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The Buyers We Can’t Help

Was I nuts?

The 5BR home our Buyers own—measuring roughly 4,000 square feet—sits on a lake, complete with boat dock and 5 car garage outside of the Birmingham area.

After all, most Agents would welcome the chance we had: To work with the husband and wife who called a few days ago about a home we have listed for sale in Alabaster.

We really need to find a place, the wife tells me.

Moving here from out of area and pre-approved by their local bank to spend up to $300,000, they tell of their frustrating efforts to find a home in Birmingham.

And yet, I would wind up sitting down with them face to face and telling them what some might consider unthinkable: “Sorry, we can’t help you.”

After determining that the house they called about is not a good match, I ask a little more about their situation, and if they’d like help with finding a suitable property.

I get an earful.

They have put full price Offers on two homes, only to have the houses “sell right out from under us,” the husband says.

They had tried to get help from two other Realtors in the area.

“They’ve put us on the back burner,” the husband tells me during a half hour phone call. “I’ll ask to see a particular home a week ahead of time, and nothing happens,” he says.

There is nothing Colleen and I hate worse than hearing about Agents who are non-responsive to their Clients. This kind of behavior makes all of us in the profession look bad.

In our roughly 15 years combined of helping people buy and sell homes in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area, one critical step we always follow is to learn as much as we can about our Buyer’s particular situation.

It pays to listen.

The Offers that failed, it turns out, were both made on the condition that the Buyers could first sell their existing home.

From the description of their home—five bedrooms, over 4,000 square feet on a beautiful lake setting, five car garage, in-ground pool and boat dock—you’d sure think it would go easily…especially in today’s market.

I look their home up on MLS and the Internet. Sales price: Just under $600,000.

My conclusion about their place: Very nice.

Sales data I uncover for the property suggests that these folks paid less than half their current asking price when they bought it. Maybe they’ve put some money into the place over the years.

I can certainly understand that one Agent they’d contact would be a dud.

But two Agents? That’s possible.

Still…

In my mind, questions are starting to rise.

Then comes the bombshell.

They’ve been trying to sell their home for two years.

Boom.

No home should be on the market that long.

During one of our phone calls, I ask the husband more questions.

How many Offers have you gotten? Answer: None

How many showings do you typically get each month? Answer: Maybe one.

Home for sale in Alabaster, Alabama

Part of the process in getting your home sold means adjusting the price, if needed, and monitoring market response closely. If Buyers aren’t showing interest, that’s a clear message.

What kind of Feedback do you get from those showings? Answer: Everyone says it’s a very nice home.

Has anyone ever told you that your home may be overpriced? Answer: Absolutely not.

So, why, then, do you think your home hasn’t sold? Answer: There just aren’t that many people who can afford homes in our price range. Besides, he adds, none of the homes for sale in their area have sold in a long time.

Remember those roughly 15 years selling homes I mentioned? They’ve taught us other things, too.

Experienced Agents know that when homes fail to sell, it’s almost always for at least one of three reasons:

  • Price
  • Location
  • Condition

With the setting on the lake and the home’s general appearance, I’m able to eliminate two of the three causes immediately.

Price, then, can be the only reason.

My exchanges with these people make it clear to me that there is a lot they may not understand, including the changes that are taking place in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area housing market:

  • Inventory has dropped;
  • It’s not a Buyer’s market any longer;
  • Sellers have more clout than they did a couple of years ago;
  • Multiple Offers are occurring again;
  • More homes are starting to sell in shorter amounts of time (sometimes, new Listings go Under Contract within one to two weeks of going on market);
  • More Sellers who price appropriately and have their homes in top condition are getting full asking price or close to it

I realize, too, the probable effect of a recent local MLS rules change on our Buyers, which they may not be aware of.

The rules change requires homes that go Under Contingency Contract be removed from Active Listings and moved to a different category. This reduced exposure, while waiting on the Buyer’s home to sell, is not likely to be attractive to most Sellers.

As a result, many Sellers—at the advice of their Agents—are not accepting home sale Contingency Offers unless the Buyer’s home is already Under Contract to sell. This is understandable; Sellers want at least some assurance that they will be able to actually sell their home, as opposed to losing valuable time on market, only to have the Contingency Contract fall apart if the Buyer’s home fails to sell.

It’s time, I decide, to share some market and general buying knowledge with these people. I sit at the computer and start drafting an e-mail with information they should find useful.

In the meantime, I get a text message.

They’ve found a home for sale in the area they’d like to see today. It’s a Short Sale. They want to know if we can show it to them that afternoon.

I look the home up on MLS. It’s available, and it’s occupied.

There’s a hitch: Lenders in a Short Sale will not accept Contingent Offers based on the sale of the Buyer’s property.

