An Insider’s Tour of the Secret World of Residential Real Estate For Agents, Sellers, and Buyers
Date Published: May 2021
Publisher: Canterbury Books
OPEN HOUSE! New Book By Veteran Realtor Joey Sheehan
Takes Readers Behind the Scenes Of An Often Opaque Industry
Approximately two-thirds of Americans are involved in real estate transactions. Yet there are few (if any) books that help people understand this complex activity from the perspectives of all three types of parties involved – agent, seller, and buyer. Stepping into the breach, seasoned Realtor Joey Sheehan has written a unique work — OPEN HOUSE! — filled with entertaining anecdotes and practical advice to ensure that her readers’ next real estate transaction proceeds as smoothly as possible.
“Residential real estate is a business like no other,” she writes. “It’s not rational like other businesses because the commodity being bought or sold is a home rather than a car or a refrigerator, and everybody knows that a man’s home is his castle. People get touchy about their castles — you can trust me on this — in a way they don’t about anything else.” Sellers often believe their homes are worth more than the market will bear. Buyers can make unreasonable demands. The agents for both need to ably guide their clients through a potentially volatile process with integrity and professionalism. Sheehan’s insights and counsel help everyone work together to benefit all.
The backbone of OPEN HOUSE! is Sheehan’s Twelve Laws of Real Estate:
1: Selling and buying real property is a very touchy business.
2: Academics publish or perish; Realtors sell or perish.
3: The seller may propose, but it is the buyer who disposes.
4: At the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, it’s always about price.
5: To get paid what you’re worth, insist on getting paid what you’re worth.
6: To stay out of legal trouble, learn the facts, and disclose them.
7: The first offer is the best offer.
8: It’s not over until it’s over.
9: Time is of the essence.
10: If a party to a transaction doesn’t understand the sales contract and something bad happens, watch out—especially if you’re the agent working with the party that does understand it.
11: Never commoditize Realtors: there are the great, the good, the middling, the incompetent, and the disastrous.
12: Engage a Realtor with superior skills, because up to and including the settlement at which a property’s legal transfer of ownership occurs, bizarre problems can surface.
Carefully considering the ramifications of each of the Twelve Laws, Sheehan helps agents understand how they can provide the best service possible, grow their businesses, and avoid unpleasant repercussions, ranging from frivolous client complaints to serious lawsuits. For sellers, she explains how to maximize the value of their homes and avoid the most common mistakes, such as not decluttering and staging their homes in a way calculated to appeal to prospects. For buyers, she provides extensive advice on how to find and purchase their dream home, even in a competitive bidding war. And most importantly, she helps everyone understand the terms of a real estate contract, a document which is legally binding on all parties to a transaction.
With her engaging writing style and flair for storytelling, Sheehan has created the ultimate guide to residential real estate sales. As Robert M. DeMarinis, a former vice president at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, observes, “OPEN HOUSE! delivers because it combines a smart businesswoman’s memoir with an impish ride through her professional world—not from the outside looking in but from the inside looking out!” Anyone who is thinking about selling or buying a home or who works in the residential real estate industry will profit from reading this witty and informative book.
For years it was a mystery to me why sellers so often cannot accept the value that live buyers in the marketplace put on their home, as evidenced by offers they perceive as “too low” or the lack of any offers at all over a protracted period. Listing Realtors know that some sellers can never be persuaded to take a first offer seriously if they deem it “too low.” A second offer around the same proposed sales price, though, is highly suggestive (to the agent if not to her clients), and a third conclusively establishes that the sellers, not the bidding buyers, are living in la-la land. How did they wind up in la-la land? I think I finally understand.
A Unique Type of Artwork
Like artists, sellers of real property believe they have created something of uncommon value. They expect their new listing to generate instant interest among discerning buyers in the same way an artist throwing pots in his studio anticipates a warm reception once his meritorious offerings arrive in a gallery. A beautifully maintained residence with quality interior finishes and well-manicured grounds (perhaps boasting a pool or other sort of water feature) is, from this perspective, a one- of-a-kind metaphorical work of art.
