Friday, July 29, 2016

What You See Is Not Always What You Get


When I started my Exclusive Buyer Agency, I felt that Buyers were not getting the whole truth when they were shopping for a home, so I made it my mission to give them the truth.
  
As part of that commitment, and because the majority of Martha’s Vineyard buyers are not local, I felt they needed an accurate picture of the properties they were interested in. At that time the photographs that accompanied property listings were, in a word, abysmal.  It was commonly believed, and it still is among some old timers, that more and better photographs were counterproductive to the seller agent’s goal which was to sell real estate.  It just gave potential buyers a reason to reject a property before actually seeing it.

As I set out on my mission, I bought a really good professional camera, flash w/ auxiliary battery pack, and an 11mm wide angle lens, which is my go to lens today.  I started taking what I call “Scratch-n-Sniff” photographs of all properties I previewed.  I move very fast and don't have time for staging, lighting, etc.  All in all, I do a good job of accurately representing the property and explaining the layout.  I experimented with video and I have used Facetime, but I find the way I take my photographs gives my buyer clients a very accurate representation of a property.

Very soon after beginning this process colleagues would want to know what equipment I was using and my technique.  I was happy to share.  What followed was a HUGE improvement in the quality of property listing photographs. I wish I owned stock in Nikon.

And then a competition evolved among the larger offices. Who could take the glitziest photographs? Photoshop and Lightroom became common tools to embellish the photographs to the point that they became distorted and cartoon-like.

Businesses were born and now there are a number of professional real estate photography companies on Martha’s Vineyard offering still, video and drone photography.
I continued doing what I do, staying true to my original mission, keeping it simple stupid (KISS), and doing my best to tell the truth.  Over the last 12 years I have amassed a library of tens of thousands of images all cataloged and easily accessible.

I was reading an article about real estate photography in one of the professional real estate publications I receive and here are some excerpts I want by Buyer readers to think about. A survey by VHT Studios, a professional real estate photography company found that “professional online photographs increased a buyer’s perceived value of a listing by 11.5 percent when compared to listings with descriptions only. Adding an online video tour of the property increased perceived value by 6 percent.”  The article goes on to say that the ‘perceived value’ leads to more interest and multiple offers creating bidding wars which result in higher closing prices.I think another result of overly embellished photographs is buyers who get very upset when they make the effort to see the property and realize the property is not as nice as the photographs they saw.  Actually, one could argue that this is a breach of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, not to mention state and federal laws protecting consumers from false or misleading advertising.

One of my favorite slogans is “Get What You Want, Not What You Get”. Buyers seek me out and engage me as their Exclusive Buyer Agent because they know I will tell them the truth – the good, the bad and the ugly.  Ask anyone who has worked with SplitRock Real Estate and they will tell you --- the truth.

Monday, April 04, 2016

THE PROBLEM WITH RESIDENTIAL HEATING OIL STORAGE TANKS

If you live on Martha’s Vineyard the most common fuel sources are Propane and Oil, oil having been the most commonly used for decades not to mention the most efficient (BTU) heating source. 

Before I discuss the problem I want to explain that Martha’s Vineyard Island is a very fragile ecosystem relying on a common aquifer for its drinking water. Once that aquifer has been compromised to the point that it is no longer potable – suitable for drinking, life will change.  I am not saying we are doomed, but our quality of life will suffer significantly.  Right now, today, we are still in good shape and I know my drinking (well) water is delicious.

We have done a lot to protect the ground water with the implementation and regulation of engineered Title 5 waste water systems and limited expansion of the sewer system networks, but that is topic for another conversation.

First of all, residential “consumptive” use fuel oil storage tanks are not regulated by the Federal Government.  The Fed focuses on the commercial sector because the fuel containers are huge (e.g. gas stations, etc.) and the consequences of a breach would be catastrophic.  Normally, for residential consumption, whether the oil storage tank is above or below ground the capacity is between 275 and 288 gallons.

