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  • San Diego Castles Realty
  • 12265 Scripps Poway Parkway, Suite 115
  • Poway, CA 92064
  • P: 858.530.2374
  • F: 858.876.1701
  • E: info (at) sandiegocastles.com
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Marked Absent — It's Technology's Fault.

(Warning: There is nothing here about real estate today. If you do decide to brave the following wall of words waiting for that all-important segue, you’re out of luck.)

Despite our best efforts, stuff happens. And the stuff I am talking about here is the stuff you don’t expect. And the stuff you don’t expect I am talking about here is not the good stuff, like the ghost of Ed McMahon appearing at my doorstep holding a giant sweepstakes check made out in my name or an IRS agent calling to say I needn’t bother paying taxes this year ‘cause they have already collected enough, but the other stuff.

Jim “the Realtor” Klinge (if that really is his name) threatened recently to have me arrested for loitering here. He’s got a point. But I have an excuse.

Time Warner ate my blog.

That’s not really true. Like me, my dog has been nowhere near this blog in a month, but I have to blame someone. What is true is that Time Warner and their nifty cable offering that allows me to access the “Internets” surprised me this week with a little unexpected fun that temporarily diverted my attention. Check Merriam Webster and you will see that “temporarily” means “for a duration not less than 72 hours, excluding three trips to Best Buy and a couple of short breaks to hurl expletives like ‘Darn it’ and ‘My, isn’t this unfortunate?'”

On Tuesday, my Internet provider decided to pull a little outage. This was bad timing, because I was preparing for a listing appointment at the time. No Internet means no MLS access, which means no comps. Now, I’m a trained professional, so this was not a big deal, as I am blessed with back-up capability. But as I smugly continued with my online tasks, pausing only occasionally to revel in my superiority and foresight for having access to a seven-year-old broadband doohickey that connects me to “America’s most reliable wireless network,” I started to hear reports from others that their Internet had been restored. Not so at Chez Berg.

Two hours later, after a series of reboots and more reboots, having been exposed to so many blinking lights I was now belting out the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever, I realized that the very heart of our wireless command hub – the router (or, as we call it, the Magic Box) had been killed dead.

Electronics don’t live forever; I know this. How long, you ask? In my case, the answer lies in how long it takes to navigate ones way through the check-out line having declined the extended warranty. In the case of the Magic Box, however, I had actually gotten it home, out of the box, successfully connected other magic devices, and had enjoyed its glory for many years before it passed into the land of the antiquated. I considered myself lucky.

Armed with my $20 good-customer reward coupon and now a veritable boatload of holiday cheer, I set my headings on the nearest Best Buy.

Soon I was back home and was able to emerge from the profanity zone relatively unscathed, our wireless internet having been restored much to the delight of my husband who had spent the morning conducting business (checking the weather in Kyrgyzstan) through his smart phone and my daughter who hadn’t changed her profile picture in at least four hours and was now having an anxiety attack. Family harmony having been restored, it was time for me to print that listing presentation.  But, wait!

Our wireless print server only knew how to talk to the old Magic Box. A quick review of the “manual” gave me the information I needed. “Don’t attempt to plug power cord into your left nostril,” “Do not place device within forty-seven kilofurlongs of an incinerating device such as an incinerator or Phoenix,” and “In the event your old Magic Box dies and you have to buy a new one, reconfigure.”

Uh-oh.

Now, it seems that reconfiguration requires that you know some secret codes. The manual gives these codes mysterious names like “IP,” Submask,” “Gateway,” and “Persephone.” And, through my research, I was able to identify a list of possible correct answers for my device:

  • 192.268.45.12.1703957
  • 192.268.45.12.170395715
  • P. Diddy
  • 255.255.255.0
  • }#3‰¾##%~~~?©Å

The bottom line is that it took me approximately 32 hours on Wednesday to determine that only two people still have wireless print routers – me and the curator of the Museum of Stuff You Can’t Buy Anymore.

It seems that, now, printers themselves are wireless. Who knew? Priceless! ($299 plus ink cartridges, to be exact).

