Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The best feature of my home is the lushly landscaped lot . . . What's yours?

All homes are different - what do you like best?

This is a forum blog today . . . after 2 days of Memorial Partying Bliss, I realize just how much I love love love my back yard!  Over 13 years ago, I picked this lot because it is one of only 4 houses on this cul-de-sac, right across the street from the 2 lakes with waterfall and fountains.  The views from the front are beautiful!

But because of the cul-de-sac, my lot is "pie-shaped," with a small front yard but a huge (nearly 1/2 acre) back yard.  I have spent (to date) nearly $100,000 on decks, patio covers, pool (and its subsequent remodeling) and landscaping (with automatic sprinklers) and it has been well worth it.  Even though I cuss those 13 palm trees every year when I have to trim them, they're beautiful.  I have flowers galore, and it is stunningly beautiful.

Parties under the new covered patio (complete with sound system) are remarkable.  Later this week,
Smoked chicken on the Traeger
fans and lights are to be installed under the cover to give it a more festive look.  I need new patio furniture, but the old stuff will have to do for another year or two . . . I've spent the mother lode on the pool remodel!  (And the Traeger smoker, but SOOOO worth it!)

And right now, as a Realtor, I have two transactions where buyers are stalling over $1,000-$3,000.  They are so caught up in the "numbers" of the negotiations that they can't start loving their home.  And probably their "trained buyer agent" is only numbers-oriented, too.  But buying and owning a home is much more than the numbers!  What is it about that home that moves you?  Get with it . . .

So . . . what's your favorite feature?  Is it your kitchen?  Entertainment area?  Den?  What makes you love love love your home?

Does it make you want to live there until you can no longer walk, and they find you crouched alone in the corner eating cat food?  That's my vision . . . I can see it now.  Kids, leave me here as for as long as physically possible . . .

Yes, I love my home.  Great place.  My castle.  Tell me about yours . . . help me gain the insights into why people love their homes, because everyone is different.  And HGTV can't explain the unique, personal intrinsic values that everyone has in their own abode.

MORAL:  Buy a home and choose it for what you love.  As long as it's in your pre-approved budget, don't get caught up in the numbers game . . . get what you want!  Money is a strange commodity, no matter how much you have or don't have, you always get more.

OK.....your turn.  What moves YOU in your home?  Did you quibble over the last few $$$???

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Pool Party . . . great host here in Pearland!

But I make a Lousy guest!

The pool is remodeled and summer is here (at least here in Pearland).  It's time for the annual Memorial Day Pool Party and Barbecue!

So, I've spent two days preparing for a feast!  I've soaked beans overnight so that I can add sausages and boil those deliciously.  I made two kinds of salsa, starting with fresh tomatillos, tomatoes, and various peppers from Julian's garden . . . one salsa with avocado and one without.  (Hmmm . . . every time I type the word "avocado" I remember how I lost the spelling bee on that word in school.  It seems that our teacher pronounced it "avocaldo," as though it were some type of green Mexican soup, so I spelled it like that and was disqualified.  I blame her!)

Nonetheless, the biggest prep work was the macaroni and pea salad.  I chopped celery, green onions, pickles, tiny cheese cubes, bell peppers -- red and green -- jalapeƱo, all to serve a 1 pound bag of elbow macaroni . . . + mayonnaise, mustard, and pickle juice!  It had to "cure" overnight . . . so it should be extremely yummy!

And three whole chickens are marinated and ready to go on the Traeger smoker . . . mmmmm . . . going to be so good.

So, since I had the "jump" on this feast, I decided to attend my dear friend Kassandra's pool party, held
one day early.  After 2-3 beers in the sun, my tongue was rambling into dark places unknown by most, and feared by many.  ("Shut up, old man," I kept telling myself, "there are women and children present.")  But on and on my tongue flapped into deep, dark despair until I realized I had to go home and go to bed.  It was 6pm and I was unpleasant company.  It happens.  I'm a light-weight.

But today is a new day.  And I'm the host of this pool party.  And I shan't drink a beer.  And a wonderful feast will be had by all, assuming they attend.

And I thank God for the right to tell this story.  And I thank my living soldier friends and ask God to be kind to those who shall have bourne the battle.   Happy Memorial Day . . . don't do what I did at someone's party . . . bury thy tongue.

So . . . am I the only one who has ever had a few beers and let his tongue get the better of him?  Or, have you, too?  What's your story?

Will the "Good Life" Be Ready When You Are?

Life of Riley Index.pngThe Life of Riley was a TV show from the 50’s starring William Bendix but the title’s origin came from an expression meaning that a person was living the “good life.” Most people envision themselves living the good life by retirement but don’t really have a plan to get there.

There’s a rough rule of thumb used to estimate how much net worth a person would need by the time they retire to generate a certain income. The target annual income is divided by a safe, conservative yield to determine the investable assets needed.

A person who wanted $100,000 annual income generated from a 5% investment would need investable assets of $2,000,000. If a person had $500,000 now, they would need to accumulate $1.5 million more by the time they retire. If it was estimated to be 15 years away, they would need to save about $100,000 a year, each year until retirement.

It is a sobering example that could be depressing without a plan. It might be easy to say, “I should have started sooner” which may be true but there is still hope.
Gradually, over the next several years, accumulate rental property and allow the tenant to retire the debt for you. The equity in each property will grow from the amortization of the loan each time a payment is made. It also grows as the property increases in value due to appreciation.

Single family homes as rentals offer the investor an opportunity to meet their retirement and financial goals for the following reasons:

  • The ability to borrow large loan-to-value mortgages
  • At fixed interest rates
  • For long terms (easily up to 30 years)
  • On appreciating assets
  • With significant tax advantages
  • And reasonable control not offered by alternative investments.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The first Open House Video was created by . . .

Me, in 2003......I've had a deja vu!

I've been working on a listing on a luxury home in one of Pearland's Premier neighborhoods, Waterbury at Silverlake.  While at the final "stage and shoot" appointment, the owner reminded me that we'd met in 2002 at the house two doors down while I was holding an "open house."  He said that he and his wife were so impressed with me, that if they ever sold a home, they'd call me.

OK, they ended up buying a listing two doors from the one I'd held open, but not through me . . . so . . . I believed that to be a little typical buyer story.  But it wasn't.  They'd pre-committed to another RE/MAX agent who they bought through . . . and now, 11 years later, it's time to sell and sure enough they called me!  Great!

It made me remember the house 2 doors down, because the resales in Waterbury at that time were very difficult.  So that particular home, I leased out for the owner who'd moved to The Woodlands for a few times.  One time, we leased it to one of the local athletes (whose contract didn't get renewed and had to move).  Wow, those guys go from being super cash rich to being super cash poor, very quickly.

Nonetheless, Arthur (then my photographer) and I had gotten motivated to start videotaping open houses and putting them online so I wouldn't waste my Saturdays and Sundays sitting in vacant houses.  So we bought the first consumer-available High Definition Video Camera from Sony to the tune of about $5,000.  And we went to the house that I'd been marketing for years to shoot the first video.  It was terrible, and the sound was worse.  We made a 15-minute home tour with cars swooshing by, bought some bandwidth (about $1500 per month) -- there was no YouTube at that time -- but we had an online video!

Over time, we shortened the videos, added lavalier microphones, added lighting, refined our techniques, and now made an easier-to-develop SEO video for each listing.  So here I am going down memory lane . . . remembering that we even created a podcast show of open house homes!  Then along came YouTube and changed the game -- the game we still play.  And yes, there's vimeo too.

Anyway, want to see this gorgeous new listing at 2907 Lacewood Ct?  Terrific value at $389,900.  Click here and here's the front image:
Schedule your tour today at 832-200-5656
Have a happy and safe Memorial Weekend . . . and remember:  if buying or selling, Call The Sam Team at RE/MAX Top Realty.  Thank you for your support.  Now, how do YOU use videos?

Please comment . . . videos are the rage right now . . . what's your favorite use of them???

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crazy Realtor Wanted to go Deep Sea Fishing . . .

