Your home: Your pets deserve a vacation

Taylor family with tripI realize that this column will be sensitive to some, yet it must be said. This is actually a topic that I have never covered in this column which is long overdue. The subject is our loving pets, and their potential impact on the sale of your home.

I have been a dog lover since I was a kid and have had a dog throughout my entire life (give or take a couple while I was in college). I also had a cat at one point. His name was Miles. He was a 12-pound Tabby who thought he was a dog. I share this with you so you know that I love pets (all kinds) and recognize the joy that they bring to our lives.

Conversely, as a listing agent I have seen pets single-handedly jeopardize the sale of a home. “How could that be possible?” the pet lovers ask. “It is entirely possible,” the non pet lovers answer.

Pets, although they hold a special place in our heart, must be taken into consideration when preparing your home for sale. Just because everyone who has every met your pet loves him or her does not mean that your buyer will feel the same way. You may have the best dog or cat in the world — well trained, respectful of boundaries and cute. What you don’t have is any guarantee that the perfect buyer for your home (who might be willing to pay top dollar for it) will love your pet. They might loath pets. And although I don’t identify with that perspective, they are entitled to it. After all, my job is not to judge a buyer, rather to attract them to our client’s homes and get them to write an offer.

Over the years I have heard homeowners say things like, “Well, if they hate dogs so much, I don’t know if I want them to buy my home,” or, “Skippy is part of the family too. He is just part of the package.” Here are my thoughts.

Let’s start with the second one: “Skippy is part of the family too.” If Skippy is part of the family, doesn’t he deserve a vacation now and again? Most pets are creatures of habit, so how happy will your pet be when strangers are traipsing through your house at random times to look at it? In most cases, having a pet present during showings causes stress for the pet and the potential buyer. I have been present at showings when a kenneled dog barked so incessantly that the buyer and I could not even carry on a conversation. That day, the buyer did not remember that house as the cute Cape Cod by the Village Shops. They remembered it as the “yappy dog house.” I don’t think that was the impression the seller wanted to make, do you?

Now to the former response: “If they don’t like my pet then I don’t know if I want them to buy my home.” Really? What about the buyer who buys your home with the intention of redecorating the whole house. I am talking removing every bit of decor that you have put in place during your ownership, completely removing any evidence that it was ever your home. Are you not going to sell to them either? Of course you would. We expect the new homeowners to personalize the home after they purchase it. That is their right. And, of course, they want to make it their own. So why fault them for having their own opinion about pets? It’s not like they are looking at a picture of your kids and saying, “Wow! That kid is ugly! I cannot buy this house.” No.

We haven’t even touched on pet smells and pet paraphernalia yet. I will be brief. Don’t be the house that smells like a dog or like a litter box. It’s just gross and will not achieve top market value for your home. And will probably deter any offers at all. As far as pet toys, scratching posts and towers, crates, etc are concerned, please remove them. It is no different than our clients who have little kids. We (our stager, Kendra and I) ask them to remove the toys and such from the home so a buyer can focus on the benefits of the home, not the kid toys. The less personal or unique a home feels while it is being shown, the more likely a buyer will be able to identify with and feel comfortable in that home. It doesn’t mean that we don’t like kids. We just really like SOLD signs in our clients’ yards.

If you have a puppy or a dog and would like to give them a vacation while your home is on the market, I strongly recommend Puppy’s Play Pen on 95th Street between Roe and Nall Ave. We have taken our pets there for years and have always had an incredible experience. If you have a recommendation for a cat vacation destination, I would love to hear from you.

Your home: The right agent

In the last month, I have noticed a trend. We have retained several listings (homes for sale) that were listed with another agent prior to us, yet failed to sell. We are certainly thrilled to help, however, I cannot help but feel bad for the seller.

People hire Realtors for numerous reasons: They’ve worked with them before, they’ve been referred from a friend or family member, they’ve seen their signs around town, or perhaps the Realtor is a personal friend or family member. Whatever the background, I feel that most sellers enter into a business relationship with a Realtor for one true reason: To get their home sold.