And now we have a new printer, the software for which crashed my accounting software. And now we have new accounting software, thanks only to the collective efforts of the entire adult population of New Delhi who were able to retrieve my files from the black void. (Note to our agents: If you receive a 1099 from me saying you made $4 gazillion dollars and 72 cents this year, don’t argue. I’m pretty sure it’s right.)

It happens to us all, the unexpected. But isn’t it super fun how surprises tend to breed more surprises and always at the most inopportune times?

So, while Jim “I write a new post on my own blog every thirty minutes and you suck” Klinge was taunting me for my absence here, I discovered that I am no longer getting notified when someone comments. For this, I blame this guy:

It’s not really Drew Meyers’ fault, of course. He was just doing me a favor. Somewhere during the course of being a real estate agent, our blogging platform released a couple of updates. Where I had been using Worpress 1.0, the “Flintstones” edition, we have now been upgraded to the newer, more popular WordPress 1,472.20. Naturally, one would expect some unexpected things to occur.

Ain’t technology grand?

Showing your home — Let the good times roll

stock202
Creative Commons License photo credit: stockicide

Making your home available for showings is fun. By “fun,” I mean it’s a “Let’s all slam our foot in the car door” kind of fun. At least with the car door, it’s over with pretty quickly. Your showings, however (at least, in theory) come in a continuous stream of kicks and giggles.

Selling your home, unlike other fun stuff (laying your head on the bottom rack of an oven preheated to 450 degrees comes to mind) is a process, not an event. You will establish protocol — what we call, and pardon the technical term, “showing instructions” – and you will expect that agents will follow said protocol like the good little professionals they are. Some will; many others will not.

The bottom line is that you should expect to be inconvenienced. Sure, that time you listed your push mower for sale on Craigslist was fairly painless. Some dude showed up, confirmed it was indeed a lawn grooming device and, after a little good-natured negotiating, whipped out a crisp twenty. People looking to purchase a thing carrying a six-digit price tag tend to go about the process a little differently. And, much as it seems lately that finding and assigning blame for all of life’s disappointments and hassles is the new pink for Spring, not every breach in showing protocol comes at the hands of an ornery and evil third party with a vendetta, intent only on destroying family values.

Accordingly, and in the spirit of sharing, here are a few realities of the showing process sprinkled with a few tips:

1.     It is a good idea to leave when your home is being shown. This allows your potential buyers and their agent an opportunity to roll their eyes freely. More importantly, it allows them to have honest dialogue, raising and overcoming objections. They can find the kitchen without your help. Oh, and it helps if you don’t have a big pot of skunk gumbo simmering on the stove when they do.

2.     Time-certain appointments are a rarity, but you will get a few of those. And when an agent says they will be there at 3:47 only to show up at 3:46 or 3:49, this is not a signal to report them to their broker or to call your own broker and vent about the impending collapse of modern civilization. Traffic is unpredictable, babysitters arrive late, clients arrive late, and people have to stop for ice when they slam their foot in the car door. Stuff happens.

3.     Most people are imperfect. Sometimes, even the best among us screw up. If you ask the showing agent to call you when they leave so you know it’s safe to return, they might forget. It happens, and while it’s hard to forgive such an affront against humanity, it helps to understand and even forgive the occasional oopsie-daisy. You see, the showing agent has his hands full. He is trying to navigate between multiple homes in multiple communities… while talking to his clients about market trends and lending guidelines… while stressing about making his next appointment on time, give or take one lunar cycle, because it turns out his clients fall into the “slow lookers” category… while trying to remember which home he left his cell phone in. This type of multi-tasking is particularly challenging when being serenaded by a crying baby or being pelted from the back seat by Goldfish crackers. Trust me – the showing agent is trying!

