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  • San Diego Castles Realty
  • 10636 Scripps Summit Court, Suite 153
  • San Diego, CA 92131
  • P: 858.530.2374
  • F: 858.876.1701
  • E: info (at) sandiegocastles.com
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Today’s Big Idea – There is nothing boring about a short sale.

(Before we commence with our regularly scheduled programming, a big link-back token of my appreciation to Kyle Lammers at Lender 411 for his uber-nice write up of our little blog. As my daughter, the sixth year Spanish student, might say, Mucho Thank You!)

If you don’t have a blog, then you probably think that all of this magic just happens by, well, magic! It’s easy, you think, to spin a brand new entertaining yarn every lunar cycle or so about Giant Tree Roots of Death, Milton’s Deli or, on that rare occasion, even real estate.

Blasphemy! Au contraire, even. I am here to tell you that this blogging stuff is hard work. I’ve been dangling my participles here since April 1996. And during that time, I have learned that one must constantly strive to improve ones craft if one is to have a fighting chance of holding the attention of at least one of their three readers.

Enter Copyblogger.

Yesterday I was reading an article from Copyblogger titled “11 Ways to Bore the Boots Off Your Readers.” And, no, they didn’t mention me by name but if you play it backwards, I’m pretty sure you can make it out.

The truth is that I have been violating the laws of copywriting for far too long. My posts are criminally long; my rambling diatribes are both feloniously off-topic and far too infrequent. 

I may be older than color TV, but it’s not too late for me. So allow me to take my new skills out for a whirl. Number One on Copyblogger’s how-to hit list is that “each article should have one big idea.” Here goes.

  1. BIG IDEA: PROCESSING A SHORT SALE IS AS MUCH FUN AS REMOVING YOUR OWN APPENDIX WITH A BUTTER KNIFE WHILE BEING FORCED TO WATCH THE ENTIRE THIRD SEASON OF “JERSEY SHORES” AS YOU DINE ON YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW’S TURKEY MEATLOAF.

But there’s more.

2. Keep sentences short and lively. Use periods. Often.

Incorrect: It defies logic that a certain lender, one we shall just call WtF, sent my client (and I am not making this up) TWENTY-ONE identical Notices of Default on a single day, ELEVEN of which were delivered by regular mail and the remainder by certified mail, the latter requiring my client to make a trip to the post office, yet WtF can’t seem to find time to process our five-month-old short sale request.

Correct: Lenders. Are. Stupid.

3. Don’t bore your readers with difficult words.

Incorrect: While customers are anathema to bank short sale departments who have a plethora of noxious files with which they must dispense, said customers and files perceived as impediments to the plethora of more essential duties (such as licking Notice of Default envelopes), it would really be nice if they considered reprioritizing their competing professional responsibilities in order to facilitate the customer’s transaction. The fact that you get eighteen weeks of vacation a year as evidenced by your email auto-responder does not ameliorate my clients present hardship.

Oh, and antidisestablishmentarianism.

Correct: Hey, bank! Over here! I’ve got a homeowner who could use a little help before we all die of natural causes!

4. Don’t be so snooty and formal.

According to the experts, to engage with your reader you need to be charming. “Show your readers the ways in which you’re like them… Use metaphors… Occasional profanity is fine.”

Incorrect: When an occasion arises whereby a lender approves a short sale, one is inclined to assume that the transaction shall progress in a meaningful and efficient manner. It is reasonable to assume that approval will not be followed by rejection, then approval, and then another rejection without some semblance of constructive notice and a subsequent opportunity for dialogue that might lead to discovery of actual relevant, compelling facts and a mutually beneficial resolution.

Correct: I like it when people return my phone calls. I bet you do too! We sure can go faster and farther when we are all rowing our boats in the same direction, dang it! And, by the way, as my grand-pappy used to say, the online “Equator” processing system bites the big one.

More Correct: If I ran my business like the banks run their short sale departments, I would be living out of a refrigerator carton in the brush under the southbound connector ramp to I-15. And banks are full of horse doodie.

5. Use a readable font and don’t let your readers drown in dreary blocks of text. Be generous with white space. And always use compelling images.

