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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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Realtor badge of honor?

I’m really excited this morning. 

As a little background, I am a proud member of the National Association of Realtors – and the California Association of Realtors and the San Diego Association of Realtors. Forget that I have to be a member if I want access to the MLS. That’s just minutia, and that is certainly not why I choose to pay my dues to each every year. Oh, no.

The point is that my membership is a testament to my agent awesomeness and my commitment to upholding the highest ethical standards. That! Oh, and the fact that I find it helpful to have access to show instructions or to be able to upload a listing when need be.

But it’s mostly about what my membership means. Because, as we all know, only ethical agents can write checks. Only ethical agents can call themselves Realtors (little “r”).

And as if I wasn’t getting my money’s worth before, things have just gotten better. Today I heeded the call to action in my inbox:

California REALTORS® have another way to differentiate themselves and show consumers they maintain a high level of knowledge of the home-buying and selling process and are bound by a strict code of ethics by using the REALTOR® Badge, a free C.A.R. member benefit recently introduced by Real Estate Business Services® Inc. (REBS®).

That’s right. I didn’t have to pay a thing for that badge; it’s free! And those folks at REBS are really something. Not only were they commissioned to create a badge – with embed code and everything – but they delivered!

Why do I need a badge, you might ask? Well, duh. You weren’t paying attention. I need to differentiate myself. I have integrity, dang it. Just look at my badge!

CAR says that “the REALTOR® Badge is an easy way to add value to your reputation and online presence.” And on the badge website (yes, they have their own website), consumers can learn the power of this little guy – as if it isn’t immediately obvious.

You want someone that you can trust. Did you know that a REALTOR® cannot mislead a seller as to the value of the property just to get the listing? REALTORS® cannot accept a rebate or commission without the client's knowledge and consent. And your REALTOR® will submit all offers and counter-offers as quickly and objectively as possible as mandated by the "Code of Ethics."

Wow. That’s powerful. Yet I must ask, can a designation portrayed as a widget really assure all that?

If you are an agent, an exalted Realtor (little “R”), I don’t know about you, but I don’t stay up nights worrying about undesignated licensees perpetrating crimes of negligence and dishonesty against the public. What does bother me is when any licensee is incompetent, negligent, or unethical.  I run into them frequently, and they are always members of NAR; I know this because I see their lockbox keys.

If not for a prominently displayed digital impression, how is the consumer to know that their agent is living up to their obligations? Alas, it is often difficult, if not impossible.

These are just a few of the usual suspects:

  • The agent who knowingly took a listing priced obscenely over market value. The seller trusts you to honestly advise. They are looking to you for counsel. The adage about things that are too good to be true is lost on someone who is short on equity or long on hope and far too emotionally connected to be objective. Yes, this agent may ultimately spend time and money on a listing that won’t sell, but just as often we see them ride the tide of price reduction until their “buy a listing” strategy is rewarded with a paycheck.
  • The agent who talks smack about other agents to anyone who will listen. Other agents know you are breaching ethics when you do this, but the client will never know. Because ethical agents will never tell the customer that you are a weasel. Ethical agents know that bad mouthing other agents is not only poor form but a violation of both common decency and the Code to which they chose to actually subscribe.
  • The agent who makes false claims about experience, abilities and past production. Did your parents not teach you anything? Don’t say you sell more homes in a given area than anyone else when you don’t. Don’t say you have the best marketing plan in the tri-state area and then rush out the door, your first-ever listing contract in hand, to buy a camera and take a Photoshop class. And don’t have your cousin write fictional testimonial letters. These are all real examples, and they all constitute lying. Be honest, and sell your enthusiasm if that’s all you have. We all started somewhere, and your clients just might respect you for it.

The common thread is that these agents are primarily concerned with competing against other agents to get the business, when what they should really be focused on is doing the business.  Once an agent is in your employ, they have a fiduciary duty to place your interests above their own. But even before that, they have a moral obligation to act with honesty and integrity.

The Realtor Code of Ethics Preamble says:

The term REALTOR® has come to connote competency, fairness, and high integrity resulting from adherence to a lofty ideal of moral conduct in business relations. No inducement of profit and no instruction from clients ever can justify departure from this ideal.