I also look at personal considerations: We would be asking the occupant to let us show their home to people I now realize have very little chance of actually being able to carry through with a purchase at this point in time, even if they wanted to.

We’ve learned—and our Broker, Keller Williams Realty, preaches a lot—that successful sales need to be a win-win for everyone involved.

This means that we need to assess carefully the viability of our Clients to actually carry through and meet their goals.

While I might represent the Buyers and not the Sellers, is asking to show this home under these circumstances appropriate? Is this likely to be a win-win for everyone?

I respond that I can’t show them the home. Instead, I decide, it’s time to have a conversation.

I recommend that we meet in person at our office that afternoon. They agree.

“This is the situation I see you in,” I say, while seated at our conference table. I hold up a note pad.

“First, your main focus is trying to find a home here in the Birmingham/Shelby Co. area,” as I scribble point number one. “And you’re finding it difficult.”

Writing down my assessment of our Buyers’ current situation, as well as a path to follow to reach success, seemed to resonate with both the husband and wife.

Heads nod in agreement.

“Second,” as I write point number two, “You’re not getting help from the Realtors you’ve called, and you’re finding that extremely frustrating.”

“Absolutely,” I’m told. Heads are really nodding now, with facial expressions providing more confirmation.

“And third,” as I keep writing, “You’re still dealing with trying to get your own home sold, something you’ve been unable to do for two years.”

I almost hear an ‘amen, brother.’

There is total agreement; husband and wife relate 100% to everything I’ve said.

At this point, I describe what’s happening right now in the Birmingham area real estate market. I talk about how homes are selling. I explain why Sellers are unlikely to find their Offer—even at full price—attractive.

“One hundred percent of nothing is still nothing,” I tell them.

I share other valuations I’ve found for their property. And while I stress that none of those numbers should be considered reliable for pricing their home, there is such a wide disparity between them and the current asking price that I look straight at them and say, “I think this is a huge problem.”

I point out that inventory in the Shelby Co./Birmingham area can change substantially in less than a 60 day time frame. With no immediate prospect of selling their existing home, I tell them that, by the time they might actually be able to move ahead with a purchase, they would probably have to look at a different set of homes to choose from than is on market right now.

I then offer recommendations.

“First,” I say point blank to them, “Stop what you’re doing. It’s not working.”

I take my pen and abruptly strike through the bullet points I had just written down.

They seem a bit taken back.

No matter what home they find, and when they find it, I tell them that they can’t move ahead with buying until they sell their current home.

Getting your current place sold, I tell them, needs to be your absolute top priority over anything else.

I tell them that I feel very sure their home is overpriced, and that Buyers are, in fact, responding to this.

The silence Buyers have created for two years is deafening.

The husband reminds me that no other lake properties in the area have sold. I have a quick answer. That’s something we have seen before. “It may well be that they’re all overpriced,” I tell them.

“Every home will sell. There are Buyers out there.”

The husband mentions that they have to be able to walk away from the sale of their home with a certain amount of money.

“I completely understand,” I answer.

While I tell them I realize that how much money these folks clear from the sale of their home is very important to them, I point out that it’s of no concern at all to a Buyer.

The true value of your home, I tell them, is the figure at which a Buyer and a Seller agree to sit across from each other at a closing table.

Home for sale in Alabaster, Alabama

Homes in Birmingham are selling faster and easier, compared to previous years. Sellers who price appropriately and have their homes in top condition typically don’t have to wait long to receive an Offer.

I write down a new set of bullet points on my pad.

Number one, I recommend, is to get an appraisal. It’s the best independent assessment of their home’s actual probable value.

The husband mentions that they can use an appraisal from two years ago. Nope, I respond, that won’t work. It needs to be no more than about six months old. After looking at a current appraisal of their home’s probable selling price, I tell the couple that they’ll have a decision to make.

Number two, as I continue scribbling, is to adjust the sales price. And, I tell them, they have to keep adjusting it until they get sufficient interest—and an Offer that turns into a Contract—on their home.

Number three, as I talk and scribble, is to get their home Under Contract.

I conclude by scribbling item four: Start looking for your next home.

When they make it to point number three, I tell them, is when it’s time to pick up the phone and call us for help with finding a home in the Birmingham area.

And that’s more promising to be a win-win for everyone.

I tear the sheet off the notepad and hand it to the husband.

“Colleen and I would love to be your Agents,” I tell them, “but now you understand why we can’t help you with looking at homes right now.”

While our meeting concludes on a friendly tone, I sense that these folks are not walking out very happy.

Will we ever hear from them again?

Did we manage to lose a potential Buyer Client and sale?

I have no idea.

But my conscience is clear.

