One of the best aspects of being a real estate broker, is that I get to go into a lot of homes. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, depending on the specific area, as an agent, I’m afforded the opportunity to go out on “Caravan” or “On Tour” and see the new listings without having a client in tow or having to have an appointment. It’s an important part of the process for an agent to understand the market; what’s for sale, what’s a good deal and what’s not, and what people are doing to improve their homes. Knowing the inventory is one of the key elements to being a successful Realtor.
Since the advent of the internet based Multiple Listing Service, home buyers and sellers and even just the curious, have the ability to view properties without ever stepping foot inside. 30, 40, even 50 or more photographs representing a property, are now commonplace. Back in the day, all a would-be buyer would have is the view from the curb (think ‘curb appeal’) since there were no pictures available except maybe in the store front of the listing office. The only way to see what it looked like, was to get inside with a real estate agent or at an open house. This was just as true for agents as the general public. Thus to help sell a listing, the home had to be made available to other Realtors and this was accomplished by having Caravan. What is interesting is that with all the changes to the way properties are marketed today, getting inside is still just as important for agents as ever. Knowing the inventory is essential.
It’s a funny thing going into other people’s homes for a living. Like the public, I see the photos online and base an opinion on that representation. But relying on a picture alone can be a big mistake. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll go into a home that looked amazing on paper, only to be disappointed at the actual property. Those tricky Realtors with their wide angle lenses… I know one agent who uses a photographer that will blend three different flash exposures to create a look for a room that is physically impossible to replicate in real life. Some Realtors will digitally enhance the color of the grass or even put grass where there is now only dirt with a little caveat, “grass is an artist representation.” I one time had to have an algae green swimming pool Photoshopped because the owner was in the process of cleaning up the pool but hadn’t finished when we finally had a good sunny winter’s day to shoot our pics. Or another time when the owner forgot to change a light bulb the day of the shoot and the photographer said, “Don’t worry, I’ll Photoshop it in.” And how about those amazing twilight shots where the house is illuminated just after sundown? Did you know that the sky always comes out white with the twilight exposure and the photographer has to add the sky? And then there’s the whole room size thing… A wide angle lens always makes a room look a little larger. It’s amazing how many times a home that looked completely redone turns out to be pretty tired too. Knowing the inventory is a pretty important part of my job.
The other thing about getting out and seeing the homes is that I get to see some amazing properties. A few weeks back I went on Caravan to a home in Old Agoura that on paper looked overpriced. How could a home in an area that typically sells for +/- $1m have a listing for nearly $3m? So I went to see it; it with its knotty pine cabinets, commercial French 60” oven range accompanied by a pot bellow stove for wood cooking in the kitchen. It had not one but two guest houses and a 7 car garage, was on horse property that backed up to protected parkland littered with horse trails… wow. Or the time I went into a home that had a spectacular garden, totally manicured and private; made me feel like I was in England. So much care and so much attention to detail, yet the pictures just didn’t do it justice. It had to be seen.
Yesterday I went into a home in a neighborhood where homes typically sell for $700-900K. I was speaking with the owner about how much her home might be worth, and I said, “Well without seeing it probably $900K-ish.” When she asked me to come in and look I felt pretty comfortable with my “pencil sketch” assessment; that is until I got to the kitchen. She hadn’t mentioned that she’d remodeled with traditional “Small Bone-like” white soft-close cabinets and glass inserts, “Brush finish” absolute black granite counters with a white Carrera marble island, subway back splash and commercial stainless steel appliances. My estimate immediately went out the window and I’m whispering to myself, a million… this home is worth a million bucks maybe more. Too bad she’s not selling…
Not long ago a home came on the market, in the “Salt Box” style; very unusual in Southern California. This is where the front of the home is straight across, no indentations, like a salt box – think Virginia. It was white clapboard siding with black shutters. Inside the owners had used recycled farm boards from somewhere back East for the flooring. Super cool. Based on the pictures it looked nice, but once inside… incredible. I sent it to every client I had, but alas it sold immediately.
I saw another home a couple days ago, a flip, that had the most interesting matte finish dark oak floors, almost walnut in color, but not at all glossy. If I hadn’t gone into this home, I’d of had no idea because it wasn’t specifically called out in the listing description and the photos didn’t do it justice. ‘Just looked like a dark wood floor, but it was way cooler than that. Knowing inventory, this is what a Realtor does. But it’s not only important for my buyers, it is equally important for my sellers.
When a seller starts telling me about all of the things they’ve done to their home, I use my knowledge of the inventory (the competition) to very often, boost the estimated selling price as my earlier example demonstrated or to bring that seller back to reality. That decorative backsplash from the builder may have cost a lot when you bought it 20 years ago but that doesn’t mean much anymore. Or your custom paint including the red dining room that was popular around 2000, isn’t going to get you more money today; or those multicolor balloon valances that make me want to sing, “The Heat Is On” and roll up my coat sleeves a la Miami Vice, may have cost a bundle back when, but you’d better take them down because they aren’t going to help you today. I joke, but for every amazing home I see, I see ten others that will need my help to get my seller a fair selling price. This isn’t the knowledge you can glean from pictures alone. You have to get out there and see the inventory. This is why being a Realtor is a full not a part time job, and why Realtor gets paid what they get paid: market knowledge, product knowledge, analysis and advice. It can be a fun job, but like any job, it’s a lot of work and to be good at it, a whole lot of work and a whole lot of time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a seller I have to help to declutter. I just hope I can get them to pack away the Elvis ashtray collection, remove and replace their purple carpet and wash their dogs before I open it up to Caravan.