Our group charter adventure (without the crazy agent)

I started my first real estate company in 1978, while a junior at Houston Baptist University.  I
mentioned that in a recent RE/MAX "Broker/Owner" meeting, and my young friend Eric (also owner of a RE/MAX franchise) stated, "1978?  That's the year I was born!"  Really, Eric?

Anyways . . . in 1980 I purchased an ERA franchise (remember them) from Dale Climer (then ERA's regional owner, now a RE/MAX agent) and my friend Helen Perry, who now owns a real estate school and I'm sure she's reading this.  So, I had this ERA office and was recruiting and hiring agents right and left, but they came and went very quickly.

But a local title company and our ERA group chartered an all-day fishing trip out of Surfside via Captain Elliott.  We planned it for weeks, and had to get up the morning of the fishing trip about 3am to get to Surfside to go out on the boat about 100 miles.  I believe we had room for about 25-30 people, and we had no space left for anyone else......we were excited!  One of our newer agents (I'll call him Jack Spiller, though that's not his real name) was a middle-aged man who wore a full wig.  He had probably worked with us about 3-4 months or so, and he had himself a "trophy wife."  (A beautiful, younger blond who was clearly not matched with Jack based on looks.)

Jack hadn't had much success as a real estate agent, and seemed to be a "bumbling" type . . . but he seriously wanted to make his trophy wife very happy.  They lived in a high rise downtown (very chic for early 1980's).  Jack and the trophy had planned to go deep sea fishing with us, too.

As Rachel and I were getting ready to go to bed early the night before the big fishing trip, as we had to be at Captain Elliott's by 5am, we got the strangest phone call from Jack and the trophy.  Jack mumbled to me that his wife wanted to speak to me, and she tore the phone away from him and shrieked into the receiver:

"WHY WON'T YOU LET MY HUSBAND SELL HOUSES???"  (she was crying and screaming)

"WHY WON'T YOU LET MY HUSBAND LIST HOUSES???"  (Rachel could hear her across the living room)

She screamed her questions through (what I believe to be seriously drunken) sobs over and over again. Rachel and I were horrified and just stared at each other!  What in the world???

We had a great time deep sea fishing the next day . . . Rachel put her line out and caught a 75 pound ling fish and won the prize (the first catch of the day)!  Mitch Gaspard, my long-time friend, attorney, and avid fisherman, caught many king fish.  (He's gone fishing this weekend to Louisiana.)  Our friends Ronnie, Tanya, and Eddie Cheese caught so many red snappers we had to divide them up so as not to be over our limit.  We had a marvelous time!

We never saw Jack and the trophy again.  He never came back.  However, about 3 months later, he called me one day and said that he'd gotten a job working for Mac Haik Chevrolet, and wanted to bring a fleet of new Chevys over to demo to our agents.  Really, Jack?  No thanks . . . (now if he'd been selling Cadillacs . . . hmmmm . . . )

So it's Memorial Weekend and I wish I was fishing; thus, I'm remembering "the one that got away!"  Yes, there are lots of "crazy agent" stories out there.  I know that much of my reading audience is Realtors . . . so what's your craziest agent story?  (Rachel and I laugh about this one to this day!)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Memorial Weekend is coming up . . . and I need a vacation . . .

But take a moment to remember and give thanks

Yes, it's Memorial Day . . . and here in Houston and Pearland, it's the "transition" period from Spring to Summer.  It's time to go to the Beach, or get in the pool.  (I've remodeled my pool with new heater, gas line, flagstone coping, sparkly plaster, colored LED lights, automatic fill line . . . and now it's time to use it!)  I even have my little RV trailer parked down in Galveston so that I can go to the beach anytime I want, too.

But I don't do it.  Instead, I'm working like crazy in this frantic real estate market, which is chock-full of issues -- high prices, low appraisals, low inventory, high demand, tight lending -- all the things that keep me on my toes . . . and not on vacation.

"You work too hard, Mr. Ferreri," she says, "you should take a vacation."  Great for her to say, but hard for me to do.  Why do I work myself so hard that by the time I take a vacation, I'm too tired to enjoy it?  I'm a workaholic . . . it's an addiction.  But this is all off point.

It's Memorial Day . . . which means a few days off for most of us.  But what about the brave men and women who've died in the Armed Forces?  What about those who risk life and limb in some of these God-forsaken places that they're stationed in?  THEY need a vacation -- a break from all that.  I should shut up and quit whining . . . working hard in this country is far easier than what our brave service men and women risk every day in some horrible places on earth.  For them, I am thankful.  For them, I celebrate freedom!

And so . . . as I enjoy my newly remodeled pool . . . my little RV . . . and my day off . . . I will stop and remember what Memorial Day is really for.  And give thanks that there are brave soles who willingly die for me to have freedom and a day off.  I hope you'll stop and remember them, too.  And enjoy your day off . . . and the accompanying BBQ.

God Bless all of you for reading . . . God Bless all of our service men and women . . . God Bless America.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Think all Listing Agents are The Same??? Read what happened just yesterday . . .

Lazy Realtor causes Seller to Lose -- Read this before you list!

You won't believe how this played out!  When you list your home for sale with a Realtor, that agent has a duty to present all written offers to you.  In today's market, "multiple offers" are becoming the norm.

Don't hire a lazy Realtor

So, our buyers team places an offer on another Realtor's MLS listing on Sunday.  The listing agent told Jose (our buyer agent) that although his offer looked to be the best one, that she had already sent another to the seller for signatures in Las Vegas, but they had not yet signed it! The next day, the lower offer was signed by the poor sellers, who probably didn't even know of our higher, better offer!  Did this lazy listing agent care??? NO!  She just wanted any offer accepted because multiple offers cause a lot of work!  Sheesh!

Yesterday, also, we processed 4 listings with multiple offers -- one is still not accepted and more offers are forthcoming.  Yes, it would be much easier to simply refuse any more offers; however, our duty to the seller is to present all offers until the seller tells us to stop.  This can lead to "bidding wars" with sales prices going OVER the list prices, which is a great benefit to our clients, the sellers.

Proven Marketing Strategy
MORAL OF THIS STORY?  A good listing agent can get you the most; a lazy listing agent can cost you money.  What kind of listing agent do YOU want to hire?

Note:  When you hire TheSamTeam to represent you in the sale of your home, we won't stop until you tell us.  We'll always work in your best interest, and we have the resources and skills to handle multiple offers.  Our proven marketing strategy has helped us sell over 8,000 homes.  Call 832-200-5656.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Of all the real estate complaints, Appraisals seem to be the primary issue right now

What's the difference?  An appraisal is an appraisal, isn't it???

I began appraising in the last big housing crash of the mid 1980's, when the (then) Veterans Administration (now The Department of Veterans Affairs, a cabinet position) started accumulating great numbers of repossessed condos in Houston.  This was a new phenomenon, because condos really didn't exist much in Houston prior to the late 1970's.  But US Home - the then #1 marketer of the $1 move-in for veterans - began to build $75,000 condos all over Houston.  By the time they foreclosed, they were worth pennies on the dollar.  And the VA needed help.  So, they called me to take on this project.

It was amazing how fast these values plummeted from nearly $100,000 to next-to-nothing.  In fact, the joke in the Houston market was (at the time), what do condos and herpes have in common?  That's right, you can't get rid of either one!  Ugh.....what an analogy.....and I took it on (the condos, that is)!

After a while, it wasn't just condos, everything started going bad and homes repossessed quickly and the government's inventory began to swell.  And I took on more projects.  Part of the assignment was to reappraise each and every one of the inventory that we accumulated.

Appraisals at that time only required a real estate license, and I'd had my broker's license since age 18 (having obtained my Salesman's license at 17).  As the Savings and Loan industry failed, the federal government looked for ways to stabilize the real estate industry and found a fatal flaw in appraisers.  So, they created the Appraisal Foundation, a national organization charged with writing Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice and implementing federal requirements for appraisals, which meant licensing and certifying appraisers through a separate state agency through the state real estate commissions.  Texas created the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board (TALCB) which offered license, residential certifications, general certifications, and apprenticeships.  Because I'd taught every appraisal course offered and had been appraising VA's for years, I met the qualifications to become a State Certified Residential Appraiser . . . took a state-issued test, and was then a state certified appraiser -- one of the first.

