Have you ever shown a home with one feature that was so odd, you can't seem to get it out of your mind?
My very first client was a buyer. We'd been searching for awhile and he really wanted to see one particular house near downtown Austin that had come up on the MLS.
It was the size and price range he was interested in and two lots up from a major intersection. We could see that the neighborhood was a bit run down but that was OK. Cosmetics can be fixed.
When we got to the house, a cleaning crew was hard at work, taking care of what looked like a disaster had hit the place. There was dirt everywhere. The carpets were stained, the linoleum chipped, the appliances grimey and the overall smell, not exactly what one might call inviting. This house was, in a word, trashed. That is not unusual in real estate, right? We come across distressed properties all the time. But I was unprepared for what I saw next.
"Have you gone outside yet?" my client asked.
"No. Is the yard OK?" I responded.
"You've got to see this," he said. "It cannot be described."
Before I could run away, my eyes landed on a horrible sight. Leaning against the side of the house was a 5x8 foot board with approximately a dozen squirrel skins nailed on to it, curing in the hot sun.
"I hope this is not part of the sale," the client said.
With that, we high tailed it (!!) out of there as soon as we could, both creeped out by what we had just seen, but bonding over it for weeks afterwards.
Austin is not a backwater town by any means. In fact, it's very sophisticated with lots of culture. But here in the country where I live and work, about a half hour away, it is very common to see critter's heads mounted on a wall, the bounty of a hunter's hobby. Coming to Texas from Seattle this used to startle me, all those eyes following me around a home, imploring me to bring them an offer. While I admittedly don't love seeing dead animal heads, I am used to it now. It's part of the culture. Got it.
But I cannot figure why anyone would have something like this, let alone leave it for potential buyers to see. Was it road kill? Was someone making a cheap version of Daniel Boone hats to sell on eBay? Wouldn't the kids miss their dead pet squirrels? I often ponder this rhetorically, but don't really want an answer.
I have been a real estate agent just over two years now. I completed all my apprenticeship hours and my first renewal is paid. Whew! I am here to stay.
While still taking classes for my license, I found a brokerage that fit like a glove. As soon as I got my license I bought a house to familiarize myself with the process. Then a friend gave me the listing for her home - I got two sales from her neighbors - and another friend referred me to her friends and family. Two of my neighbors had leases that were up and I found them homes. "Gee, this is EASY," I said to myself.
Not so fast, sister!
In year two, I've been spinning my wheels. A lot. Buyers are in multiple offer situations and not winning. (Despite my advice, they still think they can still low-ball in this hot, hot, hot Austin, Texas market). Sellers have decided to wait another year to list their homes. I am trying to walk that very fine line between "staying top of mind" and being served a restraining order.
So here are ten things I wish I'd known before I so blindly thought I had arrived on Easy Street with my SOLD! sign in the yard.
1. YOU GOTTA SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS. As agents, one of our jobs is to set expectations for our clients. But what about setting expectations for ourselves? We recently had a motivational speaker at our office and he asked the room "How many of you are on track in meeting your goals this year?" Only a couple of hands went up. The easiest way to sabotage your career is to decide you need to make a gazillion dollars in your first year. Don't set yourself up for failure!
2. YOUR LICENSE WON'T HELP YOU GET ACTUAL CLIENTS. While learning about Riperian Rights, easements and the numerous ways to get sued is vital, the licensing curriculum fails to address sales and negotiating skills. That's a whole other conversation and if you are not comfortable with that, you will need to take some classes to build your confidence.
3. WE'RE NOT ON HGTV. When I got my license my mom actually thought I only had to show three houses and then they would have to make a decision - like on House Hunters. If only it were that simple to get a deal done in an hour - including commercials! I didn't realize how many houses it takes sometimes - between low inventory and buyer wants - to find the right fit. And sometimes clients decide to stay put. Which brings me to ...
4. IT'S NOT CLOSED UNTIL IT'S CLOSED. A friend (not a client) was self-employed and did not have all of her taxes done so her loan did not get final approval and she was denied on the day of closing. It happens! Don't book that Tahitian vacation until the check has cleared.
5. SOME CLIENTS ARE REALLY NICE. You'll be amazed how quickly great clients can become extended family. They appreciate your hard work and cheerful demeanor. They respect your time and energy. In a word, they are awesome.
6. SOME CLIENTS ARE JERKS. They won't respect your other commitments, won't get back to you when you have questions, expect you to find them a "unicorn" in a tough market and resent your commission. Occasionally, agents on the other side of the transaction can be jerks, too. Don't be a jerk.
7. THE BEST WAY TO MAKE MONEY IN REAL ESTATE IS TO SELL STUFF TO REALTORS. Between MLS dues, start-up costs and car expenses, the first few years require a bigger investment than you may prepared to spend. While there are many tools for agents out there, don't pony up for every lead generator you get a spam e-mail for. In fact, it pays to be frugal.
