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.

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.


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!