I later took on small commercial appraisal assignments for my banker buddies, Bill Sellers and Don Harding, and Merchants Park Bank.  As long as the loan amount was under $250,000, I could (under my certification) perform these commercial appraisals.  I soon accumulated enough experience hours to apply for my General Certification . . . took another test, and I hold this highest appraisal certification available today.  (Bill and Don left Merchants Park Bank and opened their own bank, 1st Choice Bank. They had to repossess my Suburban when I moved to Pearland, but also made me a $2,000 loan to buy an old Oldsmobile that I called "old father."  They later financed the construction of my own office building where RE/MAX Top Realty is located today, Beltway & 288, on the edge of Houston and Pearland.  They've since both retired, and I miss them greatly.  They were/are good friends of mine.)

One thing I know about appraisals, however, is that they are simply "opinions" with value estimates derived from complicated procedures that must be adhered to.  There is a large margin of error, based on the appraiser's competency, experience, and overall mindset.  With this much lee-way, there is room for error.  And when we're in a volatile market of sharply increasing or decreasing values, appraisers are challenged to a new level.

I am amused by how many people believe that little letter they receive each year from the county appraisal district as "the gospel" of their home's value.  It's not . . . that is an assessed value for tax purpose only.  Each appraisal is designed for a specific use, user, purpose, and scope of work.  They are NOT just a valuation.  Thus, depending on the intended use, the value can fluctuate greatly.

In home sales, an appraiser typically seeks some definition of "market value."  However, every lender or secondary market defines "market value" the way THEY want it defined!  Thus, it's very easy to get two appraisals of the same property with great variance in the final reported opinion of value.  Crazy, right?

From a Realtor's perspective, it's even crazier.  We get some listings that get 5 offers in the first 3 days, with the highest being above the list price!  Shouldn't real estate be a "supply and demand" driven commodity?  Shouldn't the value be "the highest price a buyer will pay and the lowest price a seller will take?"  Or should it be "the most probable price a buyer will pay and the lowest price a seller will take?"  That depends on the stated scope of work in the appraisal order . . . something we're not privy to as agents.

Confused?  You should be.  Everyone is, including the lenders and the appraisers and your Realtor.
 Best advice is to listen to your Realtor.  Sometimes appraisers help a real estate transaction, and sometimes they hurt it.  If you get a bad appraisal, it's probably best to move on to another appraisal (except in the cases of VA and FHA loans).  So, the loans that saved our industry over the last 4 years, are becoming less prevalent in today's home sale business, as conventional (ie, non-FHA and non-VA) lending become more prevalent due to easier appraisal guidelines.

When in doubt, hire a Realtor with extra knowledge in the field of appraisals or lending to help get your sale to the closing table.  And, of course, I'd like that to be The Sam Team at RE/MAX Top Realty!

Appraisal questions?  Fire away!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Breathe Easy

iStock_000020770516XSmall.jpgThe benefits of regularly changing the heating and air-conditioning filters are obvious to homeowners; the real challenge is creating a system to make sure it gets done. 

A reasonable schedule would be to replace it with a new one-inch pleated filter every 60-90 days. Households with shedding pets should consider replacing them every month. Some people change their filters every month when they pay their electric bills.  A simple system would be to set a recurring appointment on your calendar like Outlook or Google.

Filters trap dust, mold and bacteria which can directly affect the air quality and play havoc with your allergies. When a filter is dirty, it prevents proper airflow and allows dust, dirt and allergens to blow through your home. Changing your filter regularly helps to avoid maintenance, improves equipment life and produces increased energy savings.

When shopping for filters, it’s understandable to look for the best bargain but the cheapest price may not be the best choice. When purchasing, recognize that HEPA-rated and HEPA-type filters are not the same thing. HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. A HEPA filter meets or exceeds standards for efficiency set by the U.S. Department of Energy. Most HVAC contractors recommend HEPA filters.

Some filters need to be changed monthly and other types have manufacturer recommendations of every three months. An alternative to disposable filters are the permanent, washable types. These will cost more initially but because you can clean them and re-use them, eventually, you’ll recapture the cost and realize savings.


Pearland Broker Gives Summer Advice to Realtors . . .

Store Yours Nuts!

Ah, the real estate business!  "Work your own hours!"  "Be your own Boss!"  "You love houses and people??? You, too, should become a Realtor!"

How many of those have your heard or fallen for?  Hmmm, let's see....my own hours . . . does that calculate to 24/7?  My own boss . . . does that mean I don't have to answer to my buyers and sellers when things don't go their way?  And after 38 years, houses are simply commodities to me, though I still enjoy engaging with people . . . nice people, that is.  There's a bumper sticker that says, "Mean People Suck."  Harsh, though often true.

But did you know that there are typically 6.5 "peak" months in the real estate year?  The other 5.5 are "valley" months, so a Realtor has to learn to "spread his/her income out" to pay the bills and maintain some sort of semblance of the status quo.  Easier said than done.  Most agents live very well and love the real estate business 6.5 months out of the year.  The other months . . . well . . . they "suck it in" and pray for a return of the peak.

Since real estate is not the "people and house" business that everyone thinks, there are indeed some strategies that a Realtor can employ to live without the constants income "peaks and valleys."

First of all, learn that real estate is a task business.  And some of the best Realtors are very task-oriented.  There are two basic tasks in this most basic of businesses -- generate and convert leads.  And although basic, it's not easy.  In fact, it can be quite challenging and there is a great learning curve, despite the ease and speed of getting a real estate license.

One of the things I coach agents on in our complete Agent Development Program is to "store your
nuts."  Like a squirrel gets ready for winter, so should a Realtor prepare for the 5.5 months of less-than-stupendous marketing times.  Contrary to popular belief, there is not a steady stream of buyers in all price ranges at all times, though sellers expect that from their Realtor and become grumpy when they don't get it!  So, the "store your nuts" philosophy is not only a strategy for dealing with income peaks and valleys, but also market condition changes and handling buyers and sellers through those periods.

"Store your nuts" also refers to planning your marketing peaks and valleys to "even out" the market times -- through the slow and fast-paced months.  How do you do it?

I've been helping agents with these issues for years, but now I'm making it part of the RE/MAX Top Realty Agent Development System, "Develop + Act + Measure = BOOM!"  (DAMB for short!)  It's planning and implementing the systems and strategies from the old coaching program, "From Broke Realtor to Rich Realtor" which I've now shared online with those agents savvy enough to sign up for it (for FREE).  (And there are over 350 of those agents.)

Interested in our DAMB program?  Join us At The Top and learn to Store YOUR Nuts!

If not, what do you do to ensure your success during those 5.5 valley months?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pearland Realtor LOVES Beazer Homes, and other Builders.....BUT!!!

Some Builders are Silly-Willy

I lost sleep last night
With my pillow -- I'd fight.
The market is tough
There's no need to get rough.

There are GOOD Builders!
I thought I'd write a few silly rhymes this morning because I've been ordered to "cease and desist" from using a particular builder's real name in any marketing.  So, I'll just call them "Fairy Gnomes."  (You know them by another name, but I've been ordered not to say it.)

All of the local builders -- including Fairy Gnomes, solicit our business at RE/MAX Top Realty.  They regularly bring us food, host us at Open Houses, bring inventory/pricing sheets and offer us commissions (+ bonuses some times) for bringing buyers to their communities and selling their products.  But the certified demand letter yesterday from "Fairy Gnomes" has baffled me to a new level.

It's no secret that I live in a Beazer Home that I purchased over 13 years ago -- and I love it!  I also love the relationship I've built with some of the Beazer sales managers, staff, and crew over the years.  We have worked together to sell many close-out neighborhoods and some new inventory homes in some of their newer neighborhoods!  In fact, we have some great deals in Pearland, specifically Spring Meadow and The Preserve at Highland Glen -- brand new Beazer homes from the $180's!