In my two and half decades in the real estate business on Martha’s Vineyard I have witnessed some very unfortunate costly mishaps concerning fuel oil storage tanks.  For example, two 275 gallon single wall storage tanks above ground connected in series; one tank begins to leak and siphons the second tank’s contents out and into the earth below.  Why did no one notice what was happening? Because the owners were absentee seasonal occupants like so many other property owners on Martha’s Vineyard. The area had to be excavated and all – I mean ALL, of the contaminated soil had to be removed, and then it had to be carted off-Island to an approved disposal center for HAZARDOUS WASTE materials.  Would you like to guess how much that cost?  In another situation a tank leaked in a basement in a heavily populated area. The basement had to be excavated as did a portion of the exterior beyond the foundation. Soil samples had to be taken not only at the subject property but for the properties abutting the area of the fuel oil spill.  Also, the contaminated earth had to be packed into dozens of large storage drums for transfer off Island. Would you like to guess how much that cost?


Single wall steel fuel oil storage tanks have been used since before I was born, but they don’t last forever and like everything else it seems, the quality has diminished.  Normally, the wall thickness of a 275 gallon single wall tank is 12 gauge but when “off shore” tanks were introduced into this country, quality control suffered.  



Thus, the introduction of the ROTH stainless steel “double wall” fuel oil storage tank. However, they are not cheap. You can buy a single wall 275 gallon tank for about $1000.00, whereas a ROTH tank will cost you triple that amount – but you will have it forever, if there is such a thing.







Is there an alternative or “band aide” if you don’t have $3500?  There is a company, Boston Environmental that has been administering the TankSure Program inspection services for a number of years.  I recently observed a demonstration and I have to admit, even though this is a serious matter, it made me chuckle. Why? Because it reminded me of a pregnancy ultrasound. First they smear some clear jell on the transducer probe that is used to send and receive sound waves, then they move the probe around, usually to 10-12 locations along the lower tank wall while reading the measurements on a digital display.  
Through analysis the condition of the tank is rated.  The generally accepted minimum wall thickness measurement to pass a tank is 0.100”.  If the average is significantly less than that the tank will fail the inspection. 

Some companies offer incentives and a limited warranty, but in my opinion there are no guarantees even though the tank passes the test.  If the test results are marginal you may be advised to have the tank replaced or at the very least tested every year. Some fuel oil companies may even refuse to fill a tank that is below the accepted range.  What do I tell my Buyer Clients? REPLACE THE TANK with a ROTH tank.


So, if you are as concerned about contamination to our aquifer as I am and you heat your home with fuel oil but cannot afford to replace your single wall tank right now, what should you do?  You can start by being proactive and contract with a fuel oil company that is also proactive.  Currently the first service provider on Martha’s Vineyard to offer the TankSure Program for oil tank & equipment inspection services is Island Energy, Inc (www.islandfuelinc.com).  Give them a call.  Jay McMann is the President and he can be reached at (508) 696-5959.

For more information, Mass.Gov has a great section under Energy and Environmental Affairs:  RemovingYour Underground Heating Oil Tank - A Homeowner's Guide

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Every One thinks they are an Expert

I was reading an article written for Houselogic.com about pricing “Your Home”. Actually, the information could be used to price the home you want to sell or the home you want to buy. 

After reading the article I came away disagreeing with some of what the expert had to say.

I agree that pricing a home based on data, not emotion, can mean a swift sale. That’s a no brainer and has to do with that ‘endowment theory’ mindset I have talked about before.  However, I do not agree that “home pricing is more of a science than an art”. Home pricing is an art; it is an educated ‘guesstimate’. Any appraiser will testify to that, and the reason why is because no two homes are the same and no two properties are the same – there are too many variables for a scientific conclusion to result.  The author claims “crunching the numbers is always the better route to an accurate home price”.  Well, it beats throwing darts at a board, and appraisers do crunch numbers to a certain extent but it is their professional experience that guides their final analysis and ‘appraisal’ of a property.