Incorrect:  It can be exceedingly frustrating when you are asked to perform the same task multiple times, as this repetition is both unnecessary and counter productive. Such repetition causes pointless delay that, in turn, reduces the bottom line to the very lender who is trying to recover as much of the unpaid mortgage debt as possible.

Correct: Are you kidding me?

 

 

You just asked me to resubmit my client’s tax returns (and I am not making this up, either) for the fifth time?

 

I have faxed them to you, emailed them to you, and uploaded them in your Equator system.

 

 

At one point, they were delivered directly to your office by sled dog while we all yelled “mush” in unison. 

 

 

6. Be unpredictable. “Shakespeare misused words. He used nouns as verbs: he godded me. And adjectives as verbs:thick my blood. This technique surprises and “wakes up” the brain. (Note: Shakespeare wasn’t under pressure to post to his bloggeth on a regular basis, but I digress.)

Incorrect: Despite numerous and repeated attempts by the government and, presumably, the lenders to streamline, automate, systemize, accelerate and generally facilitate the short sale process, the process remains laughably inefficient and fraught with bureaucratic procedures and check-list requirements that ultimately harm the borrower, the lien holder and market recovery in general.

Correct: The short sale process annoy my head and, yea, the lenders doth, more oft than nay, sucketh.

Today, I only worked on 5 of the 11 big bloggy no-no’s. But, as Shakespeare well knoweth, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Plus, I have just been informed that my client’s short sale – the one that was approved last week – is on hold again. They need to order a new appraisal. And they want to see the tax returns – this time fully illustrated and presented as a pop-up book. 

Taking precautions when showing your home (and I know)

safety first
Creative Commons License photo credit: jontintinjordan

In a post long ago (Stardate September 23, 2006), I shared a few of the low-lights from my week that was.  This recent post by “Jim the Realtor” Klinge sent me on a trip down memory lane.

Anecdote Number 1 is a reminder of the potential implications of opening your home to total strangers and the need to take proper security precautions. Anecdote Number 2 is a bonus account of how one real estate agent (me) might have been somebody’s girlfriend or worse – a statistic – had she not been really cautious and even more lucky.

(Note: This blast from the past has been slightly edited to reflect modern-day grammar usage and to make sure that all the words are spelled right and stuff. My finely-honed attention to detail didn’t fully develop until sometime in 2009.)

Bottoms up! During a broker open house, listing agent meets a nice man who is thinking of moving into the area. They are having a nice chat in the living room when a group of agents wanders in, at which point he immediately breaks away and makes a beeline upstairs. Listing agent, being of the crime-fighting ilk, removes her stylish pumps, tip-toes to the master bathroom in stealth-sneak-up-on-you mode, and finds the nice man drinking the codeine cough syrup from the seller’s medicine cabinet. Nice man, now very startled, runs down the stairs while chased by a quite shoeless listing agent. Unable to get a license number, listing agent calls the police. The police refuse to take a report, because an open house is considered an “invitation” to visitors.

Lesson learned: Sellers, when your home is on the market, always remove your valuables and your prescription medications (the latter being considered quite valuable by drug addicts). And, kids (and listing agents), don’t try this on your own. Steve will yell at you.

Blind Date. Agent takes a call from a man very interested in seeing a listing. “No problem,” she chirps. “It is vacant and easy to show!” Very interested man already knew this, of course, because he had seen the pictures. Agent meets very interested man at the property, and man remarks that her picture in the ad is “really cute.” As they make their way into the home, very interested man becomes a whole lot less interested when he sees that the vacant home is not so vacant today; the carpet cleaners are in full swing. Man breaks the land speed record as he flies out the door and into his car. Guess he didn’t like the sense of entry.

Steve yells at me again.

Lesson learned:  Sellers, when your home is on the market, NEVER allow people unaccompanied by card-carrying agents into your home.  Even if these people are with someone who looks a lot like an agent, even someone you might recognize from the bus bench or the back of the shopping cart, make the agent open the lockbox so that your own agent has a record of the showing.

And to agents, always assume a defensive position when showing homes alone. Always be the one closest to the door, always have your cell phone poised in readiness, and always make sure that you have told someone where your are going and when you expect to return. While you really want to sell that house, you really don’t want to be dead – or worse. You definitely don’t want Steve yelling at you.