But one of our Top Agents wrote a blog post about how terrific "Fairy Gnomes" is.  Here is an excerpt:  "Fairy Gnomes is one of the largest and most respected home builders in Texas.  They offer many beautiful homes in many desirable neighborhoods . . . ."  So . . . what does Fairy do?  They send a certified "cease and desist" letter!

Here is an excerpt:  "Neither [your agent] nor Re/Max Top Realty [sic] is authorized to advertise services for Fairy Gnomes or properties owned by Fairy Gnomes in any publication or website.  We hereby demand that you cease and desist this unauthorized advertising of Fairy Gnomes."  (They go on to threaten legal action!)  ARE YOU KIDDING ME, FAIRY GNOMES???  Then stay out of my office with your offers of entrapment.  Do not spam me or my agents any longer with your lures to get us and our buyers to your communities!

There are too many GOOD BUILDERS out there to work with -- we don't need Fairy Gnomes.  Want
Watch May 31 Issue!
to know who the good ones are?  Call RE/MAX Top Realty . . . all the other builders welcome us, our clients, and our advertising........including my friends at Beazer!   They want the support and buyers from one of the Houston Business Journal's Top Residential Brokerage Firms!  (yes, that's a plug for us!)

MORAL OF THIS STORY?  Yes, you need a Realtor to help you when buying a new home.  Your Top Agent at RE/MAX Top Realty will help you consider a lot of different options, keeping an eye on the resale potential down the road.  (How often am I hired to sell a home that someone bought from a builder without a Realtor?  Too often . . . and I can tell!!!  Don't be that person!)  Call your Top Realtor today at RE/MAX Top Realty . . . find the GOOD builders!  Get a Great Home -- new or resale from TheTopOffice.com.

(Am I missing something here?  I am baffled.  I keep re-reading their letter and our agent's blog . . . what do YOU think?)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Restaurant Business -- My ticket to bankruptcy!

"The man who chases two rabbits catches neither." -Confucius

After mother died, I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands, but was paying my bills handling HUD and VA homes for the government.  But that didn't fill my day.  And we lived right across the street from 2 guys who had a flower shop and frankly, did beautiful work.  I was using their services to send floral gifts to my clients, as I had accumulated a few newly formed "Federal Savings Banks" clients.  (These were what the government renamed the S&L's after their failure.  Oh.....did I mention that JR McConnell caused many S&L's to fail, which led to the collapse of the entire industry?  What a time!

Nonetheless, they realized that what I did best was sell houses . . . and so the government hired me to sell assets for the failed thrifts in these new organizations.  And I sent them lavish flower arrangements, designed by the highly talented Craig Starling and delivered by his partner, Matt Parsons.

To make a long story short, Craig and Matt had decided to go into the gourmet coffee business, way before there was a Starbucks in town......this was a brand new concept.  So they put together 3 sets of partners -- themselves, Rachel and myself, and two lesbians whose names I simply cannot remember.  We all put up a couple of thousand dollars, met with coffee dealers, and soon enough, we opened the Java Java Cafe on 11th Street (in The Heights) which is still in its original location today.  (Matt is the sole owner now, I believe.)

Boy, was it fun starting and running a restaurant -- at first.  We developed recipes, learned to run a commercial kitchen, learned to hire/fire staff, learned that cafe cooks typically learn their craft in prison, pay your staff on Monday or you'll have no help on the busy weekends, and much much more!  It was indeed a lesson in life and business.  The Java Java was so cute and such fun that I found myself hanging out there every day and night, and not tending to my real estate business.

Consequently, it didn't take long before all the partners started bickering and fighting, my income plummeted because I wasn't paying attention to my work, Rachel and I separated and divorced, the lesbians had to go, and on and on.  What we thought we were building -- a long-term lifestyle -- we were actually destroying.  I accept full responsibility for that.

After the demise of the lesbians, then the remaining partners began to quibble because the restaurant simply did not provide enough money to support all of us.  Without going into details, let me just say that Rachel and I walked out one day, got a little of our investment back, and, thanks to Jeanne Leach and Steve Goodson, settled out our ownership and went on with our separate lives.  I had ventured down to Pearland to work for Mary Starr, so that I wouldn't be near the Java Java anymore and I could focus on rebuilding my real estate business.

When I got to Pearland -- my Suburban had been repossessed and I was flat broke.  There were two reasons I didn't file bankruptcy -- Jeanne wasn't certified to do it and I couldn't afford to pay a lawyer.  (I should mention what a life-friend Jeanne has been -- she wasn't a divorce lawyer either, but she helped Rachel and I with our divorce for free -- and the judge approved it without a snag.  Jeanne remains closely in our lives to this day with a fee office of First American Title and handles our closings.  She is a gem of a human being, as is Bill, her big bear of a husband!  I love them and their family, too!)

Putting blinders on, I went to work in Pearland and built the "Pearland Sam" brand into a household
word.  And now, I share how I did that in my one-on-one FREE coaching for agents entitled, "From Broke Realtor to Rich Realtor."  (The program is new, excellent, and currently being revised.)  But it requires work and dedication.  The strategy is to work yourself out of debt and stress, like I did.  And now, my company, RE/MAX Top Realty, will be recognized by the Houston Business Journal as one of the Top Residential Brokerage Firms in the Houston Area on May 31.

MORAL OF THIS STORY, though it's a true story, not a fable:  Stick to what you know.  Focus.  And remember that everyone (yes, even you) thinks they can run the perfect restaurant.  Rethink that.

Want to join my free coaching program?  www.Facebook.com/groups/RichRealtor

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This all started because of Mothers Day!

But it continues because of My Mother

"It's a brain aneurysm that leaked a little," began Dr. Kim.  "The recovery can be on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being death, and 7 being full recovery.  We have no way of knowing until months after the surgery."

I was 29 years old, had a pregnant wife, a crumbling business, the FBI going through my files and records, and my mother -- my mentor -- in intensive care.  "Old Friends" of mine came out of the woodwork to suddenly want to be in my life again . . . until Joe Balson (my attorney) told world-famous private investigator Clyde Wilson to "keep these guys away from me."  I never heard from them again.  Crazy?  Yes it was!

Rachel and Katie circa 1987
One minute, Rachel and I -- who were doing honest work, by the way for one of Houston's most celebrated socialites -- were on top of the world; the next day, the world began to fall apart.  Frankly, I am certain it was the stress of a baby and of the mess we found ourselves in that caused Mother's aneurysm.  (It had nothing to do with the fact that she smoked 3 packs of Parliament 100's per day and drank a case of J&B scotch per week and fried everything in hog's lard.....no no no.)  It was the stress!

Thankfully, Mother was cognizant enough to sign the consent form for the brain surgery.  If I'd made that decision, I would never be able to forgive myself for what that poor woman went through for the next year and a half.  It was a 2.  (Remember the scale of 1-7?)  2.  One number above death.  She lived on her deathbed -- in and out of intensive care -- for a year and a half.  She never regained her memory, her ability to walk, or smoked another cigarette, though she did pretend with the straws on her lunch and dinner trays!

For that year and a half, Mother went from ICU at Heights Hospital, to rehab at Memorial Northwest, to TIRR, to Skilled Nursing, back to ICU at Heights and Memorial Northwest over and over and over again, never regaining any cognizant reasoning skills.  I went to the hospital every day and hand-fed her because she couldn't feed herself.  Every day, every meal.  The nurses simply didn't have time for a level 5 care patient.

On April 7, 1987, about a year and a month before Mother died, Katie was born.  She gave all of us a renewed spirit, a drive to keep at it.  At one point, I had Rachel in Heights Hospital having a C-section, and Mother in Memorial Northwest ICU fighting for her life . . . and me bouncing between the two.  (Fortunately, that's about a 10 minute drive!)

