Not my President

Yes, the title of this post is correct. It is exactly what I meant to type in the headline space. If you are highly sensitive and thin-skinned and lean right (politically speaking) you may want to quit reading. I am passionate about what is going on and I cannot avoid using this blog to speak up.

But wait; I am a Realtor and I am not supposed to openly state my political beliefs for fear of losing business, right? Some say it is blasphemy or professional suicide to speak or write one’s political views, in case a prospective customer might see or hear me and decide they can’t work with me. That’s too damn bad for me, I suppose. Hmmm… Guess I am a US citizen before I am a Realtor. And for a real estate blog about Santa Fe NM residential property and market trends, I might be preaching to the choir; I don’t know. Santa Fe is as left leaning as any city I am aware of. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

If you have alt-right, anti-POC, anti LGBT, anti-Semite, climate change denying, socially regressive, pro-Trump views and beliefs, do not contact me for real estate business if you prefer to work with someone who is more like you. I might speak about my beliefs while in your company. I might ask you about your beliefs. I am both sorry not sorry. That’s just the way it is. There are plenty of other Realtors out there that will keep their mouth shut when it comes to current events.

If you fear we are dangerously close to becoming a socialist country, which might mean affordable health care for all, don’t contact me. If you believe “Drill baby drill” is the best philosophy when it comes to energy sources, do not contact me.

Until there are checks and balances on the 45th President, preventing him from taking away basic health care from those that most need it, not allowing him to put abusers and hateful people into lifetime appointments in the judicial system, forcing him to obey the laws of this land (taxes, emoluments, honest dealings with people), I will not agree to just give him some time to sort things out. Already, in less than 2 years, he has destroyed many hard-fought victories for many disadvantaged and suffering people and institutions. He has laid waste to honesty and integrity in his communication and his behavior. He has incited violence (terrorism) here at home and destroyed alliances with almost all of our allies (unless he profits from doing business with them). He represents, so he says, his base, but that might be a mere 35 to 40% of people who actually voted in 2016. That might approach 20% of all Americans. So yes, more people should vote.

Let us all be certain to vote November 6th (I voted early and was pleased to see good crowds out on a rainy day). Because until we vote in enough legislative people to put a check on the lawless, corrupt, unethical, immoral and hateful activities he supports, we will have to be very careful in what were traditionally safe places: schools, places of worship, places of public gatherings…

Every now and then someone comes along that gets such a large head start on fooling the majority of people, that a great deal of damage is done before enough come to realize what is going on. We have passed the point where we are impressed with his ability to garner votes. Once the Russian meddling in our elections became well-known and understood, his legitimate standing as President became in doubt. He is not my President.

What are others saying? I have borrowed from a New Yorker article recently published online:

On Wednesday, David Gergen, the veteran Republican political commentator, who has worked for four different Presidents, said on CNN, “Donald Trump unleashed the dogs of hatred in this country from the day he declared he was running for President. And they’ve been snarling and barking at each other ever since. It’s just inevitable there are going to be acts of violence that grow out of that.”

The veteran Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked on the Presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, has become an ardent critic of Trump. On Wednesday, in a series of tweets commenting on the pipe-bomb attacks, he described Trump as “the greatest demagogue in American history,” someone who “has celebrated violence over and over again.” Schmidt went on, writing that “no journalist or commentator should be intimidated from making this point. The stoking of hatred and sundering of the American people was always going to lead to terrible consequences. Chief amongst them would be the initiation of partisan or sectarian violence within our country.”

The above quotes are just from this week, a tragic and historically horrible week in our history. Is it getting better? I say no, as long as that President continues to blame everyone else for his human shortcomings and his determination to abandon democracy for the sort of dictatorship practiced by Putin that he so covets. He simply cannot stand criticism, believing it to be unfair to him. In a way it is as if he thinks he lives “above the law”.

Here is to honest and heart-felt discourse without blame and without prejudice. Here is to finding ways to make ourselves and our society better. Here is to helping preserve this beautiful world for our great-grandchildren. I hope each and every person can find ways to improve someone else’s welfare and sanity in addition to just worrying about their own piece of the pie.

Careful what you wish for

You had plenty to be worried about over the last 10 years including ‘will my home ever sell’ or ‘will I ever see my 401-K regain the level it was at before the storm’. You didn’t know if you’d ever get what you paid for when you finally sold that house. You would have loved to have sold in 2011. Or 2009 or 2012 or last year. And now in 2018 you may be able to sell it fairly quickly, but for enough to get back what you lost to the economic recession that wiped out your life savings and stock portfolio?

We have always wished for a full recovery from the real estate crash and we might finally be able to say with utmost confidence that we have achieved that. And you might also be thinking this sure doesn’t feel as good as you wanted it to feel. Now that you cannot blame impossible mortgage loan requirements and scarce money, plus the plethora of foreclosures clogging up the market, what is the problem exactly?

In a textbook example to illustrate, M/M HomeOwner paid $475,000 for their dream home in 2006, with the help of an 85% mortgage. The payments were pretty high, more than double their rent costs, but they had a bright outlook for the future and wanted the big and rambling home. After several years it turned out not to be their dream home for a list of reasons. So they tried to sell it in 2009 and their Realtor told them they MIGHT be able to get $350,000. Something had gone horribly wrong in the real estate market, and in fact the entire economy was flatlining. Well, their mortgage balance back then was $405,000 which scared the bejesus out of them and they “held on” to the home, making payments to stay out of foreclosure and the ruin of their credit. They did not replace the carpet or upgrade the master bath as funds were tight with payments and all.

