to-income ratio when med school loans are part of that debt) and was eager to buy a place that needed some work she could do herself. After our company sales meeting one Tuesday, I met her out in South Pasadena. The house was a time-capsule from the 1950s; even worse, its backyard neighbor was a three-story McMansion that put the entire backyard in shadow. I gave her my little speech I call “The things you can change versus the things you can’t change.” She realized the house wasn’t the right property for her, and I think I earned some trust with my feedback.

I continued to show her a variety of properties. Some days she wanted to look at small apartment buildings way out of her price range; other days tiny older homes in Kenwood. She brought her dog along; I told her about the great new guy I’d met a few weeks ago. “He asked me to go to London with him,” I said. “Is it crazy that I think I’m going to go?”

“You should go for it,” she advised. “You only live once!”

Right before I headed off for London, Meredith found a house she liked, an overpriced 1920s cottage in old Northeast that had been on the market for months. Before writing up the offer, I put a call into her mortgage broker to confirm the details of her approval. A few hours later, Meredith called me back, fuming. Her approval had been rescinded. The broker had made a mistake, believing she was an employee rather than a contractor. As a 1099, she wouldn’t qualify for any type of loan.

“If I have to,” Meredith said, “I’m going to get another job so I can buy my #$%$$ house!”

I went to London and got engaged. Meredith went back to work. We kept in touch. She got a fulltime job at a hospital, keeping her contractor position for extra cash. The new job put her at a much higher price point.

She found another house, a pink Spanish style with a separate garage and pool in the Jungle Prada neighborhood. The listing said that due to roof leaks and dated wiring, the house was uninsurable and the sellers would only accept cash. But it was a beautiful house and Meredith was in love. I knew there was no such thing as uninsurable, so I called the insurance broker I work with to start getting quotes. My thinking was if I put together an offer that had insurance as part of the package, the sellers might drop their “cash only” demand.

In the meantime, a second house—a nearly identical property just down the street--went on the market for nearly the same price, and its listing said that conventional loans would be accepted. Meredith and I took that to mean that the house wouldn’t need the new roofing and electrical systems that made the first house uninsurable. The new place wasn’t as pretty on the inside – older kitchen and baths, painted woodwork—but without the cost of a new roof and electrical system, Meredith could plow that money into prettying up the house. When the first house went under contract, the choice was out of our hands. Then, while Meredith was getting her mortgage pre-approval, the second one accepted an offer, too.

Meredith was heartbroken. I hit the MLS, trying to find a similar property somewhere in St. Pete. Her pre-approval came in; we put in a backup offer on that second house, just in case. Meredith worked day and night, saving up for her down payment. Weeks later, Jason, the listing agent on that second house, called. Their buyer might be backing out, and they liked our backup. The celebration from that phone call was all too brief—the house was now officially a short sale, and the bank had stepped in. The first deal was off, but now the property was off the market. Another heartbreak. I hit the MLS again.

A few weeks later, another call from Jason. The sellers had permission from the bank to sell, and could we increase our offer by a few thousand? Meredith was delighted to comply, and amazingly, we were now under contract with her dream property! A miracle!

Not. So. Fast.

“Yeah, I remember this place,” the pest inspector said as we met for the property inspection. “I was here in May, the last time it was under contract. Let me show you the termite damage.” Even worse: the property inspector found serious leaks in the roof, and cloth-wrapped wiring that would have to be replaced. I was pissed: the house had already been inspected, the listing agent should have known these things and didn’t tell us. But Meredith was undeterred and our insurance broker said the property could still be insured. The sellers extended our inspection period for two weeks so Meredith could get the work priced out and the plumbing line could be replaced. When the bids for the work went in the high five figure range, the sellers agreed to drop the price by 75K. We were back on track.

As Meredith continued to work with her lender—a busy woman who brushed off my phone calls with “Everything’s going great!”—we awaited the appraisal and approval from the bank that held the sellers’ mortgage.

“Do you have any idea why my house is listed for auction?” Meredith sent me the Zillow ad. Sure enough, her house was scheduled to go up for auction two weeks before our closing. My heart sank. Had the sellers’ bank rejected our offer, and no one had even bothered to tell us?

“Don’t worry,” Jason told me. “The owners are working with an attorney. We’re getting the auction canceled. We just need the appraisal to come in good.”

The appraisal was better than good. It was so much higher than our contracted price, I worried that the mortgage bank would reject the contract and demand more money. Jason assured me that wouldn’t happen. We were right on track and scheduled to close the day before Halloween. I packed my bags and went off to get married, thinking it was smooth sailing till this closing.