Work kept me going.  My friends at the VA and at HUD continued to assign properties to me for management and sale, and I had shut down most of my business and was working out of my home and taking care of my girls.  I'd say I became a man in 1987.  Interestingly, at the time, I weighed in at about 350-375 pounds . . . but I got motivated to lose weight for the first time in my life.

I joined the Downtown YMCA and went every morning at 5am and worked out until about 10am.  Yes, 5 hours per day, 7 days a week.  The stress relief that it brought me was remarkable!  I lost over 150 lbs and shrunk to about 215 and was in marathon shape.  The support from the other members of the Y was incredible, and they even put my picture on the wall in the downstairs gym!  And I rode the MS 150 3 years in a row and competed in 2 or 3 Biathlons (run-bike-run) and was featured in a local magazine, "Human Powered Sports" (now defunct).  Go figure!  (I did tell Katie and her husband Travis just last night that they can now sell my racing bikes in their upcoming garage sale.)

On May 18, 1988, my "Aunt" Joni, one of Mother's long-time best friends who had helped me through a lot of this, told me that I needed to focus on my new daughter and not go to the hospital every day.  I needed to ween off to every other day.....and she was right.  So, on that day, I spent my last hour with my Mother trying to get her to play checkers with me and watching the 3:00 "million dollar movie" on Channel 13.  That afternoon's movie was ironically entitled, "Death by Natural Causes."

So I didn't go to the hospital on May 19.

About 1am on May 20, my telephone was ringing incessantly, waking Rachel and I from a sound sleep.  Jumping out of bed on the third or fourth try, I answered to find out that Mother wasn't breathing, and that she was being intubated at Heights Hospital.  "NO, I screamed!  Don't do it!  I'll be right there!"

Rachel and I grabbed the baby, threw on clothes, ran to Heights (we only lived about 3 blocks away on 17th Street) and got there just as they were wheeling Mother into an elevator and were hand-bagging her (a term for manually pumping her lungs with air).  "STOP IT NOW," I screamed.  "Don't do it!  Let her go!"

"Well, since we've already intubated her, we can't stop now," the nurse told me.

"Yes you can," I shouted.  "Get the head of this _____ hospital down here immediately and let God take her.  She's been through too much!  Stop!  I demand that you stop and let her go! Call Dr. Choi!"  Dr. Choi was the kindest, smartest doctor we encountered through the whole process -- I'll never forget him.  (I'll also never forget the time we were trying to get Mother to talk . . . Dr. Choi came into the room, and I asked, "Mother, do you know who this is?"  She shook her head "yes."  Then she spoke, "Dr. Chink.")  (Really, Mom?  The only words you spoke???  To the nicest man in the world?)  Even he got a chuckle out of that one!

"Well let me call the doctor.  Now wait up on 5."

When they finally let me into the room with her, Dr. Choi arrived, but they had removed the tube.  She passed peacefully, and Dr. Choi teared up a little and said, "I could have done more."  To which I asked rhetorically, "and bring her back to what, Dr. Choi?"  We all agreed.  She was better off now.

We were all in a better place.  Life got better after that . . . and today?  I simply say, "bring on your best shot."

As I am finishing writing this blog episode, the feelings I went through during that period have all come back to me 100%.  Tears are streaming down my face and I prepare myself for the easy day ahead.  I have a beautiful smart daughter and equally handsome son-in-law, a thriving business, and good people around me.  If you're still reading at this point, you know that you're one of the good people around me.  For you, I am grateful.  I love you dearly.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"$2,000 a month? Wow! We're Rich!" The saga continues......

Rachel was hired by JR McConnell

It was March 1982 and my sister-in-law, Debbie, called me one day and asked if I'd like to go on a blind date with a cute girl at work.  Being 350 pounds and just on the rebound from a devastating relationship, I only asked if the girl was comfortable with big, fat men.  Debbie assured me that she was, so I agreed to meet them all for dinner, drinks, and an evening of checking each other out.  We were married February 12, 1983.

Debbie and Rachel were both loan processors for (then) San Jacinto Savings where one of there customers was multi-millionaire builder/developer, JR McConnell.  JR had come from Florida with his wife and the shirt on his back.  He started buying old houses and built a huge empire that culminated with the redevelopment of The Strand in Galveston and the acquisition of The Grand Hotel (on the northeast corner of Westheimer and 610 . . . now something else, but it eludes me).  Rachel called me one day and told me that JR's "people" had offered her a job paying $2,000 per month.  (I believe at that time she was making $1,100 per month, the going rate for a loan processor.)  Wow!  That was big money, and we were both so excited for her!  (Interestingly, I had purchased a building at 6th and Heights to move my office into with owner financing by JR.  It had been listed with another Realtor.)

Soon, JR liked Rachel and offered me the position to sell a huge quantity of houses he had acquired in what was later called in federal briefs, "cash for trash" transactions.  Apparently, the Savings and Loans were having huge numbers of foreclosures which was threatening their existence.  It was the beginning of Reaganomics, and Reagan de-regulated the S&L's so that they could compete with banks.  But their balance sheets were overloaded with non-performing assets (the foreclosures).  So JR and the banks devised a scheme where JR purchased all of the banks' foreclosures -- at book value -- which made them appear very solvent.  Then, in exchange, they made him large loans to keep his building/developing ongoing.  "Cash for trash" became a keyword in the huge lawsuits that were later filed and in the ultimate demise of the S&L industry!  

And me, I was hired by JR to sell all those homes to basically anyone who would meet some very minimum credit standards.  My fee was 4% -- 2% at closing, and 2% over 12 months.  But I had hundreds and hundreds of easy-to-sell listings and a remodeling crew at my disposal.

As it turned out, the whole empire was a giant ponzi scheme.  The "cash" from the S&L's went to try to pay past due bills.  The S&L's were holding the financing on the homes, yet we were selling them with insured first liens from Federal Title Company.  When Reaganomics finally kicked in and runaway inflation fell and interest rates collapsed, so did JR's empire.  So did the entire S&L industry!  No more cash was available and it all started to crumble.  That's what happens in ponzi schemes.  It was so large, that no one person could figure it all out.  And when they arrested JR, he electrocuted himself in jail.

For the next several years, many of the "players" in that ponzi scheme -- including most of JR's employees, the bankers, and especially the title company -- were indicted, tried, charged in a RICO case (organized crime), and some went bankrupt and some went to prison.

Rachel and I were investigated by Clyde Wilson, the federal government, Ticor, and others, and were found to be "exemplary" as claimed by HUD.  We had stayed completely out of the illegal activities and were, frankly, completely naive to what was going on until the end when it crumbled.  And we were owed $250,000.  (After years of bankruptcy, we received $500 of that from the court!)

And mother was stressed and had an aneurysm.  Rachel was pregnant and delivered Katie.  And I shut down my ERA franchise and stuck to VA foreclosure work as an Area Management Broker.  But then we went into the coffee business with 4 partners.  Want to know about the Java Java Cafe?  We opened it before anyone in Houston ever heard about Starbucks.  And it's still in its original location on 11th Street in the Heights, though we've not had anything to do with it in many, many years.  And I should have learned then to stay out of partnerships!  (I have learned now.)

And who remembers the JR McConnell scandal?  It was quite the media circus in those days.  Got questions?  I'll try to remember what I can now 27 years later.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Whose Commission Is It?

home price.pngOne of the most common reasons buyers want to deal directly with the seller is because they feel they can save the commission. It’s a valid consideration but interestingly, it’s the same reason the seller isn’t employing an agent.

Both parties cannot save the commission. The buyer feels they have earned it because they’ve had to find the home, determine its value and negotiate with the seller. They had to arrange their own financing, title and inspections.

The seller equally feels that they have earned the commission because they too have had to research value, financing and title work.  They have incurred all of the marketing expenses and have invested hours upon hours to be available to show the property, hold open houses and answer inquiries. 

There is certainly value in all of the things that buyers and sellers are willing to do.  However, only one person can save the commission assuming the buyer and seller can reach a written agreement.

The Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey reports that 14% of sales were For-Sale-by-Owners in 2003 and 2004 compared to just 9% in 2012. The trend shows that agent-assisted sales rose to 88% in 2012 from 82% in 2004.

