Do this if you never want your house to sell

I showed a pretty nice house last night that is going to be very hard for the listing agent to sell.

It was one of the lower prices for a huge house on a gorgeous lot in a very desirable neighborhood.

You’d think that would be enough in any market, yet alone one starved for listings.

This is what it was like seeing the house.  You walk up to a freshly painted facade with recently mowed grass and fresh mulch.  You are feeling good about it.  You go inside.  The foyer is nice.  It is a little strange that you can’t see any rooms from the foyer, but not the end of the world.

You go towards the left and see the dining room.  Wall paper from the 90s.  You go into the kitchen next.  Red wall paper from the 90s.  You go into a really nice sunroom.  What do you see?  Murals painted on the walls.  You go back through all those rooms and then you enter the great room, which was super nice.  Then you see a bedroom.  Ok.  Then you see a bathroom that not only has wall paper, but wall paper boarders on the ceilings and top of the walls, as if they were making crown molding.  The shower curtain is heavy, like the dress Scarlett made in Gone with the Wind.  Then you enter the living room which is set up as an office and has way too much furniture in it.

Heading upstairs, you notice that all the bedrooms are painted a different color.  The basement is pretty normal.

The sellers furniture was nice, but they probably bought all of it when the house was new in the early 90s.  I am not bashing anybody’s stuff because my own house is probably the most boringly decorated house in the whole world, but I am not trying to sell it.  I would need to stage my own house if I were selling because my stuff would make my house feel as dated as this one did.  All of my furniture is stuff my parents gave me and that my wife and I put together from a box.  I’m just not into decorating……maybe that is why I can always see the house past the decor.

It sort of made me sad because I could picture the house vacant and with a coat of fresh paint.  It was nice.  Sure, the house would have still been a little outdated since it was about 25 years old, but it wasn’t terrible at all and typical for the neighborhood.

There was a stack of realtor cards on the table in the foyer.  That means all those people in addition to my buyers said “No” to this house.

What sellers never realize is that a buyer will walk through their entire house in about 20 minutes.  Having too much furniture in a room may suit the sellers needs, but it makes the rooms feel smaller to the buyer.  It is also hard to see the room past the furniture.  I always say that when you live in a house, the room exists to show off your decor.  When you are selling, the decor should show off the room.  Also, colors make a big difference.  A seller may be in one room of their house for a while and then go to another.  The buyer, when walking through the entire house, gets sensory overload if every room is drastically different.  A uniform color can also help when the house has a choppy floor plan too.

I am sure all the feedback on this listing has been that it needs too much work.  If this were my house, I would remove as much furniture as I could stand.  I would put a fresh coat of neutral paint everywhere.  People ask me all the time what is the biggest bang for the buck.  I always say fresh paint.  Nothing makes as big of an impact as fresh paint.

With all the wall paper gone, most of the dated furniture out, and a coat of fresh paint, the house would feel so much better.  The 25 year old finishes were neutral enough that buyers would find them acceptable in the absence of the 25 year old furniture and wall paper.

When I go to sell my current house, I am taking my own advice since my place is very similar to this one.

Winter really IS the best time to sell

There are two kinds of listing:

  1.  The listings that are so desirable based on price/condition/location that EVERY buyer currently in the market wants it.
  2. All the other listings.

If you have one of those houses that makes people hear angels sing as soon as they walk through the door, are in an extremely desirable neighborhood, have priced your house to sell, or any combination of all that, congrats, your house will sell quickly any time of the year.  You have nothing to be worried about.  Spring is good.  Summer is good.  Fall is good. And yes, winter is good too.

If your house isn’t one of those, then you need to tweak everything you can if you want the coveted “SOLD” sign in your front yard.  You have what I call the Bridesmaid house because you know that saying, right?

Every year, people ask whether they should wait to list, or take their house off the market until spring.  My answer has always been no.

Why?

Because if you have a Bridesmaid house, there is always going to be a better house on the market all other times of the year.  I see it happen all the time.  A listing that is always the buyer’s second or third choice stays a second or third choice as long as those better houses keep coming on the market in the spring, summer and fall.