OK, that sounds a little silly given the generally reputation of our industry. But if you are going to toss around commemorative virtual plaques, shouldn’t this whole higher ground stuff be at least sort-of true?  I understand that CAR is trying to further the reputation of our ranks (and, perhaps, the reputation of the associations), but just saying so won’t make it so.

Departures can “never be justified,” yet departures we see. And, sadly the customer may never have knowledge because of their own expectations that dealings are honest – because of their expectations that their own best interests are at the center of the real world discussion.

So I guess a little self-policing is in order. To all of the agents who can’t or won’t do the right thing, I hereby call on you to turn in your badges. I’m keeping mine because, every day, I at least try to earn it.

Thanks to PicketReport.com, I know my daughter is among the Power Elite (a little too late)

I just returned from my semi-annual pilgrimage to the Inman News Real Estate Connect conference. Defying logic and laughing in the face of all that is good and decent, the event planners decided years ago that the January installment should be held in New York City. And each year I am reminded why New York is the “City that never sleeps.” That’s because they have to keep moving lest they freeze to death.

Truthfully, this year I lucked out, as they were having a bit of a warm front. I generally enjoyed balmy 40-degree weather. And it’s a good thing, because I was pulling double duty. Not only was I there to do a little panel moderating and to keep abreast of the latest business and technology trends in real estate – all within the warm confines of the conference venue – but I was also the advance party for my daughter’s own Manhattan Project.

My oldest daughter relocated to the big city yesterday, one day after I returned, for an editorial gig at New York Magazine. Through luck of timing, I was charged with leading the reconnaissance mission to meet the new roommate and attend to a few last minute details. Let me tell you that nothing says fun like hauling an end table five blocks through Chelsea in casual business attire and four inch heels.

First let me say on a minor real estate note that, despite the warnings, you really can use Craigslist to find rentals. But you have to do your homework. Trust no one.

Her new home was in fact secured from a Craigslist ad, site unseen, and she did send money in advance. This, however, occurred after a joint forensic investigation of the neighborhood, the property and (most importantly) the landlord that left us knowing more about this poor, unsuspecting coop owner than she knows about herself.

Thanks to the power of the search box, we knew how old she was, where she was born, where her parents live, her familial status, employment history, and even the fact that she contributed $200 in 1993 to the Bush-Cheney campaign. (Admittedly, this last one might have been a deal breaker for some, but if you really need a place to live, you must be willing make some compromises.)

The point is this. Whether you are looking for a rental or a home to purchase, you have nearly unlimited resources at your fingertips which will allow you be entirely informed. From property details to neighborhood culture — and, yes, the profile of the guy who might be sitting at the other side of the negotiating table — you owe it to yourself to do your homework.

It was interesting, then, that I was introduced to a snappy little neighborhood profile site, PicketReport.com.  It’s a tradition at Inman to feature a handful of start-up companies in the real estate space – as they call them, “New Kids on the Block.” I love this site. The screen shot above shows their neighborhood information for Scripps Ranch.

It’s in Beta, which means there are still some glitches. For instance, if you are familiar with Scripps Ranch, you will note that the Middle School that was relocated several years ago is still plotted in its former location, as is the elementary school that took over their lease. Oh, and then there is the lifestyle profile for my 92131 Zip code that, apparently, consists of “flourishing families.” Flourishing families are defined as “affluent, middle-aged families and couples earning prosperous incomes and living very comfortable, active lifestyles.”

I am relatively comfortable, writing this in my jeans and sneakers, and I do happen to fall into the “families and couples” category. The prosperous, active and middle-aged parts, however, are subject to some serious debate.

I sure wish I had known about this site prior to moving my daughter to Chelsea. By comparison, I now know that these are my daughter’s people:

Power Elite: The wealthiest households in the US, living in the most exclusive neighborhoods, and enjoying all that life has to offer.

And as I glance at my account balances, I suddenly know this to be true. I think PicketReport.com can safely drop the “Beta” now.