Gradually things got a little better and in 2012 their favorite Realtor told them the home MIGHT sell for $400,000 and their balance by then had dropped to the same amount $400,000. But they knew the home was not going to show well with that heavily worn carpet and broken down fridge and dishwasher and stained countertops plus all the stucco cracks. They were told the cost of sale would represent about seven percent of the final sales price. They were not ready to take that hit and sell it on terms that would require them to bring so much money to closing. They barely had two months of living expenses saved up what with college for the kids and his car that he needed to commute in. So they stayed and kept making payments. They were not happy but they had a roof over their heads.

And then, the magical year of 2015 arrived and they finally started to think this was going to be their year to sell. The economy was much better and economic pundits told them the real estate crisis was over. Appreciation had started to become a reality again (in the lowest price ranges) and they were very optimistic about selling and walking away with a little cash. So that Realtor, who had moved to a new virtual brokerage by then, was asked to do another market analysis. The conclusion was a selling price range of $450,000 to $470,000, almost as much as what they paid in 2006. But homes were still taking almost a year to sell and the homes in great condition usually sold first. They had to figure out how much they could put into their home to bring it up to date and make it show so well that a buyer could not ignore it. By this time, since they had neglected almost everything about the upkeep of the home in their nine years of living there. They got some bids together and found out they would have to spend some $50,000 to make it shine and hopefully be irresistible to a buyer. It could actually run up to $80,000 if they went crazy and did everything. With their mortgage payoff at $390,000 plus the $50,000, their sales price would have to be north of $475,000 to close without having to bring cash to closing. That was above the range their trusty Realtor provided, but they were ready and hoped they could find the right buyer at $475,000.

IF THEY COULD find a buyer at $475,000 with minimal further reduction in price for items found in the inspections (remember they were going to spend $50,000 to upgrade), their seven percent cost of sale would drop the net, prior to payoff, to a bit over $440,000. They also had to payoff those credit cards for $50,000 from spending to upgrade the home. Payoff of $390,000…? Yes it could actually work. So they listed the home at $495,000 hoping to get a buyer to buy for at least $475,000. Professional photos were posted online after they decluttered and made the home look as close to a “model” home as possible. It did show well, but that effort and expense just put them in the middle of the pack of existing and new inventory. The absorption rate hit a plateau and many others in similar situations also had put their homes on the market. Since there were only so many buyers, their home did not sell right away. It was only shown six times in the first month and after 60 days they met with their Realtor to discuss lowering the price.

So they lowered it to $479,500, still hoping to get really close to $475,000. But after it was passed over by buyers looking to spend about $450,000, they had lost out on a good portion of the peak season and were still a bit overpriced. They thought if someone wants our home they can make an offer. That kind of thinking can lead one into belief that their home is priced to sell. But it did not sell. They had one buyer on the hook, but his mortgage was declined so another 30 plus days were wasted. Desperation was looming as they had really wanted to sell six years earlier and now they had planned to move out this very year. But they gave up trying (living in a home listed for sale can be stressful and restrictive) and they terminated their listing and fired their Realtor, blaming everyone in the process. It was almost Thanksgiving and they assumed home sales stopped in the wintertime.

AND NOW a new day has come. 2018 has arrived and they are damned sure going to sell this time for the amount they want and finally get beyond this ugly chapter in their lives. Their marriage has been severely strained, they have had to deal with illness and career goal disappointments, but there was finally a way out. The new Realtor they contacted, who had been in the business about 12 months, but was best friends with his mother, took the listing at a price of $540,000. This would be great, finally, they thought. The mortgage was lower, they owed less on those credit cards and the market was heating up to the point their new Realtor said they could sell it in 90 days with some good fortune and the right buyer.

And they did sell it in 90 days this year, getting a net bottom line enough to pay the mortgage and credit card balances in full and walk away with some cash. They celebrated by taking a trip to Italy and Greece and renewed their marriage vows in the process. They held off buying another home while the burn scars of owning the prior home were still healing. Renting was fine with them. Their credit was just good and they had an empty nest situation as the kids were grown and gone. They never spoke to the first Realtor, but that old veteran was used to failure and rejection. She could always find a way to put on a smile and speak positively, even with the down side of her business.

Is this a happy ending? Would they have ever chosen to write this script to live out in real-time with the goal of having a happy ending? How much did they worry and stress during the 12 years they owned that last home? Their kids saw them arguing and fighting on a regular basis. They did not take vacations and did not take good care of themselves during that time of worry and despair. His mother-in-law scolded him incessantly. Her father-in-law, after a serious stroke, seemed to not have the same fondness for her as before when they were younger and happy.

What else could have happened? They could have decided to walk away from the home in 2009 or 2010, when they owed more than it was worth. They could have mailed in the keys and likely been stuck for a deficiency balance for the amount between what the bank sold it for a year later versus their outstanding debt. That or all of the other burdens and mistakes could have placed them in bankruptcy anywhere along the timeline. As it turns out they did not ever declare bankruptcy and these days are wondering why they thought it was the wrong thing to do back then.

