Saturday, June 30, 2012

Play Nice, Now

Real estate, like anything else, is more fun when people treat each other well. Yes, we are in competition, but the ultimate goal is to make sure the client is satisfied - all clients. That means we work together.

 I am one of those possibly naive Pollyanna people who believe that Little House on the Prairie was a fair depiction of the world - people are basically good, and if you just give them a chance, they'll prove it to you. Honestly, if it's not true, don't tell me.  I wouldn't handle it well.

So far, Pollyanna has not been disappointed.  My dealings with other realtors have been very positive - they're professional and encouraging. Clients, so far, have also been wonderful. They're excited, they're nervous, perhaps they need a little hand-holding, but they're satisfied and appreciative when their questions are answered, their needs are considered and they feel like their realtor is doing everything possible for them.

The news stories indicate the housing market is beginning to turn a corner, that recovery is finally happening. But sellers are still dealing with tough decisions, having to price their properties tight to stay competitive. Buyers want the best deal possible. That's when playing nice pays. It's the realtor's job to try to negotiate a deal that lets both sides feel like they got a fair shake. It's not always easy.

But playing nice pays off.  Satisfied clients remember.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Real Estate Ghost Stories

I must confess - even though I'm a big scaredy-cat, there's nothing I like more than a good ghost story.
It dawns on me I'm liable to hear quite of few of them now that I'm selling homes.

Yesterday I heard about one place that has been on the market for a long time - for very good reason, according to some of the local realtors.

"I walked in and immediately got hit by a very strong sense that I didn't belong there," one veteran realtor told me. "I got as far as the top of the stairs, I whirled around and walked right out. I almost felt sick."

She paused.

"That's a place that doesn't want to sell."

Years ago I looked at a beautiful old farmhouse with a realtor who had become a friend. It looked kind of like this one.

It was a wonderful place - a bit too updated, but lots of space and potential to make it charming. We put in an offer.

That night I had dreams so gruesome they woke me from a sound sleep and kept me up the rest of the night. There was a lot of blood.

I called the realtor in the morning and asked if we could go back a second time. We walked around, poked into various buildings, tried to "vibe" it out.

"Something is definitely not right," he said. "Let me know what you want to do."

That night, more axes, more screaming, no sleep.

"I can't do it," I told my husband. "I've never had dreams like that in my life. I just can't go there."

Our realtor totally understood.

"I showed one couple a beautiful, historic house that was just perfect for them. One of them loved it. The other one suddenly got a massive migraine headache and had to wait in the car. I got sick to my stomach and ran outside to throw up. As soon as we were out of the driveway, all of us were fine. And the one who loved the house looked at the two of us like we were crazy! I never showed that house again. I just couldn't go in."

Another farmhouse that was perfect from the outside sounded, to me, like it was infested with millions of bees in the walls. There was a loud buzzing that made it difficult to concentrate - and no one else heard it. I didn't move there, either.

I don't go around expecting such things to happen. I've been in thousands of homes and it's only happened a very, very few times.
A few times I've had the complete opposite experience; I've entered a home to feel immediately comfortable, relaxed and welcomed. That happened this week, too. I was showing an old home that had been empty for awhile. Nothing was left but a piano. It was a sunny, windy day and I threw open the doors to let the breezes in. As I waited for my clients, I sat down at the piano and played the only two songs I know by heart - old songs my grandmother used to play.

If houses smile, that one was smiling.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Staging - Does Your House Have To Be Empty To Sell?

Today's morning news feed included an article from advising readers that the best way to sell a home is to stage it.  Okay, I'm with you so far.  

"You want the space to look BIG, CLEAN, SPACIOUS and UNCLUTTERED. This isn't supposed to be a functional room."

Pardon me? Functionality kills sales?

contemporary  by eva
Photo credit: eva
"For this home office, I used a bright rug to punch in some color and pattern to an otherwise boxy white room. The clear console stands in for a desk (if buyers saw my real desk stacked with papers and dirty coffee mugs, they'd run for the hills)."

So if you work from home, you are supposed to put all your furniture into storage and set up camp in the local coffee shop?  Send the children and their toys to relatives?

This advice strikes me as completely impractical unless you've already moved and have money to burn on furniture for staging your former home.  It used to be gospel that an empty house sold best - a blank palette on which potential buyers could envision their own furnishings.

We're now supposed to turn our living spaces into hotel lobbies or sets for magazine shoots.

Let's try something a little more realistic.

First, clean your house.  Really clean it.  Air it out. I've been with people who walk into a nice looking home, take one sniff and immediately shut down.  Whether it's pets, smoke or even that musky perfume that everyone says they just love, a house that smells like your life doesn't invite strangers to stay.

Move the clutter out. You're planning on moving, aren't you? Pack up your beloved mementos now.  Clear your shelves, your counters, neaten your closets. Move your stuff aside to let a buyer's eye focus on the space. That's what you're trying to sell.

Go neutral.  At fifty dollars a gallon in some places, I can't say paint is cheap. But it is still one of the cheapest ways to completely update a room.  I don't believe you have to paint every wall white, but neutral, soft colors are the way to go.  Target those rooms that people have complimented you on with words like, "Wow, I'd have never thought of using that color!" and "I don't usually like ...., but it looks great here!"

