Helpful information on the home buying process including full MLS property search

Because it’s boring. Because any schmo can do that. Because if I want to be generic, I might as well mail Bronco’s schedules to a neighborhood of strangers. Throwing a bunch of stats and market predictions up on the Internet works for some agents, I’m sure. It just doesn’t work for me. Every transaction is a human transaction as well as a business transaction, every purchase or sale is personal. Real estate is first and foremost about my community and the people in it. I write about the things they love to do, and the things they do that I love: art, music, theatre, social and philanthropic events, neighborhoods, gatherings. These are the things that interest me because they are the stories of people’s lives.
In the six years I’ve been in the real estate business I’ve found a few things to be true. No matter what the market data says on any given day, most people buy and sell homes because there lives are in transition. They are either creating change in their lives or their lives are changing them. A new job, job loss, new partner, a marriage, a baby, a second child, more space, less space, taking on a new adventure, making the decision to own vs rent, downsizing, downsized, death, divorce, illness, relocation; these are the reasons people buy and sell homes. I’ve only had one client who bought a home because they wanted more closet space…for their new baby.
Market conditions factor in to these changes, inform decisions and how they may play out, but I am in the people business not in sales… at least that’s what I tell myself.
Your home a lot more to you than a financial investment, it is an emotional one as well. This is where you laugh, you cry, plant seeds and break bread, so whether you are looking to buy or looking to sell, I get that. No matter what is happening in the “market”, houses hold our stories, neighborhoods ground us in community and when there are children and schools to be considered, it is critical to find the right fit. When my son entered school and joined the local soccer team, I remember sitting on the congress Park practice field one autumn afternoon chatting with the other moms and thinking…I’m going to spend the next twelve years with these women, we will share our lives. And we have.
So… you will get stories of the things I love about living and sharing our lives together in Denver. You will hear about what’s going on in your neighborhood, learn about what I like about neighborhoods around town, and find out about some cool things to do on a Sunday afternoon. And yes, you will also get market data in the mix or served up solo. I’ll curate, aggregate and create information I think you will find useful, helpful, and occasionally humorous. We’ll share stories, okay?

This summer the real estate market feels like it’s at a stand-still. Stifled by negotiations over the debt ceiling, worries about the economy, unemployment, and all the pre-election spin, the market ain’t so hot this July. And yet, I have clients who are making the market work for them. As sellers move from the hopes of spring to the mid-summer “I thought it would have sold by now” pit in their stomach, buyers have ample opportunity to make a move. With mortgage rates low, lots of discounted inventory out there and sellers willing to negotiate, I wonder why so many buyers are still on the fence. I came across some stats from Inman last week that show the desire to own a home is still strong.

Renters: Owning a Home Still a Priority
Most Americans still believe that owning a home is a solid financial decision, and a majority of renters aspire to home ownership as a long-term goal. According to the 2011 National Housing Pulse Survey released recently by the National Association of Realtors®, 72 percent of renters surveyed said owning a home is a top priority for their future, up from 63 percent in 2010.

The survey also shows that we still believe in home ownership as a way to build financial security. With the stock market high and the interest paid on your savings account low, what better time to invest in yourself than when you can purchase a home ‘on sale’ rather than ‘for sale’?

Seven in 10 Americans also agreed that buying a home is a good financial decision while almost two-thirds said now is a good time to purchase a home. The annual survey, which measures how affordable housing issues affect consumers, also found that more than three quarters of renters (77 percent) said they would be less likely to buy a home if they were required to put down a 20 percent down payment on the home, and a strong majority (71 percent) believe a 20 percent down payment requirement could have a negative impact on the housing market.

The way I see it, two things stand in the way of qualified buyers taking the leap:
1. People don’t believe mortgage rates will go up.
2. Fear that the market will fall further.
There has been talk of rising rates for years, and yet they have remained low. Today they are still under 5%, but they will rise eventually and nobody can tell you when. As for market decline, Denver indicators continue to show we have more than likely reached the bottom. At this point we are flat, some fluctuation but nothing too dramatic. Even if home prices were to fall a bit further, as long as you intend to stay in your home for five or more years, the odds of your making money are in your favor.
If I could show you how to get into a home you can afford, with a solid loan product at a good interest rate, would you still be putting money in your landlord’s pocket? Rent or own…what’s your opinion?

As an actor, the most common question is “How do you memorize all those lines?” As a Realtor© it goes something like this… “How come your comps say my house is worth X when Zillow says Y? “
I’ll tell you why. Real estate websites have transformed the consumer experience when buying or selling, bringing to the public the listing and sales info that used to be private and difficult to get to. Some of this consumer info sharing has been good for all. A buyer, for example, can reduce our power-shopping trips by searching for homes that suit their needs, send a list of what they want to see and off we go. Well… after I double check the listing information, as much of it is out of date; homes sold but still listed as active, short sales if my client has a move in time frame, homes that have been on the market for a year… these get scratched from the shopping list. But for sellers it can be a different story.
These sites appeal to the savvy seller, empowered by access to the information provided, They try hard to do a lot of the work for you, grabbing recent sales, public record and homes listed in your neighborhood, then running them through a computer program and, in some cases, going so far as to create an estimated value on your property. Here’s where it gets tricky. Computer programs have no discernment.
I recently got on Zillow to double check one of my listings to make sure the information was correct. What I found was a massive error stating that according to public record the home had sold in 1997 for $150,000, a “fact” I cannot find anywhere. With a price point over $600,000, this is a costly mistake and one my sellers were understandably unhappy about. I’ve contacted them numerous times to correct, but so far nothing. I checked back yesterday and the website’s value of the property had gone up $17k in one week for no apparent reason. In my own neighborhood, Zillow has deemed my home worth nearly 40k less than what I can sell it for, largely due to a few foreclosures nearby, and this is happening all over the city.

