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It is not because I was raised in California in the 60s, vote Democratic, eat granola or need a job. (I don’t. I have two, thank you) It’s not because I’ve made or lost a fortune in the stock market, am I anti-American, anti-corporation or want to bring capitalism to its bloody knees. I do not want to share my personal story of loss, health insurance, rate-jacking on credit card rates or banking fees here, I take responsibility for the decisions I’ve made and their consequences. And I’ll leave the commentary on the inner-machinations of who/how/why we got here to the pundits and those far more adept at these things than I.
Most of my professional life has been spent working in television and as theater artist; actor, director & playwright, and I’ve made a living doing what I love. I am at home with the dramatic expression of ideas, comfortable with change and used to the variables of a 1099 income. Suffice it to say Occupy Wall Street is not my first drum circle jam. But that’s not why I’m speaking out. Six years ago, when the prospect of single-motherhood was looming, I got my real estate license, worked my ass off in a difficult market and for the most part it has been good to me (I’m used to the variable income, remember?). I’ve worked the luxury market, helped buyers find their first homes, move up to larger spaces, and have numerous investors who’ve increased their cash flow with rental and fix & flip properties. I find it very gratifying and I’m good at it.
I support Occupy Wall Street because as a Realtor©, I have worked to save clients from foreclosure, spent hours negotiating with banks over short sales, sat around kitchen tables listening to frustrations with loan modifications, and spent as much on tissue as I have on champagne. (Okay, I exaggerate, but you get the idea.) I have seen this at all income levels and from clients who did not take out loans they could not afford, use their homes as ATMs or over-purchase. When they bought the future was bright and the payments were manageable. When the bubble burst and a few of life’s bumps hit (illness, divorce, job loss or downsizing) they tried valiantly to keep their obligations and pay the mortgage…until the day they couldn’t and their homes were worth less than they owed.
We may not all share an aching drive to be rich, but I’d bet that most of us want to work hard, prosper and live comfortably enough to invest in our futures, save for our children’s college and be prepared for retirement. We’d even like a vacation or two. For years we’ve trod along hoping things would get better and worked hard to make that a reality, even if the price of our hope was the depletion of our savings. At last we are exhausted. Too many Silverado, WorldCom and Goldman Sachs sagas played out on the nightly news, followed by stories of bailouts and bonuses for those who’ve shamelessly played fast and loose with our lives.
The tide has turned in America and around the world. The tsunami is hurling us forward faster than we’ve ever collectively moved before and there is no turning back. The social/political, dare I say… evolution is upon us, the old ways are outmoded and there’s no point in retreating to their ice age. It is time to start the conversation. We’ll figure out what the next best step is, but for now… shut up and listen.

If this summer finds you  in or on the real estate market the two most important things you will need are a smart real estate agent and healthy dose of reality.  Sure the virtual tour and snappy flyer are pretty, but the market isn’t. Finding a ‘smart agent’ may not mean the guy who’s sent you Broncos schedules and sold your cul-de-sac for the past twenty years, or the bubble-headed blond on the bus bench. I’d rather you go with someone who has a keen sense of where the market is TODAY, not yesterday. Though our trending info charts and graphs show market improvement, no one knows  for certain where we’ll be next year. The agent who offers “certainty” is tap dancing.

With more than 80% of buyers beginning the home search on the Internet prior to contacting an agent, consumers no longer rely on Realtors to provide them with all the information, we now co-create the experience.

Buyers and sellers both benefit by seeking out an agent who can effectively gather and interpret all available information to define the goals and strategies before and during the transaction.  Being a good real estate agent is part instinct, part industry and finding one who does it as a full time job is a good sign they know the realities of today’s market. The key is to have an agent who is not afraid to tell you the truth.

Consider these examples of three areas where a reality check would be helpful.

1.) PROFIT.  A high-end home in one of Denver’s most desirable locations. The sellers have improved it considerably and have lived there long enough to have built some hefty equity.  Ideally they’d like to turn a nice profit and take advantage of the value available in the middle of the market to purchase a larger house in a more modest neighborhood. The problem here is that their beautiful home is sitting in line in the million dollar price point where the inventory is stockpiled to 365+ days on market with fewer banks approving  jumbo loans (over $417k). Experienced ‘flippers’ , they are not novice to the real estate transaction, so it seems logical to apply the strategies they’ve always used to sell their flips. Savvy as they are, it would be more effective to spend a bit of that equity and hire an agent with the skills and resources to reach the broadest pool of potential buyers increasing their ability to compete in a glutted market. Will they sell? Eventually. Will they get top dollar? Statistics say probably not. Will they achieve the desired outcome in the allotted time frame? Well, school starts in August…

2.) PRICE. Seller wants to sell a suburban home. Their segment of the market would be considered a balanced market with only five months of inventory, but even with its unique features the house needs some upgrades and is not selling. Though the home feels too big for the family and they’d like to move into a more manageable townhouse, there is little likelihood they’ll reach their goal if they don’t get real about the price. Here is where a realistic Realtor tells the tricky truth: A house is not a product, like a hamburger, so marketing alone will not sell it. Your house is an emotional commodity. It is worth what a buyer is willing to pay for it, not what you’d like to net. Harsh as it is, if you need more down on your new place, you’ll have to figure it out. Improved the property and trying to cover the cost? Forget about it. Stop living in your own personal snow globe and put yourself in a buyer’s shoes. Would you pay more because it’s what the seller needs? No, you’ll either keep shopping for the bargain you feel good about, or pay more for the neighbor’s house with the upgrades already in place.

3.) PRESSURE. As missed mortgage payments stack up, so does the stress. You’ve done all you can to keep up, postponed the pit a year ago with a loan modification but it’s still too much. You hire a knowledgeable agent who is able to convey your options and the pros/cons of each strategy and you decide on pursuing a short sale. Experience and market chops tell your perspicacious agent that there’s not another house in the neighborhood like yours and she’s right. Within a week four offers come in, forcing a bidding war on a ‘highest and best offer’ deadline. She gets more than she asks for, but the bank is further along in the foreclosure process than you realized. Reality bites. Better the sting of the short sale than the heartache of foreclosure, but time must be on your side.

The housing market always has a bit of the “smoke and mirrors” to it (not to be confused with a house with smoked mirrors). Sorting through opinion, sales tactics, experts and statistics to glean the facts can be a daunting task for the smart consumer and agent alike. Research is only as good as the information you come up with and strategies are often based on information. Try to make sure you do your work and find someone  willing to do theirs as well, and don’t replace the real estate bubble with a real estate Bubble-head.