Friday, June 16, 2006

Q: I'm thinking of moving to Vashon and have a question for you.

I've looked at ads for real estate agents and also looked at the company web sites. Everyone says they are an "award winning" agent, or have the "most integrity" or have the "most experience". Some have a bunch of initials behind their name that are supposed to impress us. Why should I believe this stuff and how do I really choose an agent?

A:Most professionals and trades use similar kinds of advertising. From doctors to car repair shops all businesses are trying to win your confidence. In most cases such advertising is really intended just to enhance name or brand awareness.

According to a recent study done by the National Association of Realtors that looked at the sources used by potential real estate buyers in choosing an agent, very few used advertising as a way to choose an agent. The biggest percentage, 44%, were referred to a specific agent by a friend or relative.

An additional 11% used an agent they had been happy doing business with in the past. 7% (higher on the west coast) found their agent using the Internet. The smallest category was printed advertising.

Personal references are the bests way to choose any professional. If I need my car serviced I don't reach for the classified ads, I ask friends to recommend someone they've been happy with. When I select a doctor or dentist I don't care what their ads say, I want to hear from people I trust that I'll be in good hands. Real estate is just as important.

Talk to people around town and ask them who they trust in the real estate business. Find out who has a great reputation. Experience matters, but not as much as depth of knowledge. Some "old timers" are loaded with valuable information, and some are moss backed folks who haven't kept up with the huge changes in our industry. I recommend that you interview agents, ask for references and most important, talk to people!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Q: My husband and I spent a year fixing up our place to sell.

We've been listed for months now with not one offer. We thought we had priced it well and it really looks good compared to how it looked when we bought it a few years ago. Is the market just getting slow now or what?

A: Having been a do-it-yourselfer myself for many years, I can sympathize with what you're going through. I've done major re-modeling to homes myself and was able to reap the rewards of that sweat equity in the form of a good profit. But times have changed and expectations are different than they were years ago.

The change in our market that you're experiencing is simply that our prices have gone up considerably in the last few years and, for that additional money, buyers expect a better quality house. Buyers tend to notice the rough edges of improvements done by the homeowners themselves. Things like molding that doesn't quite match, cracked tile, messy caulking, flooring that stops an inch short, new but really inexpensive carpet, cheap plumbing fixtures and off the shelf bargain cabinets are a giveaway that the work was not professionally done.

While you are comparing the house with all of it's improvements to the way it looked when you bought it a few years ago, today's buyers are just seeing what is there now and comparing it to homes in the same price range. If other homes selling for about the same price have better finish work and higher quality fixtures most buyers think that means it's a better house.

While location, privacy and square footage are all important considerations in choosing a home to buy, the way a home presents itself when the buyer walks in is probably one of the most important. You may simply have to reduce your price to attract less picky buyers for whom your improvements are a plus and not a minus.