 

Got Mello Roos? Beware at tax time.

Tax
Creative Commons License photo credit: http://401kcalculator.org

A big hat tip to San Diego Castles Realty agent Sasha Harvey (who apparently reads the Orange County Register) for the link to this bit of bad news for homeowners blessed a Mello Roos assessment.

From the Orange County Register article:

Beginning with the 2012 tax bill (the one due in April 2013), the state Franchise Tax Board will require property owners to break down their property taxes into deductible and non-deductible portions.

That means property owners who have been deducting their Mello-Roos fees — often running into thousands of dollars — will no longer be able to deduct those or any other special assessments like vector control or mosquito abatement.

I am not an attorney or tax dude. Having said that, it has sort of been conventional wisdom to date that while Mello Roos is not "strictly speaking" tax deductable, it conveniently shows up on the property tax bill so, hey! It's deductable by association. No longer.

(Did I mention that I'm not an attorney or CPA? You should consult one of those guys before you go taking tax advice from me or the Orange County Register — just to be safe.)

Real Estate Games

Game Over
Creative Commons License photo credit: josip2

Steve’s cell phone is on life support. First let me say that this comes as no surprise to the Berg nuclear family. He has a history of killing electronics.

In the early days, the cause of death could be easily established. When one falls into the spa with ones cell phone in his pocket, one will no longer be able to utilize the device for anything but a paperweight. There’s not enough white rice at a wedding to save a waterlogged Droid. Trust me.

Over time, however, his stuff just started checking for no obvious reason – so often, in fact, that you will find his picture at the counter of your nearest Verizon store. I believe he also enjoys the Customer of the Month parking space at Best Buy.

This is why I recently found myself killing time in Columbia, Missouri playing Fruit Ninja. Steve’s current phone, one that used to allow him to do all sorts of whiz-bang things — like receive emails and texts – has been relegated to no more than a simple talking device with a seven minute battery life. So while he purchased a stopgap car charger, I idled at the iPhone display killing fruit.

For the unfamiliar, it’s a goofy little game, this Fruit Ninja. As pomegranates and kiwi fly across the screen, you have to slice them without detonating bombs. More fruit means more points. Like any respectable game, it gets harder as you progress –to the point where passers-by, noticing your glazed eyes and spastic swiping movements, routinely assume that you are enjoying a day pass from the Happy Acres sanitarium.

Ultimately it’s just a time sucking exercise in futility, because you can never “win.” You may be momentarily entertained and even find yourself occasionally puffed with pride over your fruit salad-making awesomeness. Eventually, though, you will explode; it’s all about personal bests.

Ninja fruit is not a zero sum game. When I lose, someone else isn’t winning. Put another way, my success is not measured in the context of another’s failure. So goes real estate.

There remains this pervasive notion that one side of the transaction – the buyer or the seller – is going to become the victor. Buyers refer to these transactions as “smoking deals;” sellers tend to see it as getting “top dollar.” The reality is this: You will buy a home, or sell a home, for market value.

I have written about this before, the concept of market value. Market value is actually a range of value, because different people are, dare I say, different. For every person who wants a pool I can show you one that won’t even consider a home with a pool. One man’s wall paper is another man’s Sienna Sand paint palate; granite versus tile or Pergo instead of Berber – I can tell you on which side of these debates you will find your largest buyer pools, but the buyer who ultimately makes the offer is the “market,” at least at that moment.

As a seller, you may find that the market value of your home isn’t aligned with your expectations. That is not to say, however, that the buyer is winning and you are losing. It just is what it is, and I swear I am going to put that on a T-shirt someday.

If your home is on the market and you are not being shown, or if you have not received what you consider to be an acceptable offer, one of two things is going on. Your property is not being widely exposed and compellingly presented, or your pricing is out of whack. That’s all, folks. Sure, selling a home is a process, not an event, but consider the average market times in your area.

In Scripps Ranch, the average market time of detached home sold in December was 66 days. It was 61 days in November. Active detached listings, however, have been on the market for an average of 81 days. Give it time, of course, but at some point the market may be telling you something.