“Do you have a minute to talk?” Meredith called me two days after I’d gotten back from my wedding and one-day honeymoon. “Always,” I said, bracing myself for what was next.

What was next is that Meredith’s lender, Ms. “Everything’s going great/I don’t have time to talk to you,” had called the Friday before my wedding with the news that her loan had been rejected due to a mix-up over student loan forbearance. Luckily, she had gone back to another lender she’d spoken to a few months ago, and was on track for approval. Unfortunately, that meant the closing would be delayed by two weeks.

After I talked to the new lender, I called to give Jason the bad news. Considering he answered the phone with, “I was just about to call you; we are approved for October 30th!” it wasn’t a great conversation. He’d call the seller, but he warned me not to get my hopes up.

I was pleasantly surprised when he reported the seller would sign the extension. I was even more pleasantly surprised when he said the bank agreed to it as well, canceling the auction. But we still needed a new appraisal, insurance, and final approval from Meredith’s lender.

“Have you seen the weather reports?” Meredith asked.

It was two weeks before closing and something was brewing in the Gulf. I knew what that meant: We had to get her insurance bound before the insurance companies put a hold on writing new policies because of the hurricane. With the finish line finally in sight—and the new appraisal in (lower than the first one, but still good)—we rushed through paperwork, facilitated phone calls between the insurance company and the bank, and finally breathed free as the insurance was bound and the clear to close given just a handful of days before Tropical Storm Eta was scheduled to hit the Tampa area.

“I drove over to the house,” Meredith reported the Thursday after the storm. “There’s a tree down. I’ve already called the city to see if it’s on my property or if the city owns it.”

What more could go wrong? “Technically,” I reminded her, “it’s still their house and their tree. We could let them know and ask—” “No,” she said. “We’ve gotten this far. I am not doing anything to mess this up now!”

Which is why, when we walked in the day before closing and found a quarter of the dining room ceiling on the dining room floor, that Meredith would go through with the purchase anyway. (There was also a much smaller collapse in the living room.) She’d already signed a huge contract with a construction company covering the roofs, electrical work, and all drywall and plaster work that needed to be done to clean up. This collapse was covered.

But first, she was getting the place tented.

The next day, we went to closing, and I handed her her keys. Over a year had passed since we’d met; nearly everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and she still wound up a homeowner. That’s the beauty and frustration of being a Realtor; every deal is different, and many problems that crop up during the process aren’t necessarily foreseeable or have obvious solutions. The beauty is when enough people—a determined buyer, a creative loan officer, an experienced insurance broker—come together to make one person’s dream come true. Even when that dream includes a ceiling on the floor.

Meredith's dream house, known in the neighborhood as "The Grande Dame."

Saturday, October 31, 2020

I’m back, bitches!

I started this blog in 2012, right after my then-husband and I moved to Florida. We’d taken a year lease on a mansion on Treasure Island on the Gulf Coast, near St. Petersburg, and I was convinced that after a year we’d move back to Maryland. I called the blog “My Year on Vacation.”

A year later, when instead of moving back north we bought a place on St. Pete Beach, I retooled the blog as “Writer in Paradise,” (not knowing about the popular yearly conference Writers in Paradise held every January at Eckerd College) and posted mostly about writing, with an occasional foray into TV or politics.

I was a regular blogger for several years, trying to upload a new post every week. Then every other week. Then maybe every month.

Then in 2018, I abruptly got divorced. As I tried to create a new life for myself, I began frequenting those dating web sites: Match, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish. The experiences I had on those sites were so ridiculous, I re-tooled my blog as “Dating in Paradise” to recount those stories.

A few months of blogging later, the universe had a laugh at me when I met the best guy in the world on… you guessed it… Match. I stopped blogging and started planning my wedding.

Now I’m back!

Happiness is a great base for new projects. I’m still writing, still reading, and still selling real estate. Now, rather than dating, my best stories come from the real estate world. I’ve been posting those stories on Facebook, and friends have encouraged me to start blogging again. How could I say no?

So my new blog is “Living in Paradise” with a concentration on my three Rs – reading, writing, and real estate. There will be digressions into politics and pop culture. It will be fun. Come along for the ride!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Don’t Believe the Hype on Match.Com

It’s time for another fabulous blog hop put together by the tireless Deborah Nam-Krane! If you haven’t already, please check out Morgan’s entry yesterday. Our theme this time around is….

Reality vs. the Hype!

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of online dating. Before I got divorced, I wrote about books, movies, pop culture. Then life threw me a curve and suddenly I’m back out there. Since I met my ex-husband in 1989, a lot changed in the dating world while I was busy doing other things. In college, I met my boyfriends at parties, in the dorm, in classes, through friends. Even when I was married, I had some FOMO when I looked at my single friends’ profiles and watched them evaluate the available men in town. There seemed to be so many attractive guys on those sites. Surely I’d find Mr. Right right away!