 

A Blogging Vacation and Back to My Roots

 

Good:

Fairchild Tropical Garden
Creative Commons License photo credit: bunnygoth

Bad:

Rain Forest Jungle Tree with massive exposed support roots near Catarata del Toro
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

 

At least if you live in a Scripps Ranch subdivision.

But first, a lot of things happened on May 7, 2011 – newsworthy things, I dare say. I really don’t remember what those things were, though, mostly because so much has happened since. One thing I do recall is  that on that monumental day of yore, I wrote a blog post.

Yep. It’s been over three weeks. I was reminded of this yesterday when a gentleman called me wanting our help with a home purchase in San Diego. “I enjoy your blog,” he said.

“Blog?” I thought. “Oh, yeah. I have one of those.”

Having taken a nearly one-month sabbatical (a record even for Miss Lazy Britches) and now finding myself dangerously close to being mocked on social media sites everywhere for my blogging loser-dom, I have a lot catching up to do.  Rather than milk three weeks’ worth of material for the next 21 days, I’ll opt for the lighting round approach.

1. Getting Back to My Roots

Sure, I finally had that overdue cut-and-color in May, but that’s not what I mean. The roots I am talking about here aren’t really “my” roots, but more roots that are owned in common with an undivided interest.

My home, like the homes of two of our three readers, I suspect, is governed by an active Homeowners’ Association (HOA). And by “active,” I mean they actively bill me every month. They also actively send nasty-grams to people in the neighborhood who erect scale replicas of the zoo's flamingo exhibit on their front lawns, who paint their homes lime green, or who can’t provide documented evidence that they own the requisite golden retriever and mini-van. But that’s not the point.

The HOA also actively maintains the common areas – the parkway strips and open space pockets. And by “actively maintain,” I mean they pay both the water bill and the men who actively park their trucks on the sidewalks every couple of weeks and actively pull weeds when I am trying to somewhat-actively jog.

Earlier this week, we came to learn that the lovely parkway strip abutting my little corner lot is harboring evil invaders intent on destroying western civilization as we know it.

Numerous pine trees and one rogue pepper tree who shall remain nameless (Bob) have apparently decided that they can dispatch their malicious little tentacles wherever they feel like it. And where they feel like it is apparently in my backyard. Our first clue that something was amiss was when we began needing a boost to traverse the expansion joint in our side yard concrete walkway. An afternoon of destructive testing by our landscape crew confirmed that roots will go wherever they want; these roots, it seems, wanted to go to my back door en route to the refrigerator for a cold one.

In our active HOA’s defense, they dispatched an active arborist (he was walking briskly) who, after two trips to the “job site” and because he is a trained professional, determined the following: There are some really big tree roots in my back yard, the one that used to have grass and bushes and stuff.

The good news is that there is a solution, a solution involving a trench and a root barrier, we are told, but only after about 16 HOA meetings have convened, times and dates to be determined. The bad news is that because of the destructive testing I alluded to in paragraph nine, my planter beds now look like I am dabbling in commercial agriculture – only, without the actual agriculture.

There’s more good news; every problem is an opportunity, and this was an opportunity to spend two days and a large chunk of my retirement account at the local garden center. Alas, there is also more bad news. It now looks like Walter Anderson Nursery threw up a large chunk of their random annuals inventory in my back yard after pulling an all-nighter. (Note: Strictly speaking, salvias are perennial in Zone 10). But, I can’t penetrate my dirt (something about roots), so my new backyard consists of exploding color all residing in their native plastic containers with price tags still afixed ($24.95. Everything at the nursery, I learned, is $24.95).

All this stuff will eventually get planted. That's assuming I can locate my active landscapers, the ones who didn't show up this past Saturday like they have every other Saturday for the past 20 years, and who I must, therefore, assume were actively enjoying the three-day weekend with their families instead of mowing my brand new lawn. Either that, or they don't want to be anywhere near my roots or my little side job. Probably the latter.