From this preface the author goes into various topic headlines.  The first one is “The Pitfalls of Overpricing”.  Let me tell you, overpricing can be the kiss of death and for some reason seller agents do it all the time here on Martha’s Vineyard.  I suppose the rationale that has proven true is “you never know”, or as I like to say, paraphrasing what allegedly PT Barnum once said, “There is a sucker born every minute”.  That is becoming less and less true due to both the advent of the Exclusive Buyer Agent giving buyers their own advocate and due to more and more information (?) becoming available on the Web.  Nevertheless, overpricing is part and parcel of the real estate marketing game and, as I said, it can be the kiss of death.  Besides the fact that it will take much MUCH longer to sell a home, the author rightfully points out “Continually lowering the price could turn off potential buyers who might start wondering just what is wrong with your home.”

Under the next topic, The Pricing Trap, the author points out that it is wrong to think that ‘renovations’ will “result in a dollar-for-dollar increase in the selling price – or more.”  There are dozens of articles out there listing the best bang for the buck upgrades and improvements, and those that are not so good but should be looked at as enhancing the owner’s quality of life while they own the house.  This is more a cautionary for would be home sellers and don’t forget that some improvements you make may just be improvements the buyer would want to make according to their taste.  Also, those fruit trees in the front yard that you think are so special – take them with you because a buyer is not going to pay extra for them.

Now here is an interesting adage: “Don’t buy the nicest home on the block”. That is most certainly true in America but on Martha’s Vineyard it actually works in reverse.  Martha’s Vineyard is old and so are most of the homes here, with many of those old homes in varying stages of disrepair and decay.  The life of a modern home today is about 40 years which would apply to those built in the late sixties, early seventies and certainly most of the crap that was thrown up during the 80’s.  Sure, we have some wonderful old antiques that are hundreds of years old, but to renovate them can cost as much or more than if you were to tear them down and build a modern replica. Yes, we have the talent to do that here on Martha’s Vineyard.  Anyway, the point I am making is that if you buy or build the biggest house in the neighborhood eventually it will inspire and encourage others to follow suit. That’s how the Vineyard will go through a renaissance once we have a strong economy again, although there are a number of projects like that going on right now.

I totally agree with the author when she points out that Zillow’s Zestimate’s are a factor in the incorrect pricing of homes for sale, or even for buyers to rely on when looking for and making offers on homes.  “The estimate is often wildly inaccurate.”  Yup, you bet it is.  Stay away from Zillow … ask a professional real estate licensee and make sure that licensee is a REALTOR®.  Ask me, I’m a REALTOR® and a True Exclusive Buyer Agent – I Represent People, Not Property. 

The rest of the article is irrelevant for the purpose of my writing but if you want to read the whole article for yourself go to Not Sure How to Price Your Home?


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The End of the World is Coming on August 1st



No, it’s not but the Closing process is going to dramatically change and we still don’t know if it will be for the better. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we probably won’t know until we work with it for a while.  But why go through all of these changes?  The hope is that by making these changes we can avoid the conditions that led to what we painfully remember as the Great Recession.

I was speaking with the Mortgage Sales Manager for Santander Bank and she listed what she says are the stated goals of the ‘New Rule’, also being called the TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule, which is supposed to:

1) Make it easier to use mortgage disclosure forms.
2) Improve Customer understanding – “Know Before You Owe”.
3) Aid in comparison shopping.
4) Prevent surprises at the Closing table.

The bottom line is increased consumer protection.

We’ve all heard of the DoddFrank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which requires combining the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and Truth in Lending Act (TILA) disclosures together. 

What has been termed the “Rush Closing” will be long gone.  No longer will you receive a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) or a Truth in Lending disclosure. Those two forms have been combined into one Loan Estimate (LE) form.  Here is one of the problems lenders will be faced with: although this is called an “estimate”, lenders will be accountable for the exact charges outlined on the LE and they must be within 10% on many others, or lenders will incur huge fines.