4.     You will be given showing “windows.” Your home is typically not the only home these buyers will be seeing on their rounds. I routinely have to plan eight- and even twelve-home tours for clients, and predicting “windows” of arrival for each is a precise science like, oh, removing a kidney with a butter knife and a map of the Andes. There are the aforementioned slow lookers, and then there are the speed shoppers. Before the front door is fully opened, these lightening-fast human reenactments of an eight-dimensional scatter diagram will have already viewed the home, the yard, the garage, and will be back in the car fighting over shotgun and the remaining Goldfish crackers. In the meantime, the agent, unaware they have been ditched, is somewhere in the depths of the master bath mumbling to no one something about the delightful Under the Sea motif.

5.     Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. It is not necessary to hide the lockbox on the hose bib behind the rose bushes. Or in Detroit.  The theory here is that, if your home is listed, you want potential buyers to actually come in. There may be exceptions, but my experience is that people want to see a house before they buy it. Crazy, I know. But, if you accept this, then you should also know that making it difficult to come in is not in your best interest. “Call owner, show with confirmed appointment but only on alternating Tuesdays assuming the Republicans aren’t filibustering, no sign on property, children may be napping, largish Irish Wolfhound may bark because he was recently neutered and is not at all happy with us right now, bring locksmith” – these things just tend to take the wind out of an otherwise perky agent’s sails.

6.     People will touch things. When you return home to find that your wedding photo is now facing one millimeter closer to due east, don’t freak out. This is not necessarily an indication that they have been rifling through your sock drawer. It’s going to happen.

7.     Occasionally, people with appointments will not show up. And it really isn’t the agent’s fault. Sometimes, clients decide after viewing several homes in a neighborhood that they are no longer interested in living in said neighborhood. Other times, they pull up in front of a home and instantly know that the home is not right. Now, I suppose we could pass a law that required buyers to keep their appointment anyway, just ‘cause they said they would be coming ‘round.  We could call it the “Feigning Interest Because the Seller Washed Dishes and Vacuumed When He Would Have Rather Been Watching the Monster Truck Spectacular on ESPN and You Owe Him” law. But then, that just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you as the seller were inconvenienced. Do you want to be inconvenienced even more by someone who has no real interest in buying your home?

8.     Occasionally, people will not show and will forget to call you. Rude? Sometimes. In most cases, though, I would refer you to #3 above.

Showing your home is not fun. In fact, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone more sympathetic than I. I see all of these incidents and shenanigans on a daily basis, and I have been a home seller myself. But, as a listing agent, there is only so much I can do to avoid or mitigate the pain of the process.

Selling is a partnership. Your agent will be working their hiney off on your behalf to make the process as stress-free as possible, but sellers too should be prepared to invest in the process, because it is a process.

Next up: Feedback Calls – Selling Musts or Monumental Wastes of Time? (Hint: The latter, even though we do them. Your only meaningful “feedback” is an offer or the absence of one.)

Staging – One way to mess with the demand side of the equation.

There is something for everyone out there, but “custom” is limiting. It limits the buyer’s choices and it limits the seller’s opportunities.

We tend to toss the word around in real estate advertising like “custom” means better. I am as guilty as anyone of grabbing this little cop-out word when my random adjective generator is approaching cyclical failure. “Custom cabinets,” “custom window coverings,” “custom fresco depicting interpretative dance moves performed by small woodland creatures and mystical garden gnomes” – these are all beautiful things. They are beautiful, that is, to the person who ordered them.

Custom just means that is was made to order – for one person’s own liking. And that’s why we stage homes.

The idea behind staging is to neutralize. Everyone likes a family room. Not everyone digs a family room with an Elvis motif (and I’m talking about the old Elvis in the jumpsuit, not the young one – he’s OK).

Everyone loves their children (well, most everyone, and only when they aren’t dropping their cell phones in the toilet, but I digress). The point is that not everyone loves your children – at least not enough to appreciate their likenesses displayed on every square inch of drywall. While you are thinking “Aw!” your buyer is thinking Spackle. And they get distracted, now having been reminded that they need to order a new computer to replace the one into which their own daughter poured a Venti peppermint mocha. Sorry. I digress again.