Real estate message: Trees are evil. If you happen to live in a residential dwelling like I do, do not, for the sake of fluffy kittens and your foundation, surround it with trees known for invasive root systems. Such trees might include pine trees (which are pretty stupid to plant in Zone 10), those big deciduous trees with the prickly balls, and Bob.  Now, I know there are some palm tree haters among you, but there is a reason we all plant them in San Diego. They have compact root balls and shallow root systems. (I read that somewhere; I am not, technically speaking, an active arborist despite my growing knowledge of horticulture and how to properly recoil the garden hose after watering my container collection.)

2. All the Other Stuff I was Going to Write About but Now I've Forgotten

So much for the lightening round concept. Those same snooty blogging purists who insist that you are supposed to post more often than once each senatorial term also insist that posts should be short and snappy, not of the “wall of words” variety. And since I think this safely qualifies as a wall of words, my other twenty days of material will have to wait. But be sure to check back every few weeks, as I will be covering more pressing topics such as our low housing inventory,  our current difficulties with appraisals, the latest from Case-Shiller (San Diego is up zero-point-four percent month over month; take that!), and how my daughter just had her wisdom teeth taken out (all four of them, which cost me only slightly less than a trip to the nursery). 

The Elephant in the Room – Coercion, content creation, and out of the mouths of babes

“It’s stupid to give away your content for free,” my daughter scolded.

Daughter Number 1 is home on a brief layover between journalism stints at New York Magazine and The New York Times Washington D.C. Bureau. We were discussing the parallels between the changes in her profession and mine brought about by the Internet. And when she uttered those words, she pretty much summed up what I see as the central issue to the third-parting syndication debate.

It’s stupid to give away content for free. But so many agents and brokers continue not only to do just that, but to do it proudly, defending their position by suggesting that both consumers are entitled to our content and sellers are harmed if we don’t freely cough it up to anyone who asks.

Neither is true. But both are concepts that are being aggressively promoted by the owners of the third-party “search” sites, like Zillow and Trulia in a rather shameless game of shaming the broker community into giving them what they want – namely, our valuable listing data. They do this by enlisting the public-at-large, both home-shopping consumers and our selling clients, to fight their battle for them. It’s become an all-out media blitz of late. “Hey, it’s not us! You owe it to the people!”

Do we?

“I, for one, applaud ARG’s move. It was bold and, in my opinion, it was right.”

I wrote those words back in January when local brokerage Abbott Realty Group (ARG) took their stand against syndicating listings to third-party sites (like Zillow and Trulia).  That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

ARG’s fearless leader, Jim Abbott, took a stand, and (at the risk of understating) his position sparked a lot of debate among agents and brokers. Now Jim has published a video follow-up, “Life After Listing Syndication” in which he delivers what I believe to be the most thoughtful, well-crafted argument against third-party site listing syndication I have seen to date. And I have seen a bunch.

Mr. Abbott touched on many points where listing syndication is concerned. Today I focus, primarily, on just one – content – because that is the elephant in the room.

The parallels between journalism and real estate that my daughter and I were discussing are worth considering. Take the similarities between listing syndication to third-party sites and the rise of the Huffington Post.

At the recent White House Correspondents Dinner while addressing Arianna Huffington, President Obama quipped, “There’s no one else out there linking to the kinds of hard-hitting journalism that HuffPo is linking to every single day. Give them a round of applause… And… you don’t pay them! It’s a great business model.” Laughter ensued.

That’s pretty funny, all right. It’s almost as funny as the business models of the listing aggregators like Zillow and Trulia, only the joke’s on us.

The public doesn’t deserve to be given a newspaper or a magazine for free any more than journalists have a moral obligation to give away their content to anyone who will publish it, digitally or otherwise. For real estate agents and brokers, we similarly owe no such duty to populate and monetize other’s business opportunities.

Journalists create content; so do we. The only arguable difference is that our content is, in theory, created with the sole intent of promoting a product for sale – our client’s home.  As a consumer, however, you are probably also aware of the fact that the content is created and shared for the purpose of advertising the creator – the real estate agent and broker. So as you consider the rhetoric coming from the third-party site camps, and from the agents and brokers who defend their pro-syndication stance, consider who the true intended beneficiary of this advertising might really be. Hint: It’s not the home seller.

