A New Operating Environment

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Today, sellers are having to learn a new operating system. They don’t like it. It’s unfamiliar territory, territory in which nothing seems to work right, “right” being defined as the way it used to be. The initial inclination when faced with change is denial.

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But I Have Done This Before

This week my daughter’s two-month-old laptop went kapluey. The truth is, it never worked properly from the beginning, but things were getting progressively uglier. The purchase was necessitated by an old, slow desktop running on Windows XP. We were at the point where she would routinely miss a birthday waiting for her old computer to boot. One last trip to the Zac Efron fan club site was going to put her out of commission once and for all. Sure, I should have had boys, but it is far too late for that.

I wanted to buy another XP, but that was no longer an option. The shelves were full of shiny new computers, all operating on Vista. Vista is new, and like any new frontier, I knew there would be a learning curve and growing pains. I knew there were “issues,” bugs that had not been worked through and software compatibility concerns that had not be fully addressed, but I ignored the little voice in my head (which it turns out was the voice of Steve Jobs trash-talking Bill Gates). If everything was running on Vista now, I told myself, it would all be just fine, just fine like the hundreds of computer replacement rituals I had performed before. I visualized the same results I had always enjoyed: Unbox, plug it in, go!

As recently as 2005, sellers were in a plug-and-play world. We aren’t talking about the mechanics of closing the transaction but the part about getting under contract. The only essentials in their home selling kit were a yard sign and an agent with access to the Multiple Listing Service who was breathing unassisted. The instruction manual was embarrassingly simple. Review recent sales, set a price five to ten percent higher than last sale, erect yard sign (included), place in MLS, and have a cup of coffee while waiting for multiple offers to pour in. Staging? Hah! It has four walls and a front door, doesn’t it? If the buyer doesn’t like it, he can hire his own decorator.

Vista Must Die

I spent a combined 10 hours this week (and I am being conservative) on the phone with my new BFF at the India Microsoft “Help” Desk who called himself Sam. Before you accuse me of stereotyping, let me assure you that he was in India. I knew this because we spent a lot of time together rebooting and uninstalling and reinstalling, and we spent our “down time” getting to know each other. “Where are you?” I asked. “India,” he said. This is how I knew. I also came to know that India is over 20 hours ahead of my time in San Diego, that Sam likes working the night shift, and that his favorite color is green.

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I was used to instant gratification, so when my BFF told me that he would have to “escalate my case,” I made a very sad face. My new computer was not working right, and he was telling me that he, from his “Help” desk, couldn’t fix it. I started hearing things like “corrupted file”, “faulty components” and even “bad software.”  Balderdash! I had never had problems before and the computer was new and pretty, so therefore it should be working perfectly. My computer is special! Naturally, I blamed Sam. While I was at it, I blamed Best Buy for selling me the system, Bill Gates for spearheading the product, my husband for helping spawn the daughter who needed the computer, and, just for good measure, Redfin.

Sellers are finding people to blame for longer market times, lower prices, and, in some cases, failure to sell. Their list, like mine, is long. First, there is the agent. Shouldn’t the agent be able to fix it? Their job, after all, is to get the house sold. Forget that some components may be corrupt (price, location, condition). These things didn’t use to get in the way of a sale! Add to that the uncooperative buyer pool, the lenders, the media, and Kevin Bacon (just for good measure). When the home selling process isn’t working right, when things aren’t happening the way they used to happen, it has to be someone else’s fault.

When the Help Desk is No Help

Each time Sam and I parted ways (“I’ll call you back after I do a some more research”), I was a heat-seeking missile to the Google search box. Driven by a little sense of do-it-yourselfer arrogance and lot of frustration, I searched myself into a state of fix-it frenzy. I knew, despite the protestation of Microsoft Sam (who was now not calling me back, my case presumably having been escalated to a very high trash bin), that there must be a way to fix it. But, while I knew just a little bit about my old operating system, my new operating environment was unfamiliar to me. Caught in an infinite Google loop of advice, I was getting a thousand solutions handed to me by my new cyber-friends, each one different. Everyone had an opinion, everyone had the answer, to the point that I was paralyzed with utter confusion.