Some things can’t be staged away, of course. You loved the builder-option maple cabinets but your buyer fancies the Euro white. Your buyer dreams of a walk-in pantry, and your garage looks like a Costco distribution center because you don’t have one of those guys. In these cases, you have two choices. You can be patient or you can set your price accordingly.

As for the other stuff, the “fixable” stuff, just remember that every personalization, whether it is a religious artifact, personal photos, a bold paint scheme, or a book case filled with all back issues of Kitten Taxidermy Weekly, speaks to your buyer. It says, “Not my house.”

Unless their name is Homer HendelBergenHeinzel. Then you just might be in luck.

Home Inspections Gone Wild

2010  Mexico 164 Temple of Venus--another look
Creative Commons License photo credit: jjjj56cp

Here’s the deal. Property inspections are out of control. There. I said it.

If you are purchasing a home, be it new or gently used, of course you should have a property inspection. It would be irresponsible not to. Homes are big, expensive things, and no one wants to buy a big, expensive thing that is going to fall down or otherwise implode during the housewarming party.

Tomorrow (“tomorrow” being some day after today, in blog speak), I will present my own list of dos and don’ts when requesting seller repairs. Still stinging from a week spent in Silly Land trying to help a selling client negotiate their way through a list of buyer demands on a pristine,12-year-old home that suggested it was in only slightly better condition than the Mayan ruins (because the Mayans didn’t replace their furnace filters, like, EVER!), it’s an overdue public service announcement.

In the meantime, here is a rerun from 2007.  Sadly, it’s all still relevant.

It was 9:00 AM on a Saturday. The setting was idyllic, an ordinary residential street in an ordinary suburban neighborhood. Later, when the story of the day was retold, those who survived the ordeal would recognize that this day’s overcast skies and the threat of rain were in fact omens of the impending ugliness. Yet, on this morning, the unsuspecting families in this otherwise orderly community had not fully shaken the comforting bathrobe of a peaceful night’s slumber and were blissfully unaware of what was to come.

And come, they did. The insurgent troops appeared seemingly out of nowhere, the tanks and Hummers and traditional vehicles of aggression replaced by their modern-day counterparts: Lexuses (Lexi?), BMWs, and one lone pick-up truck. The soldiers converged, but stealth was not necessary this day. This would be a battle of hand-to-hand combat. And, as in most contests for sovereignty, there would be no victors.

“Good morning. I am Earl from What Were You Thinking? Property Inspections. Let’s take a look at this deathtrap, shall we?”

Over the course of the next three days, I will have the honor of attending three property inspections. The homes under assault will range from the 45-year-old property to the 10-year-new. I can guarantee that the reports for each will be indistinguishable save the buyer name on the attached personal check.

Inspection reports and inspectors are funny this way. The foundation slab split entirely in two with evidence of past civilizations wedged in the gap and the tub that might benefit from a little recaulking will be presented as having the same DEFCON 1 level of urgency. Tricky things are inspections. The inspector is charged with finding fault, the buyer and their agent are charged with sorting through the list of horrors to differentiate the truly important deal-breaking items from the ordinary, cosmetic, wear-and-tear issues, and the seller is almost always left feeling offended and defensive.

It is all negotiable, of course, but negotiations directly between principals most often regress to conversations involving hot glue guns, potato peelers, pinking shears and other commonly found and readily available weapons of everyday home life. This is why it is essential that the real estate agent accompany clients to the property inspection. Left unattended, the agents would only return later to find the buyers and sellers beating the crap out of each other with rusty lead-based paint cans and Fiesta Ware to determine who will be paying to have the back door rescreened.

Now, as I gear up for the first of my inspections this morning and prepare to don my big girl Realtor uniform and pile into my shamefully under-armored VW Bug-Mobile, I take a moment to glance around my own homestead and wonder, “What if I were the target today?” At my home, where there is no ruling government, where anarchy reigns and where the rebel factions (15 and 17 year’s old respectively) have methodically set about destroying the very society in which they must coexist for the foreseeable future, the final inspection report summary would probably look something like this.

“House utterly sucks. For the love of man, run!”