They might have sold it in 2013 with an agreement from their lender for a carry over debt to cover the short sale net amount that their did not get at closing. They might even have been able to negotiate a complete forgiveness of the short fall on the payoff.

Maybe they should have just stopped making payments and lived in the home for free (except utilities) while they fought foreclosure. This might have stretched on for 2 years or so. Of course if they were going to do that, they really should have put aside at least $3000 a month toward their future lives and a future home for themselves, but most people are not that disciplined.

What does it mean to have a foreclosure on your credit record? And a bankruptcy on top of that? After enough years have passed it might mean nothing. But back in 2009, they never imagined it would be nine more years before they would see a sale. Very few people predicted the long and painful recovery process that took basically ten years (in the Santa Fe area anyway).

Sometimes I go back and read the archives of what real estate counsel I was sharing from ten years ago and it was not pretty then. It was honest and negative; mostly gloom and doom. I was critical of most every part of the process of doing real estate business. Mostly I feel the largest mistake made by us all (and it would have been almost a miracle for it to turn out differently) was to not take the problem of millions of homes in foreclosure and millions more underwater and make federal laws that mandated a faster and equitable recovery for all of the people involved and all of the banks holding the notes. What did happen cost the federal government (and all of us taxpayers) a great deal of money, but they paid it to the banks that made the “bad” mortgages instead of actually paying down the mortgages allowing people to stay in their homes. The upheaval make a mess of many lives of Middle Class Americans. This subject has been the focus of many a book and article. What did we do wrong? And what did we not do right?

Do you want to pass judgment on the last 10-12 years of Santa Fe residential real estate? Feel free. My take on the single largest factor in our local scene is the thousands of mortgages made to borrowers who were not even close to qualifying for a mortgage, using conventional underwriting standards. Even allowing for payment of MPI and the VA/FHA programs that OK a small down payment, far too many loans were made to people who did not qualify. And then values plummeted and stayed down for years making certain that anyone who was vulnerable to that reality got a chance to suffer financially.

Hindsight is wonderful, si? no?

Praying for rain in Santa Fe…

Glad to report the news

What a year, what a year! It was easily the best in at least the past 10 years and the foundation for continued growth and prosperity in the real estate sector is solid. The breakdown in price ranges tells the tale in more detail, but you can guess the variations if you have been a student of the Santa Fe NM residential marketplace over the years.

The lower price range (under $500K) is the strongest; big demand and not enough inventory. At least in this lower range there are new homes popping up in several locations around the metro area. The demand is so strong they are selling quickly. An exhaustive search has not been performed to see if ALL the new homes are showing up in the Santa Fe Association of Realtors database. Likely not, so my stats, based on that same database, will be only part of the story. The mid range ($500K to $1M) is not far behind with a good steady absorption rate and almost no new homes showing up for sale. Home buyers looking in this range report back that there is very little quality inventory. Homes that are in top condition with lots of upgrades and amenities sell in three to six months. The rest take longer. And they still must be priced in line with the competition. Nobody is paying “too much”.

The top range, above $1 million, is the strongest it has been in many years as we have a wide range of product located from the hills to the valleys ranging from 100 year old adobes with masterful remodeling to sprawling McMansions on acreage all over the hills. Some have character and charm while others are just plain big. True in any measure, the art is in the eye of the beholder.

Savor the good news now that we are in a balanced and stable market. It has been a long and crazy climb out of the mess from 10 years ago and we hope never to revisit that painful experience. I’d like to propose a toast to a heavy snowpack and a flourishing 2018!

Where are you going?

Predictions are risky and can be very embarrassing if you are wildly incorrect. But they are free to all comers. Anyone can predict the sky will fall or who will win the next election. There is not really a penalty for being wrong, is there? I will tell you where we are going if you promise not to remind me when later it is determined that I was wrong in my predictions. We have a deal?

Santa Fe real estate will continue to be a fairly good bargain when compared with many resort and historically significant cities in the Southwestern US. While Santa Fe residential real estate might be considered expensive compared to other NM cities, it is not at all like other NM cities, so direct comparison is not always helpful.

We will continue to have a shortage of newly built quality homes for sale while the dance of fiscally healthy home builders and construction lenders keeps spec home building artificially low. There may be barely enough inventory under $500K to keep abreast of demand, but so few new homes are being built in the upper price ranges that the choices for a buyer are limited to someone else’s idea of luxurious living. Or a ‘new to Santa Fe’ buyer could choose to build what they want, as many do after looking at the choices.

Water will still be a precious commodity for all of us anywhere near Santa Fe. This is true of the entire Colorado Plateau and east to Texas. We will experience ongoing drought conditions and water conservation will be more important than ever, as newcomers try to find their place in the City Different. Alternative energy sources will increase in usage and homes will increasingly be powered by sunlight. Geothermal and wind generated energy should also prosper. While our public electric utility tries to limit the acceptance of solar energy to replace their coal burning contracts, the public will demand it both for cost and the demonstrable effect on our climate.