White includes a rainbow of colors now; you'll find whites with a hint of soft blush, mellow sand, baby leaf, sunset lavender.  The goal is to avoid any negative reactions and maximize the oohs and aahs. Neutral colors offend no one. Let the buyers slap on a coat of their favorite cobalt blue later.

Yours, only better. I do not think you have to eliminate all your furniture and buy an Ikea couch. Look at your furniture with a critical eye.  If your couch has been scratched to shreds by your beloved cat, get a good slipcover. Invest in a new bedspread. Any furniture that serves no purpose should go into temporary storage. Make space. You may like the open feeling so much you recreate it in your new home!

Be prepared. Replace burned out bulbs. Turn on the lights before a showing. Set the table. Put out flowers. Light a candle. Your house has a date - make it look its best.

Does staging guarantee you'll sell your house? No. There are no guarantees. But you're putting the odds in your favor.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

So what makes us fall in love with a house? What makes us incompatible? I got to thinking about that after writing that first post. It's true - I have been madly in love with a couple of houses, been seriously in "like" with others, and actively disliked a couple of places I've lived. I didn't stay long.

I fell in love with the place pictured here based on photos on the Internet when it was for sale. I did some investigating and discovered it had a wildly romantic history. It was built by a man who was in love with his friend's sister.  She was a concert pianist. The friend, a well known artist, had a place right down the road. The unrequited lover built a fairy tale cottage with a garden his friend preserved in a series of beautiful, sun-washed paintings.

But the sister married someone else. The huge hall he built so she could hold home concerts went quiet.

This might well be the most romantic house I've ever seen. The interior had been destroyed by relatives in the sixties who thought dark paneling was the answer to all decorating issues. But I hope that whoever finally bought it has restored the dream garden to its original splendor and made the ghost of the lonely man who built it smile. I never lived there, yet I lived there for a very long time.

One of the houses I have loved dearly in my life was an old Victorian in a Connecticut tobacco town. I have no pictures -I lived there before digital cameras and computers were commonplace. This house was near it - our house was a simpler version with a similar front porch. It's where my kids grew up.

I learned the history of our house and our street, that nearly every old house on the street was built by members of the same family. We bought ours from one of those relatives. They'd covered it with delft blue asbestos siding, installed crank out windows half the size of the original double hungs and graced the dining room with a wagon wheel chandelier. It was hideous. But room by room, year by year, every inch of that house was reclaimed and restored, done within the limited budget of a young family with lots of energy and little dollars or sense. I have never felt more comfortable, safer or more at home in any house. The kids and I agree we should never have left.

But we did.  To something like this.

This is a house I could not like, though I tried.  I really tried.  It was damp, it was cold, it didn't care if we were there or if we left. I grew to hate it.

This is not an old house vs. contemporary bias, though I will admit to having that. I'm living in a 1960s ranch right now that, though not lovable, is livable.  I am not unhappy.  I lived in a 1930's Cape with so much charm it drifted right up the street. It was difficult to live in. None of the rooms made sense and we never figured out what room to use for what.

But it is definitely a history of the house thing. There are happy houses, unhappy houses, depressed houses, angry houses.  That Victorian farmhouse was a happy house. It liked families. That contemporary was depressed - even unhappy. There was no coaxing it from its blues.  We moved from that house to a home that looked more like our beloved Victorian inside.  It was a solid foursquare, but it, too, proved to be an unhappy house. Or perhaps it was unhappy because we were unhappy there. I believe it could be happy again.

After my divorce, I moved to a home that welcomed me. The little garden cottage had been a schoolhouse in the 18th and 19th centuries. My first night there, a group of friends came and we smudged the house, wandering the rooms with smoking sage like amateur witches.

"I think there's an old woman here who's happy you're here now," one told me.

There had been an old lady in residence, I later learned. Her name was Mary and she'd run an antique shop out of the house for years. She was, I heard, a lovely woman.

All I know is that I felt safe and comfortable, even when a blizzard howled outside. This house, like my old farmhouse, was hard to leave. But I moved back to Woodstock, New York, where I grew up. I had to leave my little old lady cottage behind. My life changed.

Now I'm selling real estate. I'm invited to wander people's homes, to help them find new people to love them. I have to try to stay detached. I learned when I was a starry-eyed teenager that there's no point mooning for the love you can't have. My job is to play matchmaker. It's not my turn.

 I suspect there's one more move in my future before all moves cease. My goal is to find another happy house, a house that smiles when I see it.  And it's got to be near the sea. That will make me smile.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

I should have known when I felt compelled to explore an abandoned farmhouse.  Then there was another one with a suspiciously springy kitchen floor. There was one where raccoons had used the old bathtub as a toilet. I even crawled through the window of one empty place with a realtor who forgot his keys.  Although I never, ever imagined I'd be selling real estate, I now realize it was probably inevitable. My name is Susan and I am a house junkie.

I've lived in many houses, loved a few of them, hated a couple. I've had inexplicably strong emotional ties to places I've never lived in, houses I've driven by, walked by, and felt I'd lived in for a lifetime.

Now one of my jobs (besides working as a writer, a journalist and a book editor) is to help people sell their homes and find new places to love.

I suspect there are going to be some adventures.  I also suspect there are some stories I won't be able to share here.  But there will be plenty of stories I'll be able to tell and this seems a good way to do it.

Perhaps I will find a new house-love.  Or two.