8. YOU GOTTA GET OUT THERE. Online is great, but to gain traction you really need to meet people face to face. Be a people person. Or an animal person. Just don't be a couch potato person.
9. TAKE IT ALL WITH A GRAIN OF SALT. I am so tough on myself when a client is disappointed - by not getting the house they love, a less than stellar inspection report, buyer's or seller's remorse, a number of things that are not always under my control. Keep the tough stuff in perspective and soldier on.
10. IT'S FUN. That Christmas morning look on a client's face when they fall in love with a house and it really becomes theirs is worth the bumps in getting there. A happy client is a friend for life. And real estate is a great way to enjoy that Christmas feeling all year long!
I just renewed my real estate license for the first time. This means it’s been two years since I passed the real estate exam. Happy anniversary to me!
While the terror of the test is now far behind me, I wasn’t confident I would pass on my first try. I had heard all the horror stories from really successful agents that took three or more tries to get their license. It was like when you are pregnant and someone tells you about the time they spent a hundred hours in labor – not really what you want to hear!
I had already decided on Stanberry & Associates as my brokerage and they had allowed me to take a few classes at their office so the thought of flunking and having to tell my new boss was humiliating.
I took a preparation class before taking the exam and did well on the National portion but not so great on the State part. So I canceled the test I had planned to take the next week and instead spent the next month poring over scintillating topics like Riparian Rights and what hours the Texas Real Estate Commission is open.
Finally I had the confidence to take the test – and to my surprise I did well! In fact, the administrator said I had achieved an unusually high score.
So imagine my surprise when I went to have my fingerprints taken, a mandatory part of becoming an agent, and flunked!
Maybe it was because many years of playing bass and guitar created callouses that covered the prints. Maybe too much typing erased them. At any rate, after many attempts to get prints on one hand, contorting my fingers into positions I didn’t know they could achieve, I was sent home and told to come back another time.
Who else would pass the real estate exam but flunk the fingerprint test!
A few days later I went back to try again, this time with no issues at all. I’ll never know what the problem was. Were my fingers sweatier the first time? Did low blood sugar before lunch contribute? I’m still not sure what that was about. But I am very glad to be starting real estate year number three without the fear that my fingerprints will prevent me from being the kickass agent I aspire to be.
And surprise - Austin is not on the list. The coasts have it worst. See below what a the median cost is for a one-bedroom apartment. I have lived in several of those cities - most recently Seattle - and yikes. Just yikes!
Sheryl, a marketing guru with 25 years in the field, interviews all sorts of people about their various opinions and habits with social media.
Which social media platform is your favorite? Or least? Leave your comments below and please enjoy the interview.
Austin isn't the only town that's busting at the seams. As prices climb and inventory wanes, people are moving out past Austin City Limits. Here is a map of expanding and future communities in Dripping Springs, coming soon to a former field near you!
Why use an agent if you are buying a new home from a builder? Having someone to look out for your best interest who understands the process can help in the negotiations. And often, it may even lower some costs!
If you need to sell your current home to move up, I'm ready to help. Call me with any questions you have - 512/363-2226. The home of your dreams may be just a phone call away!
I moved to Austin, Texas from Seattle, Washington right before Christmas, on the very tail end of 2010. The week I arrived, it snowed.
Although snow in Texas is a rare phenomenon, there are regular features that I now look forward to - in particular, the bloom of the Texas wildflowers in early spring.
One of my favorites things about living in the Northwest was the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, every April. I loved watching the brightly colored flowers pop open for a few short weeks each spring. My annual tradition was to drive an hour north to walk through the fields and bask in the magnificence of these incredible flowers. I knew I would miss this, so when I discovered Texas wildflowers, I was ecstatic!
Texas wildflowers, like tulips, come in a variety of colors. But unlike tulips, wildflowers have many different species with whimsical names like bluebonnets, paintbrushes and winecups. Each flower blooms for a week or two. Then another type of wildflower blooms. And just like that, by late May, they are gone, like fairydust on the landscape for another year.
You can see the wildflowers in their full glory along the side of the highway and by taking day trips just outside Austin.
A few weeks ago I drove out to Marble Falls and saw many people taking photos with their children and dogs in the fields. There is even a wonderful museum - the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, in South Austin, definitely worth a visit (also where I saw my first rattlesnake!).
While I sometimes miss the majesty of Seattle's tulips and remember them with wistful nostalgia, the opportunity to enjoy Texas' wildflowers takes the sting out of that loss.
If you haven't experienced the glorious Texas wildflowers it's worth a visit in April. Just another amazing feature of the good life in Central Texas!
Share your wildflower stories below. I'll save the rattlesnake story for another time.
Now that a brand new year is underway, many people are thinking about purchasing a home.
But imagine this. You are ready to purchase a new home and find one that is perfect for you – but you don’t have your loan approval in order and don’t know what you qualify for. Nothing is more frustrating than that scenario.
What should every prospective buyer know about applying for a loan?
I posed this and other questions to Margaret Pryor of Premier Residential Mortgage of Texas – one of the most knowledgeable people I know – to demystify the process.