This area will continue to struggle to convince its young people to stick around as the bling and glitter of big cities will still be a strong lure. Until we have free city-wide high-speed internet and more affordable housing for young adults, we will have a net loss of census numbers in our population of residents between 20 and 40. The effect of  the aging of our population will make the gap between the haves and the have-nots even wider. Born here all my life citizens will see more and more money flow into the community for the sole use of the wealthy second home buyers and residents that dip their toes in the water but do not become immersed in Santa Fe. They will bring it but not really spend it here. We will always have good choices for fine dining and luxury lodging for visitors yet Santa Feans with jobs will have to pay for parking and fail to get decent health care from most employers. Being the land of manana means it will not likely turn into a major conflict here, but the divide will be felt acutely by those getting by with less.

Your wait person at the next restaurant you dine at will still have a higher university degree and will continue to ask you if you are still working on that while you have your fork in your hand and a mouthful of food. There will be a public outcry about wait staff refilling water glasses without asking. Why don’t we just start paying 10 cents a glass, or maybe a quarter. No free refills.

Santa Fe will become a regional center for the admiration and worship of the Siberian Elm tree, a truly invasive weed/tree that sucks more water out of the earth than all the pinion and juniper combined. The shade these weeds provide will once again come up short when compared to the cost of loss of water in the ground and root damage to plumbing and pavement. The last person to agree to cut down such a tree on their property will also be the first person to call for the lowering of property taxes and better schools for youngsters. Confusion will reign as education about the value and importance of types of trees becomes mandatory for property owners. Flat roofs will continue to leak.

Our state will put a Democrat into the Governor’s office next time around. We are in a cycle and the current Gov, a Republican, is wrapping up her 2nd term so its time to change again. No matter who gets in, that person will get a second four-year term unless it is discovered that they hired immediate family members for important positions, who failed to disclose meetings with Texans in their paperwork.

The Aamodt (water rights) lawsuit will be settled someday, much to the distaste of everyone involved. Nobody will be happy about the terms and conditions of said settlement, yet life will go on and water restrictions will remain.

On a wider perspective, the EU seems to be in a pickle as its various member nations go through troublesome and confusing times. Many want isolation while others realize there is power and safety in alliances. It seems a macho/bully sort of demand for going it alone – making Bosnia great again – while denigrating every other country and ally. The soft/sensitive side of national leaders admit we cannot do it as islands; we need our connections and our friends to make everything great again. And what is the definition of great again exactly? A time when the old white guys had unlimited power and commanded everyone else’s life, or a time when we were all innocent and desperate standing in soup lines in the 1930s? What decade do you wish we could return to? In the 1950s I was young and naive. Life was good and I had a bicycle and rode it everywhere in a 10 mile radius of home. I knew where the candy counter was too.

In the 50 states, turmoil is the rule right now. Elected officials are getting hell from their constituents when they talk about voting for a health care bill that takes away care from many. The concept of national health care seems impossible yet it is carried out successfully in many countries with fewer resources. Bipartisan and fair for all; then figure it out. If controls on Pharma and the medical world are necessary, that is the price to pay to cover everyone. Or if you believe that those that cannot afford health care should do without, please track a suffering person without care and add up how the emergency room and numerous public services actually spend money caring for that person. Preventative work is almost always better than treating the sickness once it takes hold. And there is more…

The average American may or may not agree if we should stay in the Paris Accord (climate change fears) and carry the burden of moving swiftly and completely into a sustainable style of living. Yet we have strong evidence that a refocus on alternate energy and reusable materials can be economically viable. If Big Oil has power, we will utterly fail to take action until the best we can do is stay alive with filters and masks and be afraid to step out in public lest the lepers and zombies get close to us. Each person needs to ethically figure it out for themselves. If some are waiting for a voice to guide them, that voice is not yet on the scene. It will probably be someone who is only 9 years old today. When did you realize you are using more than your fair share? And why is that OK with the rest of us?

Caring for those in need is not mandatory in our current world. Yet choosing not to care for people who desperately need assistance is basically telling them to get lost; go off and die somewhere far away. I don’t think we are in a postapocalyptic world in which we need to be heavily armed against invaders who want to raid our food storage and steal our clean water. Are you hoarding gold? Will that feed your children? What fuels the paranoia dominating those that have plenty over those going without? What are they afraid of? The revolution that some fear will be much messier if it is made up of starving people fighting for food instead of those with full bellies that just want better education and free mass transit. Pick your battles, I suppose. Are some afraid that if everyone had plenty to eat and access to health care then the world would be out of balance?

In the future, blogs will be blogs and real estate will be real estate. You might own real property, build a shelter and stock it with two years worth of food and water. But then what cable channel will you watch when the two coasts are obliterated and the less populated states have the survivors? Wyoming and Montana have lots of empty spaces where bombs will not fall and disease and armed insurgents will never capture territory. And yet…    Who is going to do your yard work? Will you need to dry clean anything? Is Blue Apron still around? What do I do with my golf membership?

Predictions are risky and since no large wager of money is on the line, I can handle being wrong if it turns out that way. But I prefer to be right. Maybe you do also. It’s probably human nature to desire and hope that things turn out the way you want them to. What some people seem to want just scares the hell out of me. Should I get over it or speak up?

Whats good for the goose

The story behind our fair and historic city is a long and romantic one. It is also filled with assorted groups claiming Northern New Mexico with swords and knives and later being overthrown. The dirt we grow our roses in has been governed by several nations and has been subject to differing methods of land ownership verification over the last 400 plus years. Today one gets a title insurance policy when one buys real property, most of the time. On occasion a family transfer occurs and title is not researched and insurance is not purchased because there is a presumption of clear title on behalf of the family’s elders.