It is this proprietary feeling about their “incomparable” property that causes home sellers so often to run amok during the publicized effort to identify a ready, willing, and able buyer for it. They resemble artists that become averse to criticism once their work leaves the studio for a gallery. However, in both cases, the creators’ “art” is now in the public domain and, as such, is subject to public scrutiny. The sellers’ castles are open to judgment, in other words—multiple judgments. Not all homeowners take the feedback well.
A Dangerous Misapprehension
The typical seller imagines he can determine or at least significantly impact his house’s eventual sales price by setting its asking price. It is true that the seller starts the ball rolling by offering his property for sale. However, it is the buyer who stops the ball rolling by purchasing it. This is the harshest truth of residential sales for homeowners, and rare are those willing to look this truth straight in the eye. Instead, many will insist until the cows come home that their castle is worth what they say it is worth. Prospective home buyers, however, like prospective art buyers, are free to reject the creator-sellers’ view of reality. If all prospective home buyers reject it, the listing will gradually grow stale and sit on the market, spinning its wheels. Then it will sit some more with no takers.
An Odd Artisanal Retreat
One year I met with a senior executive of one of the area’s major financial institutions. The gentleman, who had been referred to me, was seeking my “creative thinking” about a property he and his wife had been trying unsuccessfully to sell for the past four years. Shortly after listing it, the couple had purchased and moved into a new residence, I learned. As a result, the executive and his spouse had been carrying an empty house at a cost of over $100,000 a year all this time, which was “debilitating.” By degrees, they had lowered the listing’s asking price from $1,799,000 to $1,200,000 but offers still eluded them. Their Realtor kept suggesting they “reduce the price,” but they did not feel price was an issue. What, the gentleman wanted to know, was my analysis of the situation? What would I recommend they do?
This listing’s problem was not hard to ascertain. Four years into its marketing campaign, it was still substantially overpriced relative to its merits and demerits, and the only people around who had not figured that out were its owners. Because they had had the one-of-a- kind artisanal retreat specially designed and built for their family, its singular peculiarities and eccentric features were completely lost on them. Clearly, the gentleman and his wife considered themselves artists who had crafted an exquisite artwork, one which should command a strong number in the marketplace.
I recommended a price adjustment to $999,000. Once this occurred, the property immediately found a buyer.
A Historic Fixer-Upper
Another curious case of wild overpricing that touched my life involved a house whose historical core dated back several centuries. The shabby residence, which was at the extreme of what Realtors euphemistically call “tired,” fronted on a street that over three hundred years had evolved from a horse path into one of the area’s busiest thorough- fares. Despite these drawbacks, the prospective seller was convinced the pedigreed property was worth $1,000,000. All but one of my five competitors for the listing dutifully submitted a Competitive Market Analysis suggesting an asking price in that neighborhood. The two of us dissenters, appreciating the home’s functional obsolescence and unfortunate location, recommended pricing the property in the $600,000s. The Realtor who landed the account later told me her client wanted to list at $1,000,000 but that she had managed at the last minute to get the woman to agree to $950,000. This beat-up place sold in the low $600,000s, exactly where I predicted it would, two years and multiple price adjustments later.
As it happens, this home was purchased by buyers who fully appreciated its need for a comprehensive revisualization and total renovation. Through the grapevine I learned that they admirably accomplished these ambitious (and no doubt expensive) goals. If ever they decide to sell, there will still be the matter of the heavily trafficked road abutting the property’s front lawn to discount for in their asking price.
About the Author
Joey Sheehan, author of OPEN HOUSE!, is an award-winning real estate agent with over thirty years of experience. She is affiliated with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors. After graduating with a BA from the University of California at Berkeley, she obtained an MA from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a PhD from Harvard University in Chinese intellectual history. Her first book, which was about the prominent Chinese scholar Wang Guowei (1877-1927), was published by Harvard University Press. She has written widely about both China and residential real estate in a variety of journals, newsletters, magazines, and newspapers. Learn more at www.joeysheehan.com.
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