Sellers and buyers have countless resources on which to base their real estate decisions. The Internet is a veritable candy store of advice and answers. Everyone they know and everyone they meet, from their gardener to their plumber to their cousin in El Paso, is eager to dispense wisdom on market trends, pricing issues and the mechanics of transacting real property. The market is going down, prices are nearing the bottom, February of 2015 is optimum for buying or selling, wait until Spring, and on and on. Many consumers are utterly confused. The “Help” Desk is getting a bit crowded.

Time for a Clean Install

It was then that I heard the four words I fear most. “Wipe the hard drive.” Aeieeee! You mean I have to start over? I was making a lot of new friends this week, and the most recent inductee into my circle of people-I-spend-more-time-with-than-my-husband was Chris at Best Buy. Actually, Chris wasn’t a new friend. We go way back.  He was the one that fixed the “three” key when it fell off of the shiny new Vista-driven laptop last week. (Being a prime number, trust me when I tell you that the “3” is somewhat indispensable.)  And, nary a quarter goes by when I am not slinking into my personal Urgent Care Center, completely defeated, and struggling to deliver a clumsy and antiquated, terminally ill electronic device to pre-op.

Now, there is a little thing I learned about Best Buy long ago. They always have a solution, and they have simplified the process by making sure it is the same solution every time. Start over. Wipe the hard drive. Exorcise the demons, and begin from scratch. In fact, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure restoring the three key to its former glory might have involved a clean install. I don’t entirely believe that Chris and Company take this approach because they are unable to identify the precise problem. On the contrary, I think that I have generally mucked things up so badly by the time I concede my destiny to professionals that I have left them no choice. If only from the outset I had trusted those that knew a little bit more about computers, the ones that do nothing but deal with computers every single day, I might not have found myself in this predicament.

Here’s the thing. I know the product as an end user. I can operate it, and I have acquired enough knowledge from watching the experts troubleshoot over the years on my behalf to be able to self-help my way out of many routine situations. But, I haven’t seen it all; they have. I don’t have any experience with this new operating environment; they do.

I could have wiped the drive myself, but that is risky business. I might have been successful and saved a few bucks. On the other hand, if I had messed up, the consequences would have been more costly yet. Many sellers are finding that a clean install is in order. Maybe when their agent, and not their neighbor, offers a price opinion, they should follow the agent’s advice. Maybe a ninety-day average market time really does mean three months, and expectations to the contrary are unrealistic. Maybe engaging in aggressive staging even when you don’t want to move your vast Hummel collection into storage, accepting that optimum exposure is necessary, even when showing arrangements are inconvenient and may conflict with nap time, and recognizing that, while you are familiar with the way things worked yesterday, your agent is much more prepared to assist you in ensuring that things will work today are all required to avoid a crash.

V is for Victory (and Vista)

My daughter’s shiny new laptop, which ironically has the limited purpose of serving as a word processor and a conduit to Facebook, is fully operational, but it took too much of my time and, ultimately, professional intervention. Once I was able to concede that I didn’t know as much as I needed to know, it was smooth sailing. We were back in business.

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One final word about my Geek Squad buddies. I have used their services more than a few times, and in the process I have done a significant amount of my own research. I have learned a lot about their business but not enough to disintermediate them entirely. What I do know has allowed me to recognize that some of my friends are better than others. Without naming names, I know which one doesn’t really listen to my description of my symptoms and needs, I know which one tends to make things up, thinking I am not smart enough to know the difference, I know the one who really doesn’t have all that much experience and generally takes three times as long to solve my problem, and I know the one who always gets results. He’s the one I ask for.

Consumers should take the time to educate themselves. The knowledge they acquire will not replace the need for a professional in the transaction, but it will enable them to identify the best professional for the job. It can be fixed, and it can work right, but we are operating in a different environment now, one which may be foreign to you.  You just need to be willing to ask for help and follow the right advice.

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