So if we agree that it is not the consumer’s divine right, nor Zillow’s or Trulia’s, to have our content regurgitated freely, in knee-jerk fashion, to any and every conceivable publisher, then we are left with the argument about whether or not our selling clients are owed product placement on third-party sites – and with the argument about whom the content, in fact, belongs to.

I’ll tackle the latter first. The content about my listing – the photos, the virtual tours, the interactive floor plans, the property description – belongs to me. The home belongs to my client and they are (ultimately) paying me to market that home, but all of that other stuff is stuff I procured, created and paid for. I don’t have an obligation to hand over the results of my labor to sites that endeavor to repurpose and monetize my content any more than I have an obligation to advertise a home on every bus bench in town, in every print publication in existence, or on an aerial banner flown across Pacific Beach on a 70-degree Sunday afternoon. What I do have the obligation to do is market the home logically and effectively in ways that will in fact benefit my client.

What we owe to our clients is exposure for their listings. It’s but one of our job descriptions, but it is the more visible – the role of advertiser and marketer. But to suggest that I am bound by some moral, ethical or social contract to regurgitate my content to every site that might want it, or even to just the ones with the most “hits,” is ludicrous.

And, yet, the spin machine is working overtime to convince us otherwise.

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/real-estate-agents-bristle-online-listings

In a report by Marketplace’s Bob Moon, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff was quoted as saying, “What seller on earth, especially in a down real estate market, would choose to list their home with an agent who was not going to put their home on the biggest websites in their city?”

That is the quote that appears in the text. If you listen to the audio, what he really said is, “A seller has got to be completely nuts to list their home with a listing agent who wasn’t going to put their home on the biggest websites in their city.” In hindsight, calling consumers “nuts” was probably considered unfortunate phrasing, especially since it is the non-participating agents who were the target of Mr. Rascoff’s verbal bullet.

So, according to the Zillow CEO and depending on which version you favor, either the seller is nuts or I am nuts. Tomato, tomahto. But the fact remains, despite my position that giving away content for free is, in fact, nuts, I would be the biggest champion of the make-Zillow-rich-at-the-expense-of-the-broker cause if it benefited my selling clients. It does not.

For the record, we ceased wholesale syndication of our listings to third-party aggregators over a month ago. We didn’t do it with a fancy, all-guns-blazing media spash, but we did it for our clients and ourselves because it was the right thing to do. Our policy is that, after discussing the pros and cons with our clients, if they still perceive benefit, we will gladly bundle their listings up and ship them off. To date, no one has opted in. It’s nuts, I tell you!

We have established that the data on these sites is grossly inaccurate and unreliable.

And we have acknowledged that Zestimates are generally Ztupid. Every single one of the listings we have taken since we stopped syndication has sold in excess of their Zestimate. One in particular sold in three days with eight offers and at $110,000 over the Zestimate. Dang! If only the sellers had had the requisite exposure on one of “the biggest websites in their city!”

We are receiving buyer calls – many, many more than we received when we were regurgitating our content for fun and philanthropy. How did they even know the home was fore sale? I can only speculate that maybe, just maybe, it’s because all of our listings appear on every IDX site – hundreds of them – in our market. The calls come via our site, our MLS’s own site, and every agent/broker site in our market with a home search feature.

Oh, and maybe it’s because people don’t search one site and call it a day.  If I am looking for a purple purse with green embroidery (I am not), I don’t just hit Bloomingdale’s site and give up. I search the Internet for “purses,” and then “purple handbags” and, most often, by designer name. Most often, serious homebuyers search by neighborhood and even address – a Zillow employee admitted as much to me. The one-stop shopper is the casual shopper and is “just looking.”

The terms of use on these sites are frightening. They should be both concerning to the content creator and to the homeowner.  From Zillow’s own Terms of Service:

For materials you post or otherwise provide to Zillow or in connection with the Services (your "Submission"), you grant Zillow an irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide license to (a) use, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, modify, and translate your Submission, in connection with the Services or in any other media, and (b) sublicense these rights, to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law.

This explains why the property page for one of our current listings shows the photos and the flowery, long-form description from the last time it was offered for sale – in 2007. The former listing agent gave up his rights to his work, yet his legacy (and the legacy of the previous owner) will live on – with no attribution and in any form and anywhere that Zillow sees fit.