You can trust anyone you want, but it is usually a good idea to verify what they are telling you; check on what they are selling you. While there are rarely title insurance claims filed, probably because the title companies do excellent research, there are too often bad feelings and threats of lawsuits after a simple real estate transaction. Many times that has to do with someones perception of what a Realtor is supposed to do or say, or what the seller did or did not disclose. A leaky roof is a very bad thing to discover in your new (to you) home, but it happens to the best of us. As we rarely get rain and or snow to test the integrity of our roofing systems, months can go by without a drop of moisture while the tar or foam or aluminum flashing holding out the moisture is failing slowly but surely. Then when we get a big wet late April snow storm, it may feel as if the seller was dishonest in not disclosing a roof leak. But did it ever leak before? That is a difficult question to answer with 100% accuracy. Some sellers might not be honest but I would submit to you that most are.

So buy a home and ask lots of questions, get lots of inspections, order and read lots of reports so when you walk in the door for the first time as the owner, there won’t be surprises and disappointments. Buying a home is not the time to save a couple hundred by choosing not to investigate the quality of the construction of your new dwelling.

Some roof leaks, canale leaks, skylight leaks and other places water can get inside are only wet for a few hours, plenty of time for them to dry while we are at work or in Albuquerque shopping at Costco. Go away for a week and who knows what is going on inside your home. I have seen homes so large that I doubt the owners can physically see every inch of their home on the inside to even know if a leak exists. Vigilance is a good thing when you are fighting leaks, and other unwanted invasions.

The wisdom of owning a home usually is greater than leasing, but when your home requires a bunch of work just to bring it back to normal, it may feel like you are not doing the right thing to own a home. If you were leasing you could just call the landlord, right? Let’s hope you have a good landlord; most are good in my experience. But the money required to maintain a home is not somewhere to skimp and save. The true savings in home maintenance seem to be when the owner can do much of the work herself without having to call a professional. Painting, tile and grout, cleaning, re-sealing wood surfaces, are all known to be projects an owner can take on with confidence. Electrical and plumbing maybe require more journeyman help than Uncle Jimmy who is handy with a hammer. You must keep the home in good condition if you want it to maintain value. If you want it to increase in value, consider adding on with a quality addition, or remodeling key areas of your home, such as the kitchen.

If you were not up to speed on our particular market characteristics, appreciation of home values is still a story we will hope to write in the future. If you find a home that has grown in value over the last 5-7 years, either it was bought for a song and is now fixed up or the owner make improvements that added value. Just running the vacuum and washing windows will not make your home worth more money.

Funny how I can show a home to a couple that says they rarely cook and yet they are quick to criticize a home with an outdated or small kitchen. If I ask them why they care, they are slow to admit it makes an impression, good or bad, on their visitors and house guests. Hope springs eternal for the day when a homeowner stops trying to keep up with the Joneses and just lives a simple and happy life. Then there is the shock when they find out their home seems to be a mid-century modern with a certain panache that makes it “unique”. Speaking of styles what exactly is soft contemporary? Is that something you can define or put your finger on? Does it mean contemporary but that some of the hard and straight lines have curves in them? Someday I will catch up on the jargon. Still my fave is 5 minutes to the Plaza. The most fun a person can have when they live south of St. Michaels Drive and try to get to the Plaza from home in 5 minutes or less.

Take a gander at this: home sales continue to climb, with April sales for the month well above last year’s April. I will let you look it up in the attached spreadsheets so you can have that moment of joy when you see the numbers.

So now an important question for you. Please vote by your site visits over the next month. I have been contemplating making this website more about marketing my listings, if I happen to have any, than just dry and hard to understand numbers. What do you think? Would you still come by and visit if you had to look at some banner ads with my listings? Many have told me I should charge admission for access to the information herein. I would settle for an occasional commission check from selling one of my listings from a feature post with photos right here. If you are not happy with the changeover to a more “retail” appearance, then make me an offer and you can buy this very blog with its history and first page of Google pedigree. Is it for sale? Show me something that is not for sale and then I want it. Speaking of the goose, I want to visit the Bosque soon and see what birds are hanging out there. I hear January is the busiest month.

Enjoy the spring and coming summer as we live in a wonderful part of the world with little to distract us from the beauty of nature and the mixing bowl of the people of Santa Fe.

You always hurt the one you love

When and if you ever choose to buy a home in the Santa Fe area, please consider treating yourself kindly and fairly and do the right thing for your family. Too many times a real estate transaction gets sideways because of poor communication or the lack of contact with customers. If you are interviewing buyer brokers to potentially work with, ask about the methods and timeliness of their communication habits. If you have a home listed for sale as a Realtor and you tell me you have not communicated with the owners of the home in more than a week’s time, I am concerned for your ability to do a great job for them.

Selling the home is the paramount task for a listing broker, but until it sells, is there not some minimum level of communication that should be reached? Would you put yourself in their position and think you would be perfectly happy without any communication for any period of time? How long would you be willing to wait between updates and reports of any interest or activity? A week seems to be about the longest tolerable time, to me. And what is that seller to the broker anyway? Are they not one of the most important business contacts they have while the listing is active? Realtors fight and claw to get listings, then amazingly drop the ball and stop the communication (why?) with their seller because they have no real news.