The three most difficult tasks identified by for-sale-by-owners is attracting potential buyers, getting the price right and understanding and performing the paperwork. When surveyed, sellers most value the home selling in an anticipated time frame and for an expected amount.

Experienced, third-party advocates helping buyers and sellers is a valuable contribution to the transaction which may determine whose commission it is.

The girl loved her cigarettes

Parliament 100's, that is!

I'm talking about my mother, the late Lou Johnston (as she was last known).  Since yesterday was Mother's Day, I've been thinking a lot about the old girl and what a wild ride we had at the end of her life.

Mother and I had been estranged for many years, from when I was about 7 years old until I was 16.   Yes, we spent some weekends together, but mostly I lived with my father and step-mother, Margie, who turns 80 today!  (Happy Birthday, Mama!)  But after I graduated from Conroe High School, I moved back to Houston and lived with my mother while I attended Houston Baptist University where I earned my Bachelor's degree.

In 1978, and a sophomore at HBU, I opened my first real estate company.  (I mentioned this recently in a broker/owner meeting and Eric Gage, that nice young man who owns RE/MAX Cityview, blurted out, "1978?  That's the year I was born!"  But ok, I'll still consider him my friend, albeit whippersnapper!

Nonetheless, in 1981, I purchased an ERA franchise, moved my office to North Shepherd in The Heights, and Mother came to work with me.  I later married Rachel, and we bought a property on 6th Street that we moved our offices into . . . and Rachel and I moved into a garage apartment in the back.  In 1986, all hell broke loose and life changed completely.

First of all, Rachel got pregnant (with Katie, as it turned out).  My mother was unnaturally stressed over the issue, as though it was her baby.......a little weird.  Also that year, Rachel's employer, JR McConnell, and from whom we had purchased the property on 6th Street, filed bankruptcy and his huge criminal empire was suddenly revealed.  This was a man who had hobnobbed all over Galveston, Houston, Memorial, and with the most elite of people.  But he was a huge crook.  And his empire crumbled, and he was arrested.  Within weeks, he killed himself in jail.

He died owing us over $250,000 . . . leaving my empire to crumble, too.  On November 8, 1986, Mother had left the office to go home, but about 30 minutes later was found stumbling about in the parking lot.  We got her inside where she was nauseous and dizzy, and called an ambulance.  The paramedics came and said they could find nothing wrong with her!  So I called her personal friend, a physician by the name of Dr. Kantis, who told me to take her to the nearest Emergency Room.  So the ambulance drivers helped me put her into my car, and I drove her to Heights Hospital.

After much testing, and to make a long story short, the next day we learned that she'd suffered a brain aneurysm.  I was 29 years old with a pregnant wife and a crumbling business.  We really didn't know what to do.

There is so much to this story, that I'll have to blog it in parts.  Some of it still hurts, and it has molded me into the man I am today.  Stay tuned for some crazy events . . . so crazy, that you know they're true (no one could make up the stories you'll read!).

Friday, May 10, 2013

I dropped my iPhone in the Pool!

The iPhone -- Blessing or Curse?

Man is God's perfect creation, exactly what He wanted us to be.  We Christians believe that we are so imperfect and never measure up to God's expectations, so He sent us His son.....to make us whole.  And now, He's sent us the iPhone, which, when fully engaged by man, is the missing link for man to connect to His perfect world.  And so, when it's carelessly damaged, is it a sin?  A desecration of the body?

That's how I feel this morning.  I have sinned.  I have desecrated one of God's blessings.

I've been remodeling my pool -- a "two week" process that has taken five weeks.  (I expected that.)  But as we're getting to the end, there were two things missing from the final completion -- the beautiful LED light show and the automatic fill line.

So when I came home yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised by the LED lights -- they are, indeed, beautiful.  But the "southern-engineered" automatic pool fill was an attempt at making it slightly better than a water hose stretching across the yard.  I had tried (several times) to explain to the pool contractor that a small hose bib could be retrofitted onto the manual pool fill line so that I could put a foot-long hose from that bib to the side-sitting pool-fill device ($60 at Pool Warehouse).  He said that he'd "hard-pipe" it in.  He did alright.  With twenty-five feet of PVC built above ground across my patio!  A sure death-trap for summer fun.  (Somebody -- namely myself -- will end up tripping over that hazard and busting their buns on the deck!)

How silly looking, I thought.  So Jose came to see the strangely built device and I told him that there's a little fill line hole in the side of the pool that this could have been attached to.  Still dressed in my suit from the office, I bent over the pool to find the little hole.  PLOP.  My iPhone fell out of my coat pocket right into the pool.  Jose pulled his keys, wallet and iPhone out of his pockets and jumped in -- fully clothed -- to rescue the phone before it hit the bottom of the pool as I gasped in amazement!

But he pulled it right out and was soaked to the bone -- and it was cold outside and in the pool -- and he ran to change into warm clothes while I just stood there.

The phone appeared to work.  I rushed it inside and dried it off -- even used a blow-dryer.  (I have one for the dog, not for my little bit of hair . . . I know what you were thinking!)  Then I tried to make a call.  Everything worked except that I couldn't hear.  The ear-speaker-thingy apparently shorted out.  But the speakerphone worked.

I never buy phone insurance, but when I upgraded to the iPhone 5, I'd bought it!  So, I called AT&T to get a replacement.....3-5 days + $199 deductible.  :-(  Well, I thought, I can live with a speaker phone for a few days.  But this morning, it didn't charge up.  It's not working.  Is this God's wrath for my sin?  I don't mean to sound blasphemous, but this little device runs my life.  Connections (even to the church), calendars, emails, texts, apps, everything.

So, I'll spend the next several days in deep repentance.  Pray for me.  Maybe I'll see that God wants me to disconnect with technology, and reconnect with Him.  Maybe this is a sign that the iPhone wasn't a blessing, but more of a curse.  Clearly, I'm confused.

What is it?  Blessing?  or Curse?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Proud Pearlander Proclaims: "Instagram Packs a Punch!"

People like Pictures

Prolific propaganda?  Petty painting?  Pretty photo?   Ok, enough of the alliteration . . . I've overused the p . . . (the risk of a blogger with kidney failure).

But I can't help myself.  When the pinheaded pirate built whatever-you-call-it next door to us (and practically on top of us), I began looking for ways to regain our visibility on Beltway 8.  Yes, some prankster bought the 6 acres adjacent to our RE/MAX Top Realty building and has begun construction on some kind of office/warehouse that is the poorest design on the beltway.  And he blocked our view!

But he didn't block our dumpster . . . so, since it needed a coat of paint, I thought, "why not paint it with a RE/MAX theme in red, white and blue?"  So, Robert-the-handyman bought some paint and went to work.  And our innocuous little dumpster enclosure -- which has been there for 10 years, like
Artist Rendition of New Signage - Soon at The Top!
the building -- became a "RE/MAX" masterpiece!  And then my friend Rick-the-sign-man came up with some lettering for the white space yesterday, making this look seriously RE/MAX!

So, I "instagrammed" [is that a verb?] it yesterday afternoon . . . over 50 "likes" so far!  I don't get 50 likes for anything . . . but I learned that people really do like pictures.  Someone even questioned if that's really our dumpster!  Now, a "dumpster-with-a-purpose."  Had to have a p . . . "pumpster" wouldn't work!

Well, I've had fun with this photo . . . and with p'ing this morning.  (An appropriate point for p's as we approach Mother's Day, because my mother always told me, "never trust anyone whose profession begins with a p . . . politicians, preachers, pimps, prostitutes, painters, paperhangers, plumbers, etc.  lol! RIP, Ma.)  Oh well, I had fun writing this . . . happy mother's day!  I hope I didn't p you off!

So . . . what "P"-word comes to your mind?   Please Post Your P!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Google is Getting Ahead of Me . . . Way Too Fast!

What is/are Ripples?  Does it/do they have Ridges?