In the winter, there are far fewer buyers but there are also far fewer great listings.  Winter buyers typically have to settle for what is left over from the fall.  Picture this…..you’re at a Chinese buffet for lunch.  It’s 12:55.  There is one greasy looking Crab Rangoon.  All the General Zhao’s Chicken left are those thin, hard looking pieces that you think are really cat meat.  You are the only one at the buffet and nothing looks good.  Then, somebody comes out from the kitchen with some fresh food.  Even if it is just Pork Lo Mein, you eat it because it is the best thing available.

That is how the winter market works.

So, if you are ready to sell your house now, there is no need to wait until spring.  If you have been on the market without an offer, now really is your best shot at selling.

 

I improved a neighborhood BEFORE it was a neighborhood

10,000 trees.  That is how many I planted in what is now known as The Enclave at Chilesburg.

It was the mid 90s.  Back then Andover Hills was a fairly new neighborhood.  There was a 32 acre parcel that was outside the urban service area.  The developers, Bob Miller and Lynwood Wiseman, decided they would build their own houses on it.

Bob Miller went first.  He had Jose Oubrerie design his house while he was in town serving as Dean of UK’s College of Architecture.  Oubrerie learned a thing or two about architecture from his time with a more recognizable name in architecture, Le Corbusier.

miller-6

miller-1

Ok, that is the history of the place before my time planting trees.

Bob Miller was a lawyer.  My dad was a lawyer.  All lawyers know each other because half of them have been partners at one time or another.  Anyway, my dad was good friends with one of his partners and that is how I found out about the job to plant 10,000 trees.

I had seen Bob Miller’s house only from the road.  This was long before Hays Blvd existed.  There was just the little country road over there and it was called Walnut Hill-Chilesburg or something like that.  In the fall and winter, you could see the house from that road.  I had always wondered what it was since it is unlike anything else in Lexington.

Bob gave me the address, which was then on Maple Ridge Road in Andover Hills.  I remember wondering how I was going to plant that many trees on a neighborhood lot-this was before google earth.  I pulled up to a driveway between two houses at the end of the cul de sac and there was a gate.  It opened and I followed the road to the house I had previously only seen from a distance.

I was speechless as I approached the house.  It was a piece of art to me, surrounded by 32 beautiful acres as it’s frame.  There was a pond in front of the house….well, it was really the back of the house but you saw it first as you came down the driveway.

Bob liked trees.  He had made a walking trail all the way around the place, which is now part of the neighborhood.  He wanted to make a forest in the middle.  So, I spent a few weeks randomly planting about 8 different types of saplings all over the field across from his house.

One late afternoon, I took a break and gazed across the land that is now Chilesburg.  I remember thinking that one day, I would bring my kids to see these trees when they were huge.  The trees when they were huge, not my kids.

Another time I was out planting, Lynwood Wiseman came out in his Nissan Pathfinder and gave me a hard time about planting where he was going to build his own house one day.  He drove over most of the freshly planted trees on his way in and out.  I told him I was only doing as I was told and he would need to talk to Bob about it.  Few people disliked Lynwood.  Everybody else hated him.  Lynwood would eventually build his house on the opposite side of the pond from Bob Miller.  It is still there, right in the middle of the neighborhood.  The pond is long gone, filled in to make lots for new houses.

I was in an architectural program at LLC at the time.  I told several students and a few teachers about Bob’s house.  Word got over to the College of Architecture.  Turns out that Bob had involved many students in the designing and building of the house, allowed it to be photographed for various architecture books and magazines…..and then closed the gate once it was all over.  I was the only person those architecture loving people knew who had seen it in person.  I asked Bob if I could take some pictures and make a video of the place.  I did not realize at that time how private he was about the house.  I have always appreciated his kindness to me for that.  The video I made ended up in the UK College of Architecture’s library.  It was a VHS tape.  I sure hope somebody converted it to a DVD.

miller-5

Those were happy memories for me.  Then there were some unhappy memories of that place.  Bob Miller passed away.  His wife Penny, who was the inspiration for Penny Lane in Andover Hills, sold it to a developer.  That developer went belly up.  The house was vandalized many times.  While it finally did get an owner who appreciates it, it just isn’t the same for me when I see it now.

I did take my kids to see the trees when Ball Homes began to develop the land.  About half of them are gone (the trees, not my kids).  They are about 30 feet tall I guess.  I think of all the people who picked their lot because it backed to the wooded area that I helped create.  I think of how nice it felt the day they were planted, when I was out in a beautiful field, the only sound being the wind passing through trees, and Bob’s house in the corner of my eye.  I also think about the day when somebody backing to my trees calls me up to list their house, and I get to tell them everything you just read.