Being a seller of a home listed for sale is tough enough, with strangers walking through your bedroom and opening cabinet doors everywhere. No privacy and no taking a break from housecleaning and making it shine for a prospect. But if you are a seller and you know there have been showings of your home, or maybe there have not been many at all, should you expect an update or report from your chosen Realtor as to what they think is going on. Maybe as a minimum, the listing broker should share the feedback from the showings where feedback was provided. That can be invaluable and can lead to a serious consideration of the pricing and/or the condition of the home. When prospects continually say that they could not see the value of a home as it’s currently priced, that might mean its time to think about the price.

If I may be so bold as to speculate that your seller is someone you “love” — they are paying you a commission when their home sells — it seems they would be the last person you would want to hurt or treat badly. And yet it happens. And Realtors can hurt their buyers too, sometimes. A buyer who has chosen a Realtor to work with for assistance in purchasing a home should expect professional help and expertise. They should expect communication as befits the buyer’s agenda and timeline. Some buyer customers are going to buy in a couple of years. They likely do not expect weekly updates on our market conditions. How about the buyer that thinks they may be ready to purchase in the next 3 or 4 months? Seems like frequent communication would be in order. Don’t hurt the one you love; don’t hurt anyone, for that matter. But if you must choose because your time or energy is limited today, stay in touch with the ones you love. Days may feel long, but life can be unexpectedly short sometimes. Treat each day with respect, gratitude and appreciation.

Down to the wire

The hubbub encompassing the POTUS contest and many of the other positions up for voting is unique in United States history, say those who might know. This year may go down as the least active year for the Legislative branch of our national government, while the contest to see who gets to live at Casa Blanco lumbers on. I am not predicting anything, nor am I telling you what to do, but please do vote as if your future depended on it. The belief that your vote does not matter is the same mistaken belief that if you throw your trash along the roadside, it will not matter, And yet it does.

In politics, as in real estate, there is not always a fact-checker around to verify or dispute what someone says. If I say to you that if you buy that home on Main Street and keep it well maintained, it will grow in value 7% a year for the next 10 years, would you believe me? You should not. First I cannot predict the future. The chance of that coming true is quite small anyway. Because I said it does not make it true, either. If I say it 100 times it is no more true. Best to verify what I am telling you, along with those talking heads on TV that say they will lower your taxes, end all wars and make our cities and neighborhoods safer. A chicken in every pot? How about reducing nepotism and corruption. closing some special interest loopholes and keeping big, unaccountable money out of our decision making process?

Let us debate the relative merits of living in Santa Fe versus other towns in the Southwest. Let us debate the types of views you like from your portal, the number of interior steps are OK with and the sex appeal of radiant heat. Do you mind living on a dirt and gravel road? Are you aware of alternative energy sources people are using to heat and cool their living spaces? Are you interested in a rural area where you will have a water well and a septic system? Is the walkability of your new home important to you? When you and I discuss Santa Fe real estate, I will do my best to share my 30 plus years of experience and good judgment to help you accomplish your goals. If your ideas and goals are not supported by market statistics, I will tell you that also. Please fact check me and vet me for the type of professional you want to work with. My reputation speaks for itself. I approve this message.

The world of Santa Fe real estate is Flat

Pick your own ideal angle of repose, but mostly its flat around here when you gather the numbers. Five months in the books for 2016 came up as almost identical to the same five months of 2015. Sales are strong in the lowest price ranges and the best of the rest takes some time to move. Some seem never to sell. Maybe they just become listless? The foreclosure inventory is still a factor in some neighborhoods. When there is a home within a block or two of your home and it is bank-owned or for sale in a distressed situation, it affects your home’s value and marketability.

We could call the current mood the calm before the storm or another catchy phrase, or is it the early blip of a small recession or downturn? It is quite difficult to predict things will head the wrong way right now as so much activity and robust sales are taking place in our surrounding states. Friends of mine in Denver and Dallas report plenty of buyers and strong sales. Arizona and Utah are doing well. We, on the other hand, are working toward acceptance that someone moves here for reasons other than overall economic health and a new job. Our City administration and many power brokers talk about attracting and keeping younger people… those whose futures are bright and need high speed internet, a larger airport and better housing close to services (walkability). They can consider Santa Fe and end up choosing another city. So the push is on for more nightclubs and places to consume alcohol as if that is the answer.

You may know of the plans for rapid transit thru the heart of Albuquerque (along Central Ave) that is intended to establish a backbone of economic growth. People will want to live near it and be able to get anywhere in 20 minutes. What is along that route? Old Town, Downtown, Hospitals, Rail Runner stations, UNM, Nob Hill and the farther reaches of East and West Central that is the historical Route 66. It has been a commercial route for decades and over the next 20 years we are likely to see many housing units built within a couple blocks of Central for people in all stages of life. Santa Fe does not have a similar geography nor the will to create the infrastructure that would support the growth of our economy and create jobs and the housing that people need. We don’t even know how to attract or keep our younger population or if we really want to. Some prefer to keep things the way they are now. Meanwhile the gap between the haves and the have nots increases and the average age of our citizens climbs higher.