So I've been working in the RE/MAX LeadStreet system for years and years . . . and it has been a relatively complete program for Realtors.  Then, social media starts to heat up and Facebook and Google seem to be in some kind of race.  (In fact I blogged about that earlier this month.)  So I've been "digging in" to see what lies in store for those of us Realtor-geeks that can't seem to get enough online presence.

Irises from Instagram Yesterday
And while social media sites keep getting more popular -- especially Facebook, Twitter, Google+Linked In , YouTube, and Instagram -- some emerging themes for social marketing continue to dominate my thinking.

The first of these is "images."  Photos seem to be the universal "like" for all the sites.  Everyone likes to look at photos, probably why Instagram is so popular.  I don't use Linked In very much, but I understand it has some powerful business applications.  Currently, my favorite for business is Google+. And so, as the title of this article suggests, everytime I go to Google's business sites, there's something new.  Ripples, Hangouts, Badge, Enterprise, Apps, Platform, Sites, etc etc etc.  When I start reading the "what for's," I quickly learn that I'm behind the curve.  I'm not a geek.  I'm not a techie.  I'm a Realtor.  But I'm definitely "in" to marketing.

So the second part of this mind domination effect involves "social interaction."  This is nothing new . . .  it's been discussed since Facebook grew from college kids to peeps my age.  [like the term, "peeps?"]  But it seems to be a trend that isn't going away.

The third part is "information on demand."  Nobody wants your email drip campaigns anymore.  I certainly don't want any!  They clog my inbox with cyber-garbage.  But I've also been teaching "page building" in LeadStreet . . . and many of us have filled the Google space (oops, there's another one) . . . so let's just say - cyber-space - with lots of cyber-garbage pages, too.  My bad!  This "used to work."

Notice when you "Google-search" anything at all, there are 100,000,000,000,000,000 different choices, only 10 of which are on the first page.  So we learned to be in the top 10, but what is it getting us?  The consumer is using our sites, but not converting on our cyber-junk-pages of blah blah blah......more and more listings listings listings.......except that they're all sold before they get to them.

There is something missing . . . the successful integration of all these things, and probably more.  We're found, now let's convert.  Time for a new strategy.  Time for some deeper thinking.

So, I have two questions for today:

Consumers:  what is missing from our websites?

Realtors:  what is missing from our websites?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Real Estate Appraiser Proclaims, "I'm right! The Market is Wrong!"

Can this Pearland Appraisal Really be low by $400?

I can't believe it.  We offered a listing on the market for $199,900, and successfully negotiated a sale for $199,500.  The home was on the market about 35 days, and only had one offer which was successfully negotiated.  We thought.  But here comes the appraiser.

Because of all the mortgage fraud, the government created a way to "insulate" the appraisers from the undue pressure caused by the mortgage brokers.  And, realistically, this was a problem.  I mean, the mortgage broker (in the old days) could call the appraiser-of-choice, and request a certain value from the appraiser to "make the deal work."  This sort of voided the idea of an "unbiased, independent opinion of value" from a "neutral" third party appraiser.  Sort of a "blessing" for the transaction.

So.....to insulate.....the AMC's or "Appraisal Management Companies" entered the picture.  A lender orders an appraisal from an AMC who assigns a random appraiser to the transaction.  And which appraisers do the AMC's use?  You guessed it . . . the cheapest.  Now, they all split the $300-400 that is charged.  The poor grunt-in-the-field spends about 10-15 hours to produce a report that he is paid about $200 for.  Hard work, low pay, intense pressure.  It sucks to be an appraiser these days.  (And now, they're overloaded.)

In fact, about 20 years ago after the failure of the S&L industry -- another story -- I, too, became certified in appraising, first in residential, then in commercial.  Today, I hold the highest certification one can obtain, the State Certified General Real Estate Appraisal Certification.  While all the training and experience helps me be a better Realtor for my clients, I HATE writing appraisal reports.  (Did I say "hate?")  So, I don't do it.  I do, however, try to use my skills to help appraisers on my transactions.

Negatory, old man.  Our $199,500 sale came back with an appraisal of $199,100.  Wait.....are you confidence interval.  There is a +/- margin of error.  When questioned about this report, the appraiser simply replied that "the indicated value is within the brackets."  The brackets are the range of adjusted values of the 5 comparable sales used.  So, I looked at them.  They ranged from $195,000 to $211,000.
kidding me?  Off by $400?  An appraisal is simply a

Wow.  The appraiser is supposed to report "market value," or "the most probable price a property will sell for . . . ."  $199,100 is his estimate of "the most probable price?"  The appraiser is from The Heights, working down here in Pearland.  Ah, the challenges of a changing real estate market.

My question, "is $199,100" ever a "most probable price?"  What do you think?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Houston Real Estate Agents are Way Oversold!

What about in Cities other than Houston and Pearland?

I have been in the process of interviewing and selecting a transaction manager for our agents, and realized that some scheduling software was required.  This is a new position at RE/MAX Top Realty, as our agents have hired their own coordinators for years.  But we realized how efficient a central person (or group of persons) could be who just worked in "the details."

Interestingly, all of our software supports agents and teams, but our proprietary system is not designed to be integrated through the entire office and serviced by one person.  Hence, my quest to find just the right add-on so as not to disrupt our complete system.

And boy, what did I find?  That our Realtors are bombarded with "vendor solutions" to their business every day, each one promising to make us rich.  Trulia, Zillow, Homes.com, Realtor.com, Market Leader, Dot Loop, Number 1 Expert, Top Producer, Top Marketer, Market Snapshot, Real Pro Systems, Movoto, Tiger Leads, Boom Town, Home Gain, (a million different Google SEO promoters), Realty Tools, apps galore, on and on and on and on.

I realized that I had to create a phone call screening team in my own office or I'd spend all day with over-zealous salespersons of all the tools "guaranteed to make you rich in real estate!"  Sheesh!  (If you're a Realtor, I'm sure you know what I mean.  If you're not a Realtor, just Google-search "Realtor tools" or "Realtor software."  Multiply the returns x 3 and that's how many sales calls I receive daily!)

And I was remembering when I decided to stop paying all of the -- thousands of dollars a month -- and focus only on the one tool that has made my office work very efficiently -- from lead generating to lead converting -- RE/MAX LeadStreet.  But I need an add-on.  As I went through all of the "paid" CRM's and other software, I realized that all are very expensive and still don't do what I want.  And then.....I realized what will work!

Minimal cost, huge return, online, cloud-based, multi-task . . . . . . . . . . have you guessed?  You're right....it's Google Apps.  Just search "Google Tools for Real Estate Professionals."  They have created a plethora of business solutions for real estate agents -- like blogger that I'm using right now -- and my favorite, Google Drive (which replaces Dropbox, Microsoft Office, and much more).  And so, Google Calendar will let me create the system I need to serve everyone.  And it won't cost me a cent.

Are you oversold?  Are you paying all these vendors?  Are you overwhelmed with their constant sales calls?  Tell me which ones you pay for and actually use and like.  And which ones you pay for with money down the drain.  (Yes, I, too was recently "suckered" into a down-the-drain payout for 12 months.  So as not to bias you, I'll share mine at the end.  So tune in again later.)

Are you a Realtor who would benefit from having a "built-in," highly trained assistant who could handle your details?  Then give me a call to discuss a career at RE/MAX Top Realty . . . home of the Best Realtors in Town -- serving the 7-county Greater Houston Area, 100% paperless and online.  www.BecomeATopAgent.com 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

"Please take our offer..."

iStock_000005895710XSmall.jpgIt’s interesting that the housing climate has changed so quickly. Some buyers, who think they’re still in the driver’s seat, find the market is now going up and they’re losing the home that they really want.

Multiple offers are increasingly more common and buyers are frustrated because even full-price offers don’t guarantee that they’re going to get the home. In an effort to personify a contract offer and add emotional appeal, buyers are including a personal letter to the seller.

In most cases, the seller wants to maximize the net proceeds from the sale by getting the highest price with the least expenses and an assurance that the home will actually close on time without surprises. When a seller is faced with multiple offers that may be close to the same net, an emotional appeal might make the difference in them accepting a particular offer. That’s where the letter comes in play.