Most of us have seen a HUD-1 Settlement Statement that discloses where the money goes and who gets what in a purchase and sale transaction.  The HUD is prepared by the closing attorney and the buyer gets to review it one day before they close on their new home.  The HUD is going to be replaced by the Closing Disclosure (CD). Although the CD will be similar to the LE, the most important and challenging change will be that the CD must be presented to the buyer a full three days before the closing, and if there are changes during that three day period, you guessed it – the closing could be delayed an additional three days or more.  Attorneys will also be required to provide costs much earlier in the process than before. 

The new Rules will place the burden on all partners at the Closing table – buyers, sellers, real estate licensees, bankers and attorneys.  As you can imagine, any delay in the closing could be very costly to all parties. Imagine what it could mean if during a delay the buyer’s loan rate lock expires?  Or a moving company has to wait to deliver furniture to the buyer’s new home?  Or the seller’s payoff will no longer be any good because it has expired. 
  
In the short run, what does this all mean to you as a potential buyer? It means, if you are considering making a purchase in 2015 and you will require a mortgage, make your purchase decision now and apply for a mortgage before August 1 or be prepared for the process to take a lot longer (~15+ days).  Rest assured there will be bumps in the road while everyone involved in the process goes through OJT while sorting out the bugs in the new “Know before You Owe” package.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Martha's Vineyard Real Estate -- Trapped In A Deep Freeze





What’s new this week? Well, not much as we, and most of New England, have been in a deep freeze holding pattern for what seems like an eternity.  Once again we got hammered by another snow storm. This time the forecast for 3-6” of snow ended up being 8-10” on Martha’s Vineyard.  Snow is piling up everywhere and we are running out of places to put it.

When the snow begins to melt that is when the problems will also begin.  I’ve already seen disaster cleanup company trucks in front of a number of properties around the Island. With the warmup we will see flooded roads, flooded basements and crawl spaces and burst pipes that have been held together by the frigid temperatures.  Dirt roads will look like a war zone.  It is going to take quite a while to clean up Paradise Island. Landscapers are going to be very busy this spring cleaning up properties battered by the elements and rough snow plowing. Gardens decimated by the deep snow load will most likely take a big hit and have to be replanted, but we are New England and we’ll get over it.  I can’t wait to be over it.


I was speaking to a listing aggregator yesterday – if you don’t know what that is don’t ask, and he was telling me he is hearing from real estate companies throughout New England that the market has been set back significantly due to the weather, and seller agents are very frustrated.  The general consensus is that what now would normally be an early spring market has been pushed back about two months due to the weather. Actually, I don’t think we will even have a spring market this year.  The National Association of REALTORS® recently reported that the top 10 dates sellers listed their homes in 2014 all fell in April, May or June. 
 
Only serious buyers are out there right now and only motivated sellers have their properties on the market ready to strike a deal.  But, as you can see from this week’s report, properties are starting to come back onto the market, both new and retreads.  You can also see that price changes are not happening. Why? Because the market seems to feel that the time has come and a rebound has begun.  For now I will say they are right, so as I said last week --- don’t be greedy.  Strike a fair deal and move on with your life. Of course that goes for both buyers and sellers. You are still going to find those sellers who are really not motivated and are just fishing or those sellers who are examples of the ‘endowment effect’. They think their property is special and worth a whole lot more than comparable property sales would suggest.

I know buyers are frustrated and uncomfortable about getting into the market until all the goods are out on the shelves.  Sure they can find out which properties are off the market ‘taking a winter nap’, but many of them believe waking one of those properties to make an offer puts them at an unfair advantage, unless of course they don’t care and just want to buy it now. That is why I say it is so foolish for sellers to remove properties from the active market if the post script is that they are still available for sale.

I believe the spring/summer market is not going to be an easy one to negotiate, both logistically and transaction wise.  I am combining the two markets together because I think the spring market will begin sometime in late April; the end of May is when the summer market normally starts to ramp up.  With tens of thousands of visitors here in June, July and August the roads will be jammed and renters are not going to be cooperative with real estate agents wanting to show properties for sale.  It’s going to be a difficult but prosperous year for real estate.  Let’s just hope we don’t get any tropical storms.