Now let’s take our places at the buyer side of the game board. We all want a smoking deal. If you don’t believe me, you weren’t looking for a parking space on Black Friday. But think about the holiday buying season. There were the occasional too-good-to-be-true sales – the sales involving “one in stock.” As a home buyer, you might encounter one of these offerings too, but be prepared for the pepper spray, because you won’t be the only one waving your checkbook in the air, and you will probably leave battered and empty handed.

What mostly happened on Black Friday was that retailers priced the products to position themselves favorably relative to their competition. They were focused on attracting the most buyers from the finite buyer pool, and while their events were promoted as “sales,” they weren’t really sales at all. That’s because when everything is price reduced, you’ve simply established a market. Pricing is inextricably linked to supply and demand; it is a response to current economic conditions.  This holds true whether we are talking about cashmere sweaters or homes.

Still don’t believe me that Black Friday was not brimming with “bargains?” Look at prices for those same retailers and for those same products today. The “sales” are still in effect. In many cases, in fact, prices are lower yet. If I can buy the same purse at a dozen different stores for the same discounted price, it is not discounted at all — unless my basis of comparison is 2004.

As a buyer, then, prices are what they are – today. That’s not to say that there isn’t room to negotiate. Of course there is. Depending on the seller’s needs and motivation, certain terms (like timing, financing and all those little contingency sticking points) may have value to the seller and may translate to a lower price. But it’s still not a zero sum game. There is give and take and, hopefully, a lot of what we call “dealing in good faith.” In most successful transactions, both parties ultimately benefit.

I see too many buyers playing to beat the seller instead of playing for a personal best. They take the asking price and offer 10 or 20% less, not because this seems like a fair price, but because it seems like a victory. Much like the sellers whose homes have languished on the market for too long, these buyers languish in the market for too long, firing too many blanks and missing too many opportunities.

 The moral, I suppose, is this: Know the market. And I don’t mean the Case-Shiller macro-portrayal, but your market in your ‘hood. Your agent can help you with this. Know what your goals are and try to reach – even exceed — them. Your agent can help with this also. You aren’t buying a pair of shoes; don’t rush things.  But at the same time, remember against whom you are playing. It’s not the other party to the transaction. And if you keep missing your targets, you might just be playing against yourself.

The Buyer Pool Revisited

At our recent year-end office meeting, we again gave our little State of the Real Estate Market address to our agents. We basically copied and pasted last year's summary — and the summary from the year before. As much as I am a fan of manufacturing drama, I feel a little like Sean Kingston with my iPod stuck on replay-ay-ay.

It's a question we get every single time we meet with a prospective seller. "If we wait — maybe we rent for awhile — how long will it be before prices are better?" they ask anxiously. The only difference is the homeowner's definition of "better." Sometimes, they want to hold out for only slightly better, while other times they are ready to hunker down until we return to the 2005 pricing glory days.

The latter is the easy one. If you are waiting for a return to peak values, go ahead and rent but with the expectation that your children will inherit a nice investment property. "Slightly better" is a little more complicated. If you believe the smart economists in dark suits (and I generally do), we are seeing signs of pricing stability, at least in San Diego. We are seeing the more affordable homes enjoy a bit of price creep, yet we are continuing to see some downward pressure in the higher priced segments. Until we clear out the troubled inventory, we will be bouncing around the valley floor. Think three to five years.

We have been noticing signs of more realistic expectations by both buyers and sellers; the value perception disconnect is slowly closing. But we aren't there yet.

I originally posted this insanely helpful infographic in late 2008 illustrating the buyer pool for any given listing using Dabbleboard. It is eerily as relevant today as it was over three years ago, except that the bubble on the right is relatively larger. And there will be a few more folks in the middle now — folks interested in your home but who still can't get financing. So, in the spirit of regifting, let's revisit what buyers are looking for.

_______

Without further ado, I bring you my Venn Diagram illustrating why homes are taking a wee bit longer to sell. It's a little complicated, as evidenced by the 5 minutes it took me to design it, so do hang in there.

Dislcaimer: Your results may vary. Margin of error = 100%. Patent pending. Use only as directed.

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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