This is where it gets tricky. The vetting process for finding a Realtor is very important. You want to hire the right one the first time around. Although for years I have heard colleagues say that they would rather be the second Realtor because at that point they think that the seller is more realistic, I disagree. It is my job to properly set expectations for our clients and make sure that what they expect, the market will deliver. And most importantly, back it up with facts and experience. I want to be the first Realtor on the job so I can get the job done.

Failing to sell the first time around is most certainly a “black eye” for the seller. Not only is there a history of the home in our multiple listing service, but also a home can begin to get “market tired.” After having people traipse through your home for months, it is only natural for a home to lose the sparkle that it had when it was first listed. Of course, you can always spruce it back up. Unfortunately, you cannot change the narrative that potential buyers will tell themselves about your home. Even before they see it.

You know what I am talking about. The old, “Something must be wrong with that house. Why hasn’t it sold yet?” Once a potential buyer starts telling their own story about your home in their head, you are then fighting an uphill battle.

As an example, I have a couple of current listings who are at a price today that would have earned them multiple offers in the summer market. Due to seasonality and the aforementioned narrative, we are now fighting that very same uphill battle. We will win the battle, don’t get me wrong. The seller’, however, will not financially achieve what they could have had they received the proper counsel the first time around with their first agent.

For me, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the first Realtor. It is their job to know their craft and to help their clients achieve their goals. Otherwise, why be a Realtor? That is where the joy of being a Realtor comes from for me. I realize that we are all human and we all make mistakes. However, when the market gives a message loud and clear, it is the Realtor’s job to communicate that message clearly to their clients and to adjust the plan moving forward whether that pertains to price, condition, or both. Isn’t that the guidance that seller’s hire us for? I believe that it is.

As you can tell, I am passionate about this topic. I don’t like to see sellers leaving money on the table. Especially due to poor counsel.

If you are looking to sell your home in the future, please make your choice carefully. For a moment, let’s pretend that you have been diagnosed with an illness that requires surgery. It is completely curable, however, the surgery requires specialized talents. If this were you, the interview process to find your surgeon would be very detailed and you would look for a surgeon with a proven track record, right? Isn’t this time like that time? Except that now we are talking about financial surgery. So the question becomes, “Do you want a Realtor who is carefully working their way around your equity with a scalpel, or someone hacking at it with an ax?”

Your home: Buy stock or buy a home? Which is a smarter investment?

Taylor's at Howe Dr house in snow

This week I was cruising through CNN Money and came across an article entitled, “Housing guru Shiller: Put your money in stocks.” Of course I had to read it and then realized that yet another sexy column title had lured me in when the column itself was not as controversial as the title. Still, I wondered how many people saw that title and took it at face value? Then I got kind of mad.

Robert Shiller is a brilliant economist. That is for sure. As a Yale professor and esteemed economist, he is responsible for valuation models for both the stock market and the housing market. The Case-Shiller Index (a housing index used with multiple indices to evaluate home values and trends) is prevalent today and is used to evaluate the housing markets. A related article even gives credit to Shiller for predicting the housing bubble in the early 2000s. However, many experts were warning of a housing bubble. The markets and public at large just weren’t listening. Myself included.

Back to the article. Here is the main quote from Shiller: “It would be perhaps smarter, if wealth accumulation is your goal, to rent and put money in the stock market, which has historically shown much higher returns than the housing market,” said Shiller, who was speaking at a panel discussion Thursday. He then goes on to say that this strategy has worked very well for the Swiss, as they have a very low rate of home ownership yet the people there are very rich.

The article then goes on to point out that the Shiller PE Ratio (a valuation model created by Shiller for the stock market) currently points out that the stocks are too pricey compared to the long term average.

So which is it Shiller?

To me, a big piece from his quote is missing from the title of the article. His point about wealth accumulation is what I am referring to. I would argue that real estate investment is still a better long term path to wealth, but let’s just pretend for a minute that Shiller is right. I cannot remember the last time someone sat down with our team and said that they want to buy a home purely for wealth accumulation.  Although long term wealth is a great goal in my opinion, just that alone leaves out so much of what home ownership is all about.