The Postcard Predators almost got her house

She has a house she needs to sell.

She kept getting postcards in the mail from predators promising to pay a fair price for her house and close quickly.

She called them.  They pestered her like debt collectors.  The stress put her in the hospital.

She doesn’t know what the house is worth, or how the process works.  That is exactly what they hoped.

Her relative called me.

I listed the house, but before I put it on the market, I showed it to the investors who had called her.  One guy had gone as far as sending a contract and earnest money check to her estate attorney.  When I told him I was now involved, he tried to say he had already bought the house.  I told him to show me a signed contract.  He didn’t have one because it didn’t exist.  He was mad because he wasn’t going to be able to take advantage of her.  He vented quite a bit, but I refused to engage him.  He tried to say he wasn’t sure he was even going to make an offer now.  I told him he could think about it and let me know later…..because I knew he was just wanting to see if I was afraid to lose his offer.  When he saw it didn’t phase me one bit, he raised his offer by $5000.  He was still close to $10k less than I think I can get for her.

I told her that unless she needed the cash super fast, she would get more by exposing it to a bigger buyer pool.  I told her that the Postcard Predators will always be there if she needed a faster sale.  She agreed.

We got the first showing scheduled about 15 minutes after I posted it on the MLS.

I will get her the most money possible for her house.

I am happy that I could protect her from the Postcard Predators.

Rinse, wash, repeat-The secret to my success

I’ve never really done things in a conventional way.

Before I got into real estate, I owned a lawn care business.  Believe it or not, I really like cutting grass.  It’s great to be outside and to take a look at the yard once you are done.

I was working at another lawn care company when I decided to go out on my own.  I had a $99 push mower from Wal-Mart that I would put in the back of my Dodge Colt.  My wife called it the Grass-Mobile since it had grass clippings everywhere.  It smelled like gasoline too.  I would see my past co-workers around town.  They all had a good laugh at my expense because I am sure I did look pretty silly driving around town with a mower hanging out the hatch of my car.

I did a great job and showed up on time.  I didn’t cuss or smoke and customers felt good about communicating with me.  My single female customers were not afraid of me.  The threshold for success was low in that business.

Before long, I was able to buy better equipment.  I also got a truck, then added a trailer.

I would see the same former co-workers around town and instead of laughing at me, they would ask me questions on how I did it.  I was always happy to tell them.  My attitude was that all I needed to be in business was a customer and to do a good job.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  I stepped out with not much and it grew organically.  They would look at me like I was crazy and say that they would need to start out where I was at that time.  I wished them luck and went on to my next yard.

Flash forward a bit to 2005.  I’ve just gotten my real estate license.  I joined the biggest firm at that time.  I was told I needed to do things like send people football schedules, flower seeds, and let them know when the time changes would be.  I’ve never understood why the realtor community bears the responsibility of letting the world know when to change their clocks forward of backwards?

I told them that I didn’t want to lick stamps all day.  I got into real estate to DO real estate, not to try to drum up work.  They thought I was crazy.

They said I needed to remind people I was a realtor.  I told them that if I had to remind people to use me again, I must not have done anything worth remembering and didn’t deserve to be used again.

So, slowly I built my real estate business based on word of mouth.  The only advertising I have ever done has been to promote two blog posts on Facebook.  I’ve spent $20.  That is why you’ve never seen me on the shopping carts at Kroger or seen my face as you drive around New Circle Road.  I had a client who referred his mother to me several years ago, a lady I have enjoyed becoming friends with, she said to me “Jimmy tells me you are a top realtor in town.  I’ve never heard of you.”

My proudest accomplishment is that 75% of my work is from past clients and referrals from past clients and friends.  That is the way I want it.  I want to do such a good job that people remember me and send their friends and family to me.

Over the years, I have had several agents approach me about how I did it.  I have always been happy to tell them.  My attitude was that all I needed to be in this business was a client and to do a good job. Rinse, wash, repeat.  I stepped out with not much and grew this organically.  They too look at me like I am crazy and want to be where I am overnight.  I usually wish them luck and move on.