She advises borrowers to begin the loan process long before shopping for a home. The ideal time to get your financial ducks in a row, she says, is four to five months before you are planning to make a move. That allows plenty of time to decide on the type of loan that will work best for you and to fix any glitches that might show up in a credit report so you can get a better interest rate, if possible.
While there are many great and creative loan packages available, buyers are in a much stronger position – especially in hot real estate markets - if they know what they can qualify for before finding the home of their dreams!
Here is some more great advice from Margaret.
1. What sort of credit score do people typically need to qualify for a home loan?
For most government loans, you need at least a 640 credit score. There are cases where financing can be obtained with a lower score, down to 580, but these are on a case-by-case basis. On conventional loans, you need at least a 620 credit score, but the higher the score, the better the interest rate will be.
2. How long does someone need to be at a job?
They should have two year’s experience in their field of work either through actual time on the job or a combination of education and time on the job with no significant job gaps.
3. What extra things apply to self-employed people that are different from applicants with a regular day job?
Self-employed borrowers need to supply their tax returns and typically the lender averages their taxable income for a two-year period. Keep in mind taxable income is usually lower than their actual income prior to writing off expenses.
4. What is a good amount to have available for a down payment?
While having 20% to put down is great, you can typically get into a house for anywhere from zero down on a VA or USDA loan, to 3.5% on an FHA and a minimum of 5% down for a conventional loan. Closing costs are in addition to the down payment.
5. How have the new laws changed the protocol for borrowers?
The new laws protect buyers in regards the closing costs they pay along with the requirement that they now see the closing statement three days prior to closing. Lender fees may not vary, some title company fees can only change by 10% and then other fees outside the lender’s control do not have any restrictions on them. All in all, final closing fees will be very close to what the lender estimated at the beginning of the loan process. The three-day waiting period once you receive the final disclosures cannot be waived so preparing for that is essential.
The winter season is a prime time for house fires. Half of all destructive fires tend to occur in December, January, and February, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
But most home fires are preventable. Here are some leading culprits to watch for:
Space heaters. These devices are the leading cause of house fires in the winter. Make sure the heater is at least three feet away from anything flammable. Plug it directly into the outlet, not an extension cord. And do not go to bed with the spacer heater still on, experts warn. “Most space heater accidents happen while everyone is sleeping,” says Peter Duncanson, director of disaster restoration training for ServiceMaster.
Cooking. The leading cause of house fires year-round is stovetop cooking. Interestingly, the majority of these fires occur within the first 15 minutes of cooking. Never leave the house when the oven or stove is on. Keep oven mitts, dish towels, and other flammable items at least three feet away from the stovetop.
Electrical cords. Overloaded or damaged circuits cause 3,300 fires annually. The laptop, iPhone charger, toaster, and other electrical appliances all squeezed onto the same power outlet with extension cords and adapters can be dangerous. Feel your cords to make sure they’re not warm (if they are, it's a sure sign they’re overloaded and you need to unplug some). Also, never run extension cords under rugs or in walls, and don't connect several in a row.
Fireplaces and wood stoves. Make sure you keep any flammable objects at least five feet away. And don’t think vigilance only during active burning is enough; embers can smolder for up to two weeks and still ignite if given the opportunity. Empty ashes into a metal container and keep them away from anything flammable for at least two weeks, experts advise. Sabine Schoenberg, home improvement expert and host of This New House, advises that home owners be sure to clean fireplaces and flues at least weekly.
According to recent statistics, 81% of people looking to buy a home start their search online. And far and away the most popular sites for that are Zillow and Trulia.
Whenever one of my clients mentions the Zestimate for a house they are interested in, I know it’s time for a talk. This is what I tell them.
Texas is a non-disclosure state. This means a listing price can be advertised far and wide, but it is illegal to publish what that property actually sold for. The final price can only be disclosed by a realtor in a comparative market analysis. So although Zillow and Trulia are national web sites, they cannot legally divulge this information here in Texas.
This creates very skewed and misleading numbers when it comes to Zestimates because the online suggestion of what a house is really worth is only based on the listing price – not what the property actually sold for.
Another problem with these sites is that the listing information is often old and outdated. This means that the house you fell in love with online may have sold months before you first saw it.
Zillow and Trulia are the Craig’s List of the online real estate world. Although they are helpful in some ways they are often used as bait for agents. Have you ever seen properties with prices that are just too good to be true – called the agent and then found out that the house was no longer available? Sometimes agents are on there simply to solicit new leads. I always tell people to look for an MLS Number on a Zillow or Trulia listing. In the Austin area this should be a seven digit number. If the property does not have the MLS number or it has more or less than seven digits, it could be a scam listing.
If you are searching for a home in the Austin area here are a few sites I recommend with reliable and updated information directly from the MLS:
I hope this has been helpful to you in your home search. Have you had good or bad luck with Trulia or Zillow? Add your comments below. Looking to buy or sell your home? Write me at email@example.com!
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