Then I found myself on several of these sites – Match, OKCupid, Plenty of Fish – and learned first hand… Don’t believe the hype!

For instance:

The hype: He’s 50 years old.
The reality: He’s 64… he “accidentally” inputted the wrong date and Match won’t let you change it. (This last part is true. But there are so many of this type of accident that it’s obviously not an accident.)

The hype: He lives for the water, always out on his boat.
The reality: A friend let him borrow his boat once. But he’s planning on buying one for himself someday! (I really don’t want a boater but a lot of women around here are)

The hype: He’s a cyclist/paddle boarder/runner
The reality: He did all those things before hip and knee injuries. Now he hangs out on the couch all day.

The hype: What great pictures!
The reality: Too bad they’re 10 years old.

The hype: He never smokes.
The reality: Because his mouth is full of chewing tobacco.

The hype: He has three great kids but his life doesn’t revolve around them.
The reality: That’s because none of his baby mama’s will let him have anything to do with them.

The hype: After a fulfilling career, he has a part-time job at a golf course to keep busy and because he loves the sport.
The reality: After he retired in lieu of getting fired, he went through all his money and this gig was all he could get. Good thing he likes it because he’ll be working there till he dies.

The hype: He’s a cultured guy who likes theatre, literary fiction, and classical music.
The reality: Hockey and NASCAR!

The hype: He’ll take care of your pet like it’s his own.
The reality: Calling the SPCA when you leave the house for longer than a half hour.

The hype: He’s Mr. Fixer Upper and wants to help you with your home repairs.
The reality: He doesn’t fix up his own place either!

The hype: Jami is going on these crazy online dates and writing blog posts so you don’t have to!
The reality: Jami met a great guy on Match.com and is no longer on any of the sites! She’ll probably need to find something else to blog about!

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for Caroline’s entry!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Match Who?

It was our 5th date in less than two weeks since we’d met on Match. A whirlwind, even though I said I didn’t want to get too involved too soon. We were walking on the beach just before sunset, holding hands. A more romantic setting could not be imagined.

Suddenly he stopped, turned to me, and said in a very serious voice, “I have to ask you a question.”

My stomach plummeted to my knees. I really liked him; he was everything I was looking for, and most importantly, there were no red flags. Still, I was serious about not wanting to get too involved too soon. I’d made that mistake before. What was he going to ask? What should I say?

I nodded.

“What’s your last name?”

Ahh, the logistics of the Match meet-up. I wasn’t hiding anything. I told him. I even told him how to spell it.
But I didn’t mention that on Match, I’d deliberately spelled my first name wrong… and he’d been spelling it wrong ever since.
If things work out, he’ll learn soon enough!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog

I met him on Match. He was cute, and local, and my age, and a liberal. I “liked” him. He messaged me back. We went out a few times; I was starting to like him, even though he said he didn’t like to talk because he was a “doer.” I didn’t call him on how insulting that was.

Then he emailed me an invitation. His email address contained a year that, if it was his birth year, made him nine years older than he’d claimed to be on Match. When I casually asked him about it, hoping that the year was a sports milestone or something else that would keep him my age, he brushed the comment away. “Oh, yeah. I’ve been meaning to tell you about that.”

It seems that most men dating online do not know how to correctly enter in their birth years. In their profile, they bashfully explain that they are actually 10 years older, or 15, but they had made a mistake and Match wouldn’t let them change it. Some are honest enough to admit they deliberately lie because the women they had been attracting were too old. Others wait until the first message or meeting.

I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me. After all, he didn’t seem his age, and I probably would have hit the like button anyway.

Probably.

But when he called me the next day to “let me off the hook,” he blamed me. I had made him feel uncomfortable. I suppose because I called him out for lying.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people lie about facts on their profile that are so easily uncovered. Do they really think that once they reveal they’re ten years older, or only separated instead of divorced, or twice married instead of just once, that the object of their affection will look past the lie because they’re already so attached?

Maybe they will. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I should pretend to be five years younger (of course that would mean lying about my son’s age, too), a marathon runner, an experienced boater.

Nah.

I’d rather be alone as myself than with another person as a lie.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Direct from Plenty of Fish!

Most messages aren't worth writing a blog about. They're either "Hi, pretty lady," or a more appropriate, "I like your profile, please check out mine." (Most of these haven't actually read my profile, otherwise they'd realize I don't want to drive 30 miles to meet someone.)

And then today I got this:



I'm going to be an old lady with 20 cats...