An interesting statistic I just saw showed that nationally the average square foot size of a single family detached home reached 2500 square feet. That is the highest ever, I believe, yet the longer term trend lines show more single person households and smaller dwellings to be more in demand in the future. Maybe that is only for the progressive and innovative communities that are able to attract the most recent generations of workers that have a slightly different set of needs. 2 car garage? Maybe not so much in the future. A half acre of land surrounding your personal palace? How do you ever build a community when neighbors never talk but only wave as they come and go? Are communal spaces (shared gardens, parks, areas to get together) necessary for long term health and growth? Do we want to attract more folks my age (65) that are not going to be working much longer or do we want to attract people in their 20s and 30s that can build and expand their ideas and energy into making Santa Fe a place that has a pulse and a vibrancy? Many cities have serious questions to answer. Those are a few of ours.

The fudge factor, a strategy

Once upon a time, the Multiple Listing Service was in its infancy and a small group of people sat around a table at La Fonda and talked about their listings; price, location, condition, size, etc. That was the start of the MLS for Santa Fe real estate. Licensing was kind of optional and brokerages were usually one or two people. The entire population of real estate sales professionals was less than 15 people.

Times have changed because everyone knew how EASY it is to make a good living in real estate sales. We have had enough people get licensed in the Santa Fe metro area over the last 40 years that more are “former” members of our Santa Fe Association of Realtors than are presently active members. And 10 years ago we had hundreds more than we do now, probably reflective of the average number of sales per month. Comparing improved residential sales of 2005 with 2015, the typical month back then saw 233 sales while the most recent complete year saw 167 sales a month. No wonder our membership is down over the last 10 years. There is less pie to slice and distribute. Or is it less fudge?

But what about fudge? Is there more fudge today, or less? I have to venture a guess that there is more, even with fewer sales. My use of the word FUDGE is to depict cutting corners or selectively sharing information. Maybe disclosing some of the facts, but not all of them, is anther way to put it. Like Sammy, when asked how he did on his school test, said he fudged a few answers. Maybe you have a better word?

The fudge factor in Santa Fe residential real estate, in this blog post, describes the behavior and habits of some of our members as they strive for advantage in finding success with their seller and buyer customers. There are easy-to-find examples seen daily in the MLS database. A property might have been listed off and on for the last 5 years under 123 Main Street. Now that its back on the market again with the 4th Realtor trying to sell it, the address shows up as Main Street. The numbers are gone. That way the “history” of the property does not include the failure of previous listings. And it makes it look as if it’s on the market for the first time. The listing broker needs to be careful not to say “never before on the market” because that would be false. Even though effort went into hiding the information that it had been listing before.

In our state, there is no requirement that the sales price be published in print or website listings. We are a non-disclosure state for that information, along with about 5 other states. So finding out what a home sold for in the past takes some work and fact checking. That is, unless you are a Realtor and are able to find it in the MLS database listed as a sale in the past 14 years or so. (Earlier records are in hard copy format). A sale older than 14 years or so is not all that relevant anyway, but a sale from 2 or 4 years ago can be quite informative for a buyer looking at a home today. Is the new asking price a great deal higher than what the current owner paid 4 years ago, or about the same? What kind of work have they done to the home to improve it? If they did a complete remodel and added on to the footprint, its likely worth a great deal more. If they kept it clean and repaired a few items that needed attention, it might only be worth what they paid in 2011, or 2008 or in 2004…

You see, appreciation has taken a holiday in the upper half of our price ranges. Little or no appreciation has taken hold, sadly for many sellers, so a home is not growing in value year over year these days (unless it’s in the lower price ranges where demand is higher than supply). Shifting information around to hide or disguise facts that are not publicly released can serve to throw off a buyer looking to find out what a home sold for in the past. Is it a trick that works? And whom does it work for?

Mostly the fudge stuff is with address, price, history of prior listings, etc. There are systems in place such that a prior listing should be linked to a current listing if it is the same property. That means the same tax ID # and legal description. But still people try to put a new listing into the system as if it had not been listed a year ago with a different brokerage. Some will say their client gave them lawful instructions to do what they did to hide the information. Those could be lawful, yet may also be unethical. The same Realtor is a member of a professional organization with rules that run counter to those instructions. Look no further than about 12 years ago when a sizable number of sales  were reported at a dollar value of Zero or maybe $1. The Realtor that reported that sale would usually say that’s what their seller or buyer (or both) wanted them to do. Yet it clearly undermines the value and integrity of the MLS database and indicates that they wanted to play by their own rules.

The reporting at $1 ceased long ago, but we do occasionally see a sale go unreported. The property was first entered into our MLS as an active listing, The buyer and buyer’s broker learned about the listing by its appearance in the MLS. Somewhere along the line, one or both parties thought it would be a good idea not to have the price information known in the real estate community. So that listing was withdrawn from active status in MLS and no sale information was ever reported. Years later you could track it as an active listing that was withdrawn, but no further information could be found, until you searched title and saw a chain of transfer documents ( a deed for example) that showed the change of ownership. Maybe someone had a tax issue, or a divorce issue, or just a paranoia or privacy issue. Maybe they were too proud to have it known that they overpaid years ago and did not even break even with the sale.