My home just had only its seventh birthday, but where inspections are concerned, this is immaterial.

  • Bathroom #2 – Fossilized arachnids in shower stall pose health risks. (They are pets, stupid. They have been there so long, I have named them.) Toilet flushing mechanism needs replacing. (Does not! Just lift the tank cover and pull on the chain attached to the little floaty-thing.)
  • Kitchen – Chips in granite counter tops noted. (Yes, I know. After years of repeatedly whacking the corner with empty wine bottles as I whisk them off to the recycling bin, that is considered ”normal wear and tear”. At least I recycle!) Kitchen faucet leaks. (Only when you turn it on REALLY BIG.) Microwave makes unusual noise when operated. (Does the coffee get hot or not? I would submit, yes.) Oven, when heated to 350 degrees, registers only 342 degrees. Recommend service. (We have a, what did you call it, oven?)
  • Presence of pets suggested by stains on floor covering over there (five-spice chicken), there (squirrel parts), and there (we prefer not to speculate). Recommend cleaning carpets if sensitive to dander. (Hey, buddy! Don’t touch that dog hair! I am saving up to make a new dog some day.)
  • Laundry – Accumulated lint in dryer vent poses fire risk. (Where is this laundry room of which you speak?)
  • Garage – Many areas inaccessible and not inspected. (Items to convey: Two Barbie Dream Houses, three bikes with flat tires, one “All About Me” poster from Mr. Ferguson’s 1995 Kindergarten class, and assorted rollerblades which only fit Gary Coleman. Items not to convey: Gary Coleman.)
  • Exterior – Areas of dead or dying landscaping noted. Recommend testing/adjusting irrigation. (Recommend not owning a 95 pound male dog who eats five-spice chicken, furry rodents, and a largish rock on at least one known occasion, and squats like a girl.)
  • Bathroom #3 (children’s bath) – Water damage to drywall noted next to tub/shower enclosure. (Duh. At least they bathe.) Plumbing at sinks could not be inspected due to under-cabinet storage. (And, where would you like them to store their empty hair-product bottles, the entire line of Tammy Faye Bakker Make Me Pretty products, and Tiger Beat magazines and returned homework assignments dating back to the British Invasion? Wait a minute – So that’s where my Cuisinart went!)

I could go on, but I’m already depressed. I am off to invade someone else’s previously safe-haven. Time to go to war.

Expressing gratitude and a little etiquette primer.

Turkey, After.
Creative Commons License photo credit: ilovememphis

First of all, on this, the day after the day we are supposed to express our gratitude for all of the things in our lives that we hold dearest – our families, our friends, our health, and the little twisty tops with which vintners are more frequently adorning their mid-priced Chardonnays – I want to offer a belated shout out to our three readers. We are eternally grateful for you because, without you we would have, well, no readers.

With the perfunctory gushing out of the way, I found it oddly incongruent that during this season of good will toward men, of hearth and home and really bad green bean casserole, our own California Real Estate magazine felt the need to devote an entire article to “manners.”

“Agents report that professional courtesies are as rare as no-doc loans,” the article began.

What? You mean people can be inconsiderate, rude, and even (gasp) mean at times?

The piece is littered with several helpful inset boxes, like the one on key courtesy that advises we should be returning the key to the lockbox and closing it after showing, and that we should never give the keys to a friend (although they would make a nice white elephant gift, I suppose). Sadly, as duh-ridden as this handy guide to opening and closing doors is, too many tend to forget that they are invited guests and that some attendant modicum of responsibility and civility comes with the territory.

There is more, of course. Agents, it seems, should return phone calls, keep appointments, and refrain from trash talking other agents. Apparently, beginning a listing appointment with the proclamation that “Agent Alfred is a puppy-hating shyster who jaywalks, lies on his tax returns, and runs with scissors” is poor form for a licensed professional.