People buy homes because they are a sound investment. That point has been proven over time. More importantly people buy homes because it provides for them a sense of accomplishment that very few other purchases can provide.  The look on first-time home buyers’ faces when they get the keys to their first home is awesome. I cannot describe the pride that beams from them. Or the relief that shows when a young family finally gets to move out of their first home and into a new, more spacious one.

Home ownership also fosters a sense of community and belonging that renting just cannot provide. It makes you a part of something because you own a piece of the community. That makes it personal. Very personal. When we see our clients tear up when they move out of their first home into their second, they don’t say in a quivering voice, “Man, that was a great wealth builder.” No, of course not.

I remember when Leah and I moved out of our first home at 7701 Howe Drive to our current home. I was so ready to move to our new neighborhood that I thought leaving Howe Drive wouldn’t have an affect on me.  But when the day came, the movie reel started rolling. It started with Leah and I pretty much living in our bedroom for the first few months after we bought the place because we couldn’t afford living room furniture. Then it went on to painting the entire interior ourselves and having all the windows replaced because the current ones were rotten. Next to our first Christmas and how I learned to measure your tree before you buy it. Leah likes a fat tree and that year we couldn’t see the TV in the living room because of our fat tree. Fast forward a few years and we got to the good stuff. Like the cold winter day that we brought our beautiful son, Ben, home for the first time. I couldn’t believe that they let me leave the hospital with him. I had his room all set up and was so thrilled to be his dad. A few years later, we were blessed with Harry so we got to move Ben to a big boy room and set Harry up in his nursery. Then I thought of all of the falls and other scary parenting moments that have happened over the years in that house. The movie just kept rolling.

After my last clean up at Howe Drive, I was thankful for the memories that home had brought me and I was thankful for the experience because I now understood how many of our client felt and still feel today.  Home is where the heart is. They say that for a reason. So here’s to all the beautiful homes and hearts out there. Make it an awesome holiday season!

Your home: Giving thanks for another great real estate year

As I look back on 2014, I cannot help but give thanks for a great year. Appreciating a healthy real estate market is something that the recession taught me. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

So let’s just cut to the chase and go over the top five reasons to be grateful for the 2014 real estate market

  1. Homes sold like hot cakes! 2014 was a year of fast selling houses. Our average days on market for the last 12 months has been 16 days. That is a fast market! After five years of a sluggish market, it has been great to see sellers winning again.
  2. Home prices on the rise. Throughout 2014, home prices have been on the rise. Although we have seen them level off in recent months, the year as a whole has proved to put more money in seller’s pockets. In 2013, we saw one of the highest single year increases in home values on record nationally. We should be in that same range (maybe a little less) at the end of 2014.
  3. Lenders loosen their purse strings. Really, this has been the case for a couple of years now. Lenders and investors are back in the game and the money is flowing. Yes, the financing world is very focused on a buyer’s credit score and their debt-to-income ratio. Other than that, lenders are ready to lend. Yes, you will have to submit a ton of documentation during the process. Honestly, you pretty much have to provide everything but a blood sample to lenders these days. However, if you can be patient, you can take advantage of our next thing to be thankful for: low interest rates.
  4. Historically low interest rates. In the early 2000s, interest rates were double what they are today. And for those of you who were in the real estate market in the 80s and 90s, you remember rates in the teens. Hard to imagine considering that rates have been below 5 percent since 2010. We know that everything operates in a cycle and that includes interest rates. As I have said before, be thankful for these low rates and know that we are on borrowed time. As the markets continue to improve and set records, and unemployment continues to drop, rates will inevitably go up.
  5. Strong affordability. Housing affordability was at its best in the latter years of the recession and still remains low today. 2014 has offered great housing affordability to the market, however, it is slipping. As home values increase, and interest rates slowly increase, affordability is slipping away as well.

Finally, I must say that I am very thankful to the Prairie Village Post and to the readers out there who support our column. We are so proud of our partnership with PVPost.com and our goal is to continue to bring valuable real estate information to you each and every week. Please let me know how we can be a resource to you and your family by emailing us with any suggested topics or questions. We are here to help. Happy Thanksgiving holiday to you and yours!