Some other kinds of fudge might include the use of confidential data in ways that could be defined by some people as less than full disclosure. When a broker meets with a seller to potentially list their property, the seller often has work to do on the home, ranging from painting to landscaping, from moving a tenant out to getting professional photographs. There is a form the broker can use to officially list the home but not enter it into the MLS database immediately. A home can be on “waiver” with a simple stroke of a pen by the seller and their broker and the brokerage Qualifying Broker. The time frame while it is not in the MLS can range from a couple days to maybe a couple months. During that time the listing broker can proceed to try to market the home “on waiver” without the 750 plus Realtor membership knowing about it to the same extent and detail as the listing broker knows about it. They might secure a buyer within the waiver period and that alone might make the seller quite happy. To secure a buyer before the home ever hits the market in a public manner might seem like a victory for the seller. But did the home’s sales price equate to what the entire marketplace of buyers would come up with had it been made public? When we see daily listings show up in the new listing category in our “Paragon” (MLS) website, sometimes its a new listing that shows up at first as Pending (status). It always makes one wonder what happened when none of us knew about it.

There is almost never anything wrong with the way those things are handled. The problem can be the perception and appearance, plus the dialog a broker might develop, in their presentation script, that they have a buyer waiting in the wings and they have a corner on the market that nobody else has. Is the waiver process used fairly and honestly? I would say likely yes about 98% of the time. But when I get a blast email from a broker that distributes listing info on properties that are on waiver, and there are seven of them all on waiver and they are now sending out emails to market them, I do wonder what is going on. Is the effort to limit which brokers know about the listings? Maybe I got an email because I have sold homes in every price range and am well known in the industry, while others are not sent those emails?

Get your sweet tooth out and get ready. Call a Realtor today and ask them what they know about fudge.

Election year and a stock market shakeup

What are the stable factors in our economy today? Growth is primarily in service industry jobs, I guess. And medicine and health care. The energy sector is reeling from low prices and excess inventory. And yet people want to drill baby drill just outside the Chaco Culture National Historical Park because they think they can extract gas or oil there and make a profit. Or maybe they can just keep their equipment in use and their employees busy while the market flounders for energy resources. Politics have been the primary headlines for several months and now the fix is in with the GOP: Trump seems on his way to the party nomination. Nobody has jumped off of a highrise balcony yet, to my knowledge, but there is some consternation and worry about his rhetoric meshing with what really might need to be done. I have not found a great deal of honesty in the entire batch of candidates, yet when were they ever honest? A chicken in every pot? Read my lips; I will not raise taxes. Name your poison.

Wherefore art thou real estate? 2015 was a solid seven plus percent increase over 2014 for our Santa Fe area residential real estate market. Offices and retail seem to be more in demand, though plenty of vacant space still sits. New residential development is out on the edge of town, away from services and a long and painful ride into the centers of employment with existing mass transit options. The new stuff you see and read about close in is the upper and high mid range priced product that few locals can afford. The buyers for those homes are usually coming from somewhere else, which is great for Realtors and home builders. Defend your profession as being valuable to people if you dare, but do not protest too much. We all make money when another million dollar home is built off of Hyde Park Road or in Las Campanas.

The jobs picture in Santa Fe is not what we brag about. We have jobs and a low unemployment rate, but we do not have much to offer in high paying jobs requiring skills more advanced than providing excellent customer service. Sure, you have to know how to work with numbers, at about a 10th grade level. Manners and listening skills might have been learned at the family dinner table when you became a teenager. What is the unique talent that you bring to the equation?

We brag about quality of life, a near-perfect climate, clean air, views, the art scene, cultural diversity, small town friendliness and no traffic headaches. Anyone with a sense of style or half a brain (did Trump say that too?) wants to live here. But who can afford to, or should I say who would want to if the average priced home is a 20 minute commute to work and 15 minutes the other direction to get the week’s groceries.

Santa Fe city government is in dire financial condition with a budget shortfall of many millions. A classic argument has come up; should we tax our way out or reduce services and expenses? Even a combination of the two seems hard to arrive at as our City power brokers (not real estate brokers) resist laying off the nephew of the cousin you love and hesitate to add fees to water bills and anything that moves. Failure to face the problem some 6 or 8 years ago is now coming back to haunt us. Nobody thought (well some of us did but we were not being heard) the economic woes that began in 2007 or 2008 would still be burdens on our health and our prosperity. The loss of jobs over the last near 10 years in Santa Fe does not even come close to the lack of job reductions for City employees. Maybe the City Hall folks just wanted to keep their equipment in use and their employees busy until the economy turned around. But, you say, we have a Plaza to decorate and maintain!  And we have parades and fiestas and reenactments of royalty processions to support.  And we have museums to show off the history of the Northern New Mexico region. How much should we subsidize? If a free day at the museum can be enjoyed by a family here on vacation that spends $250 a day while visiting, it that a good trade-off? Should we charge admission to walk around the Plaza?

Real estate is not fickle. It is not wishy-washy. It is not undecided. When it decides to roar it will roar and when it wants to rest in the shade and watch the day go by, it rests in the shade. Real estate could and maybe should be the engine that will pull us forward, but it will need to be fairly distributed and available to all who choose to live and work here. Many say we have visionaries and creative people everywhere you look in Santa Fe. Can we put them to work on our limitations and true needs?

Once again I have asked more questions than I have answered. How might I fix that problem?