The thing is, they got it right. Agents do these things – a lot. But agents are people, and the reality is that people of all feathers tend to misbehave from time to time. With that, I offer you my own handy pocket guide to etiquette. Since the California Real Estate magazine has the agents covered (“You might be a class act if you… introduce buyers to the sellers if they are home when the property is being shown”), I will gear mine towards the consumer.

It is bad social etiquette to:

1.     Call your agent fifteen minutes before an appointment, one you scheduled two weeks ago, one for which your agent has spent hours preparing, has planned her day around, and has changed into her big girl clothes, and one to which she is already en route in sideways rain and rush hour traffic, only to cancel.

2.     Schedule an appointment to see a home and never show.

3.     Schedule an appointment to see a home, fail to show, and then ignore all future attempts by the agent to contact you to reschedule, unless of course you are in traction or have been hog-tied and left for dead in the coat closet by evil-doing intruders because some agent re-gifted your key to a “friend.” In those cases, you get a pass.

4.     Call your agent and request a tour of eight homes with two-hour’s notice. Actually, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but assume that it might not be possible for your agent to turn down the heat on the pot roast, leave his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah during the Hora, or ditch the other clients he is meeting with at that precise moment. And if it isn’t possible, at least feign some understanding about the whole competing demands thing.

5.     Be late. If your agent was able to set up the eight-home extravaganza tour, he had to estimate arrival windows as a courtesy to the sellers and, in the case of “shown by appointment” homes, give a precise time. Showing up even thirty minutes late because the game went into overtime can bring the whole house of cards down and place your agent squarely in the “bad manners” article in the next issue of the California Real Estate magazine.

6.     Send out a query to multiple agents. And, I’m not talking about a listing or buyer interview here. You should interview multiple agents to represent you. I am talking about the queries I get a half-dozen times a day, like the ones originating from Trulia.com. “I would like more information on the home at 123 Main Street,” reads the pre-populated contact form. And the email goes on to tell me, “Three other professionals received this inquiry. Be the first to respond!”

The whole footrace, may-the-fastest-draw-in-the-west-win approach is fine if you are interviewing agents based on their responsiveness. But absent more information, I don’t know if you are just testing the feature on your own listing, if you are seriously shopping or have just an idle curiosity about your neighbor’s home for sale, if you already have an agent, or if you are playing with Daddy’s computer again.

7.     Lie. Don’t say you aren’t working with an agent when you are, just so you can get in to see a home today because your licensed cousin is at the football game waiving his foam finger in my general direction.

8.     Tell white lies. Don’t say you aren’t working with an agent because your intent is to only work with the listing agent once you find the right property. We can handle the truth, and we will show you our listings if you are qualified and truly interested, even under those circumstances.

9.     Engage multiple agents to search for and show you properties simultaneously. This is another version of the “may the best man win” approach, and you really should pick one. It’s not like shopping for a car (despite the obvious and popular comparison). Agents are not paid – for their time or for their hard costs – until escrow closes. They are not salaried; they are independent businesses with limited time and resources. If you never buy or sell, if your plans change, or if it takes a really, really long time (expressed, even, in geological time) – we are totally down with that.  But in return for the agent’s loyalty, they deserve the same. And if you feel an agent isn’t deserving, you shouldn’t be working with him.

Most people are genuinely respectful, honest and a pleasure and honor to deal with. Others, alas, just like some real estate agents, can be knuckleheads. The California Real Estate Magazine asked, “Is there room for manners in tough times?” I’m not so sure the tough times have a whole lot to do with it. Sure, we understand that for many, there is no joy in Mudville right now. We are sympathetic. And because of this, we try our best to practice Goodwill Toward Mean, always giving the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes, where all people are concerned – real estate agents and real people alike — ornery is just ornery, and a little refresher on the rules of basic etiquette is not such a goofy concept after all.

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Office Location

  • San Diego Castles Realty
  • 12265 Scripps Poway Parkway, Suite 115
  • Poway, CA 92064
  • P: 858.530.2374
  • F: 858.876.1701
  • E: info (at) sandiegocastles.com
  • CA BRE# 01853496

Broker Information

  • Kris Berg, Broker
  • CA BRE #01241572