It’s about being honest and giving people information they need to know.

Even when they may not want to hear it.

Lake Forest Summer ’13 Sales Update

If you’re looking to buy a home in the Birmingham, Alabama, area, Lake Forest—a lake and sidewalk neighborhood in Alabaster—is a popular choice for several reasons.

It’s attractive, offers a great quality of life, and is in a convenient location.  A number of people who work in Birmingham choose to live in Lake Forest because they enjoy it so much.

Alabaster is also home to the city’s newly formed school system, which has many excited for the future.

Here’s a video update showing homes selling and available in Lake Forest (you can watch this video in high definition if you like—simply click the ‘Full Screen’ icon in the lower right corner of the video window below).

Whether it’s Lake Forest or throughout the north Shelby Co. and south Jefferson Co. areas, we’re ready to help with your home buying or selling needs.

Let us know if we can answer any questions; we’re reachable at 205.356-5412 (voice or text).  

Start packing!

David

A Bright Star for Birmingham

If you’re moving to Birmingham from out of area, we’ll make one pledge right out of the starting gate if we wind up helping you with your purchase of a home.

We’ll tell you about The Bright Star.

Any restaurant that has been open for business for over 100 years continuously has to be doing something right.

Colleen and I visited The Bright Star last evening and, as usual, owner Jimmy Koikos was making the rounds to each table, checking to be sure that his customers are getting meals and service that will make them want to return.

I have been a customer there for decades.  We have never, ever been disappointed.

One of last night’s specials—grilled snapper with crabmeat—was Colleen’s choice.  I was able to sneak a bite or two and have to agree with her:  Jimmy and his team hit yet another one over the fence and out of the ballpark.

The Bright Star is open for lunch and dinner and takes reservations.

A visit to the Bright Star in Bessemer is a must...

When Birmingham Goes To The Dogs…

Colleen and I love this time of the year. Fall in Alabama can be a time of spectacular weather, and the start of October is no exception.

This is also the time when Shelby Co. and Birmingham area pet owners gather for what has become a popular annual event, sponsored by the City of Alabaster and the Shelby Co. Humane Society. Bark In The Park, held at Alabaster’s Veterans Park, continues to grow every year.

With new video camera in hand, we thought we’d share a few sights and sounds of this year’s festivities … for man and his best friend, too, it was a lot of fun…

Veterans Park is a fabulous park developed by the City of Alabaster. A lot of folks buying homes in the area wind up falling in love with this park, and for good reason.

We know some folks who are already planning to attend next year’s Bark In The Park. It’s held the first Saturday of October.

David

New Homes in Birmingham in 120s…

New home prices are getting more attractive all the time. If you doubt that, consider this: In the Shelby Co./Birmingham area, you can have a new home built and pay in the 120s.

For some folks, those prices—coupled with interest rates continuing near all time lows—are just too good to pass up.

Colleen and I thought you’d like a behind-the-scenes look at a new home being built in the Montevallo/Alabaster area.

It’s a good chance to see what your money can buy for you. So, we fired up the video camera and invite you to tag along:

Whether you’re thinking of buying for the first time, or if you’re considering moving, pricing and inventory remain very attractive.

Got questions? Feel free to contact us at 205.677.8696.

Buying a home—whether new or existing—is a big decision, and we certainly recognize that.

Your best decision is always made when you have as much information as possible. We’re happy to help with any questions you have…

David

Birmingham 2011 Home Sales: Market Thoughts

If you’re thinking of selling your home during 2011, does it make sense to sell sooner, rather than later?

This may be something to consider after listening to Tom Horn, an appraiser who specializes in home values in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. areas.

That’s because of what may be ahead in the coming months, which could make it tougher to sell later in the year.

On the other hand, Tom has been looking at price trends in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area during the past year, and he has seen some changes from previously observed drops. For homeowners uncertain about trying to sell their properties, the trends—while not wonderful news—are actually a little encouraging.

We caught up with Tom to get his thoughts on what’s happening with home values here, and to ask what he thinks may be ahead. Whether you’ve been thinking about selling or buying a home in the Birmingham/Alabaster and Shelby Co. area, you may find Tom’s observations helpful.

Click the player just below…

…or click here if you’d like to download and listen to this interview on your personal listening device.

You can learn a lot more about pricing and trends from visiting Tom Horn’s Birmingham Appraisal blog, a great source of information on values and other appraisal-related news affecting the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Tom’s services, visit his appraisal-source website here.

Tom is a good source of information on home values. He is even having folks who are thinking of selling their home call him in advance to appraise their properties … that, coupled with talking with an Agent familiar with the area, is a good way to know up front what your home’s ultimate selling price is likely to be.

Thanks, Tom, for the great information…

David