Finally, there is the agent advertising – beside, around and below – each listing gifted to Zillow. This is not entirely about me, although I do appreciate being given credit for my work. And this is not about dual agency – not one bit. Agents and brokers who take their fiduciary roles seriously know that nothing could be further from the truth. This is about advertising practices that are deceiving and really bad for the seller.

You see, if your home is not on Zillow or Trulia, the serious buyers – the real buyers – will find you. We have proven that; we know that to be true. If your listing is present on those sites, however, a real buyer may just wander through. And the advertisings host or hostess will be someone who has no fiduciary responsibility to you; they have no incentive or motivation to sell your home. They are there because they paid to play, and their goal is simply to sell any home. They refer to the buyers as “leads,” and by this they mean they consider the buyers to be their “leads,” not yours.

If you don’t believe this, then think about it another way. Would you be OK with having your agent put another brokerage’s sign in your front yard? Why not? Because the buyers would be redirected and misdirected to someone who has no stake in your sale and, most likely, little or no knowledge of your home. It is the same reason we wouldn’t have an agent from another brokerage holding one of our listings open. Our goal is to sell our client’s home; theirs is to just sell a home. At least in the case of an open house, the agent from the outside brokerage might be able to field basic questions like, “Does it have a double oven?” because they are standing in the room at the time. Not so with most paying advertisers on the third-party sites.

Surprisingly, I talk to a lot of agents who loathe the practice of third-party syndication for all of these reasons yet continue to syndicate. They do so because they feel cornered – because they believe their clients demand it. And this is exactly what the syndication sites want you to believe.

But I know our clients are smarter than that. We simply need to be bold enough to, dare I say, do our jobs. Beyond marketing is a very long list of job duties all related to advising our clients. Where our marketing decisions are concerned, we owe them the same duty to present the options and implications of each. You might be surprised that, given the facts, they are less enamored of the syndication concept than you think.

So, to agents and brokers: Syndicate or don't syndicate. The decision is yours — and your client's. But make that decision thoughtfully, based on what is really best for each of you. And remember that your content is yours; if you choose to give it freely, do so because you honestly believe the trade-off is fair — that you will realize fair "compensation" in the form of measurably better results for your clients — not because you felt cornered, coerced and the victim of some self-serving, manufactured public outcry. 

 

 

 

The San Diego Home Show – An Infographic

H/t to Agent Genius for introducing me to Piktochart, a cool little site for creating infographics on the fly without breaking a sweat. Well, it's not really that easy. First you have to have something you want to communicate.

On another morning when I did't have a home inspection looming, I am pretty certain I could get my creative juices flowing and unleash all the glory that is the infographic (All the cool kids are doing it!) to share some complex real estate-related concept. Like why you need a downpayment to buy a house. Or how when banks use the word "streamlined" when refering to their short sale processes, they mean "before you die of natural causes — maybe."

In the meantime, the San Diego Home Show is on my mind.

My spousal unit and I got all bold yesterday. We decided to take a rare trip to normalcy and spend our Sunday recreating. Because our twelve-year-old kitchen cabinets are of the "classic" oak variety (classic being a word that builders and real estate agents use to describe something that no one wants), and because we suspect, given the quality, that they were manufactured by the Middle School Woodshop class (no offense to Middle Schoolers intended), we decided to hit the Fairgrounds and get some remodeling ideas. Steve's alternative was to hike up Iron Mountain, so the Home Show was starting to sound like a rip-roaring way to spend my one day off this year.

And it was! Such a carnival atmosphere! We got some great ideas about remodeling (like, maybe it would be cheaper to just move). And we were also reminded why buyers have perfected the eye-contact-avoidance technique for visiting open houses — and why we burned the proverbial guest register years ago. Hard sell approaches are annoying, insulting and just plain ineffective.

So, without further ado, I give you my masterpiece.

 

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Office Location

  • San Diego Castles Realty
  • 10636 Scripps Summit Court, Suite 153
  • San Diego, CA 92131
  • P: 858.530.2374
  • F: 858.876.1701
  • E: info (at) sandiegocastles.com
  • CA BRE# 01853496

Broker Information

  • Kris Berg, Broker
  • CA BRE #01241572