A computer takes the description of your home from the public records, or from a recent listing, determines the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage, and pulls out the closest homes to yours that have sold recently that have similar data on record. The computer can’t necessarily distinguish nuances in a property’s condition or aesthetics, nor does it always correct for whether the house two blocks over was a short sale or a foreclosure. Depending on where you live, how similar homes are to each other in your area, the level of sales activity near your home and the level of accuracy found in the public records for your house and nearby homes, these sites can offer very comparable “comps” — or comparables that aren’t really comparable at all. If you live in a fairly cookie-cutter subdivision where several homes just like yours have sold very recently, you’re likely to get a good set of comparables, and a value estimate that’s at least in the ballpark. But in many areas, lots of fairly common scenarios can come between you and a good comp/bad comp:

Your home is older and has had a lot of improvements and even additions that are not in the county records.
Homes in your area are very different from each other.
You live in a neighborhood very nearby another neighborhood where homes have a much higher or lower value than your area , say, because they belong in a better school district or even on the other side of the city limits.
Your home is in an area where homes are dense, the algorithm might jump over many very nearby properties to get to a relatively dissimilar one even a half-mile away, and that can give you bad comps.

The listings provided by the sites can be very useful for homeowners trying to stay on top of what homes around theirs are selling for — not listed for, but actually selling for. They are less useful, in my opinion, at placing values on properties; the sites that do this usually have their accuracy rates listed somewhere on the site, and I haven’t yet seen one that’s impressive.
But when it’s time to actually list your home, or figure out what it is worth, no computer — no algorithm — is as accurate as a living, breathing local real estate professional who sees and sells all the different specimens of homes in your neighborhood and sees firsthand what ready, willing, qualified buyers actually pay for them, day in and day out.
I think it’s important for sellers interviewing listing agents to discuss the online comparables with prospective listing agents, but not as a counterargument to what the listing agents recommends you list your home for. Rather, it’s a smart way to see some of what the agents know, and what you can learn about the other properties in your area. If you’d like a detailed estimate of home values in your neighborhood or a comparative market analysis of your home, give me a ring, I’d be glad to help.

The most important thing one can do in negotiations is to keep the conversation going. Simple in theory, but when emotions get involved it gets much more complicated. Take yesterday for example; buyer comes to seller with an incredibly low offer. Seller is already well priced, below average price per square foot for the area, is insulted, and rightly so. Sellers don’t even want to talk about a counter they are so mad, and so the door is closed, communication stops, conversation ends. Does anybody get what they want? No.
It is my firm belief and experiential understanding that all real estate transactions are essentially human transactions. But they are also business transactions. Balancing these two, sometimes contradictory, principles is what leads us successfully to the goal. Obviously buyers and sellers are emotionally invested, which is why hiring a good Realtor is your best investment. You need an advocate, and one who will objectively keep the dialogue running until there is 1.) A deal that works for both sides, or 2.) Nothing further that can be done to make it happen.
I know this seems like I’m stating the obvious, and when you’re only talking business it’s true. Once you factor in the human element, and the business is about a very personal product… like a home, that’s where things get sticky. Negotiations can be exhausting. For everyone. My best advise?
Keep Calm. Carry On.

Today an unusual thing happened, I received two offers on two different listings. That in itself would not be unusual in the Denver real estate market, but it’s what came with the offer I found odd and amusing. This morning, two emails hit my inbox. One was the offer, $110k below the list price, and the other was a letter from the potential buyer to the seller. This afternoon, the same thing happened: 20k under a list price that had a generous price reduction on Wednesday, and a lovely card to the seller. Now I am the queen of the hand-written note and I know it’s value, but in both of these instances it was as if the “I really love your house, we are the perfect buyers” missive was going to somehow cover the insulting offer. If you really love the house, you should pay what the house is worth. A letter that says in essence, “I found the house I love, now can you please give it to me?” does little to sway the seller away from his or her profits.
Buyers buy homes with their emotion first and practicality second, sellers are just the opposite. I know this is a sweeping generalization, but most of the time it holds true. A home is an emotional commodity and yes, most sellers would love to see their home go to that sweet young couple of lovebirds with the 20% down, the golden retriever and th 850 credit score. Chances are very good that the seller has had his own emotional roller coaster ride long before you set your showing. Ready to make that move, they’ve called their Realtor, had the listing appointment and swallowed hard when their agent told them what they could expect to sell their beautiful home for in today’s market. When they’ve lowered their price twice in 60 days, is it realistic to expect them to take another 20 or 100k off the top because you love their home? I’d love a new Mercedes for the price of my used Saab, too.
In short, be reasonable. Be fair. Don’t believe everything you read about the “Buyer’s Market”, assuming every home is on the clearance rack. And save your letters. We know you love the home and felt all warm and fuzzy when you walked into it, that’s what writing an offer means. Now write the offer that will match that value, and don’t expect the seller to pay for your dreams out of their retirement.