It should be a relatively short letter that gets to the point. The tone of the letter should be humble while positive and definitely, shouldn’t mention that you may have lost other homes due to multiple offers.

  1. Try to identify a common feature or characteristic of the home that is important to the seller and you.
  2. Don’t criticize the home or tell them about all of the improvements you need to make to justify your offer.
  3. Do verbalize why living in this home is important to you and your family.
  4. Assure the seller that you can indeed qualify for the home and that if they accept your offer, the sale will be consummated.

After writing the letter and eliminating the non-essential parts, read the letter a few times to your spouse or friend. Polish the verbiage and check the spelling and grammar. If your handwriting isn’t attractive and easy to read, print it. Use nice paper to appeal to the tactile senses. Attach the letter to the offer so they’re considered simultaneously.

Being pre-approved with good credit, adequate financial resources, good employment, sufficient earnest money and a reasonable offer with minimum contingencies will favorably position you. A personal letter might be the deciding factor in your favor.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Client of Houston Realtor proclaims, "You've got a Rat in my corner!"

Another True Story of this Houston Realtor and Business Owner

I'd like to think that I was a fiction writer, like Stephen King, who had such an imagination that I could come up with a story like this in my mind!  I could make a fortune, much like he certainly does, using this "gift-of-the-pen."  But I'm not....I don't....and I didn't make this up.  This is just one of eight such issues I've had to deal with this week . . . I hope the moon changes soon!

The telephone caller insisted on speaking directly with me, so I took the call.  "Your agent is very unprofessional," the caller yelled, "our daycare center has been listed for two months with no buyer!"  "I demand that you release us from this contract so that we can sell this property to a buyer we've discovered," she continued to yell.

Now I believe that any inexperienced agent or broker could figure this one out . . . a buyer has surfaced through our efforts who has contacted this owner directly.  She wants to terminate the listing agreement and sell the property directly to this buyer and circumvent the paying of the real estate fee for service.  So, I posed the point, (in my sweetest dialect), "ma'am, it sounds to me as our agent has done his job.  We've located a buyer for your daycare!"

"You don't understand," she screamed, "your agent has a bad attitude and is unprofessional."

"Excuse me, ma'am," I interjected, "but you and I have never met and all you've done is yell at me and accuse our associate of a 'bad attitude.'  Can you please settle down?"

"Well," she continued, "his pictures are completely unprofessional . . . have you seen them?"

At this point, I do not even know to which listing she is referring, only that it's a daycare in Houston, Texas.

"In one of the pictures, the floor is filthy!  In another, there is a dead rat in the corner!  Your agent is completely unprofessional."

This is one of those rare moments where I am left completely without words.  Usually, I'm quick with a retort.  But my eyes are wide open, and my head is shaking from side-to-side with disbelief.  I quickly reassess the facts in my head . . . this is a daycare . . . there are filthy floors . . . there's a dead rat . . . I've been yelled at . . . we've produced a buyer in two months . . . and she doesn't want to pay us for our unprofessionalism and bad attitude.  Wow.  Really?

What would you say to her?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Pearland couple finds great success Selling Home

Cathy and Michael are Very Happy that SamSOLDit.com

After over a year of anguish about selling their home in Pearland, Michael and Cathy are on their way to a one-year adventure away from the hometown they love.  "We'd lived in Pearland for 13 years, and we love our home in West Oaks Village."  But Michael's career path requires a year in Tyler, to where they are on their way.

"As soon as Michael is done, we're coming back to Pearland," Cathy said, "because we love it here.  We can't think of any place we'd rather be."

And of course, they'll be calling The Sam Team to provide the same level of service with our buyers' team as they found with our sellers' team.  "We sold our home in just 16 days with the help of Sam's 'stage 'n shoot crew' that worked with us to get our home looking perfect for the market.  This definitely helped us create an advantage in the market, and we got what we asked for!  Thank you, Sam Team!"

And thank you, Cathy and Michael, for being wonderful clients to work with.  Our home selling system is second-to-none, and we give each customer the individual attention that they need to Get Theirs SOLD.   In fact, we currently have over ten homes "in the works" in various stages of the process, as we help home sellers in Houston and Pearland get their homes into top shape to achieve maximum return.  Want to Get Yours Sold?  Investigate our Dynamic Marketing Plan today . . . and you, too, will be Sold on SAM!

Sam Ferreri is a 38+ year veteran of the Houston-Pearland real estate market, and has helped over 8,000 homebuyers and sellers in his career.  He has assembled a dynamic team of real estate professionals that work together to help customers and clients achieve their goals.  And . . . we're never too busy to give you the attention you deserve.  

Now . . . help us pick the best logo . . . which do you prefer, 1 or 2?


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pearland Realtor Has Customer Service Nightmares!

Pearland Realtor Story . . . Can you help me???

Yes, I'm up at 4:00 am with nightmares about the customer service issues I had to deal with yesterday.  One thing about a changing market is that everyone reacts.  Good, bad, happy, sad, greedy, opportunistic, needy, impatient, overzealous, sweet, kind and many other adjectives could be used to describe the emotions and reactions of buyers and sellers in today's marketplace.  It's all over the board. Mostly, they've read the media hype about a sudden upturn in the market.

True that.  The story of Jane Doe (not her real name) is the epitome of the market change.  Jane listed her home for sale in one of the oldest sections of Silverlake in August 2012, after having purchased it in September 2010.  I have sold this particular house 4 times in the last 15 years, and am very familiar with it.  The prior owner spent $25,000 in renovations on this -- one of the smallest, least expensive homes in the area.  It had granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, updated bathrooms, and much more.  However, through this ownership, the carpet was worn out and it needed a paint job.  But after owning it for only 2 years -- and a high loan balance -- our mutual objective was to "get her out of it" without a huge loss.

Being young and single, the home required extensive staging to get it ready for market.  Enter my exceptional "stage 'n shoot" crew who got the job done.  Two weeks later, we were ready for market and created an exceptional photo package for online marketing.  Over the next 5 months, the home had 83 showings and (at least) 3 offers.  (Remember, this is the end of 2012 . . . nothing was selling.)  The best offer was $3,000 less than list price, for cash.  Jane said "no."  She was only willing to take $1,000 less than list price (which was $10,000 more than she paid, just 2 years prior).

The market had been FLAT since Hurricane Ike, so we figured that this was going to be difficult.  Other offers came in, but at much lower amounts (more like $10,000-15,000 below list price).  As Realtors, we are duty-bound to present ALL offers to the seller for consideration, no matter how low or ridiculous.  It is the seller's job to make the decision -- with our advice -- as to how to proceed.  As it turned out, a buyer came along in January 2013 who was willing to pay exactly what Jane wanted, subject (of course) to inspections and appraisal.

As you can guess, the appraisal came in $5,000 below list price (or $4,000 below the contract amount). Since financing is dependent upon the appraisals -- and with my appraisal background -- I began an appeal of the appraisal on my client's behalf.  With supplemental data that I provided, the appraiser raised his estimated value by $3,000, making it just $1,000 below the contract amount.  The seller accepted it and we closed.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I received an email complaint that this seller filed -- now almost 4 months since closing -- claiming that we did not represent her best interests.  Really?  Seriously?  Are you kidding me?

My team closes over 200 transactions each year, ranking us in the Top RE/MAX Teams in Texas, year-after-year.  So one complaint in the last several years?  I just need to reply and move on . . . please help!

Using my best customer service skills, I want to reply as follows:  "thank you for raising your concerns.  We strive to hit our customers' and clients' goals through diligent market research and conscientious negotiations.  Sometimes, timing and market conditions have a profound effect on our work.  I am sorry that you feel as though you "broke even" rather than profited from your home investment in just two short years.  And no, I'm also sorry that we cannot refund your money."  (Funny how that became the focal point of her email . . . now 4 months later!)

Help me!  You would advise me to add or say:  "___________________."