Public Open House Etiquette by a Realtor!

June 24, 2011

by Christi Borden, Realtor

Who doesn’t love to visit an Open House? Come on, you know you do. Go ahead … admit it. You love to see the decorations, to peek inside your neighbor’s home (who never invited you over the entire time they lived there), to learn more about what homes are going for in your area, or to check it out before giving your Realtor a call.

Either way, there are a few bits of advice I can give while visiting a Public Open House.

1. Follow House Rules: Seller may wish for you to remove shoes prior to entering. This may be due to nasty weather, new flooring or a cultural preference. Just ask the Realtor or Host on duty if removing shoes is expected.

2. Monitor Your Kids: Homeowners really expect parents to stay with their children at all times and to make sure nothing is touched or damaged. I have seen many visitors arrive and while the parents are involved with viewing the home, their kids are all over the place – totally unsupervised. The Realtor or Host cannot be expected to babysit or to monitor visiting kids. Please, please keep them with you as the home could experience damage that you quite possibly could be held liable for.

3. Go Before You Arrive: I am often amazed at visitors asking to use the Seller’s bathroom. The Seller’s home is a private residence and as such, unless vacant and only with permission from the Realtor or Host on duty, should you assume that it is okay to use the facilities. Seller’s have prepared the home for viewing… not using.

4. Have a Realtor? Tell Us: You will be asked by the Realtor or Host on duty for your contact information. Sometimes our clients request this information, as they want to know who has visited their home. And many times, the Realtor on Duty would like to contact you to send you more information and to try to develop a future relationship with you. This is not a bad thing and can be very helpful for visitors that are not currently under a written representation agreement with another Realtor. But if you already have such a relationship with a Realtor, simply let us know who it is. We are happy to send them more information about the property you have visited. We all want to honor your relationship with your Realtor but cannot do so if we do not know about it. This is actually a Code of Ethics issue with the National Association of Realtors, which all Realtors must follow.

5. Tell Us What You Think: Don’t be shy… Are we priced right? Do we show well? Are you considering this home? If not, is there anything that our Sellers can do to make your short list? By providing such valuable feedback, you are helping us help our Seller know exactly what the public thinks about the home. And feel free to ask us questions. If we do not know the answer, we will do our best to find it. If answering your questions will help sell the property, we are more than happy to help.

As a Realtor, we love having you visit our Open Houses. In fact, that is why we give up our valuable family time on weekends… just for you. Help us make it pleasant for you and for our Sellers. Happy house hunting and support your local hardworking Realtor by visiting an Open House today!!!

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Social Media… Manners Matter!

February 19, 2011

by christiborden

Social Media Sandbox

Where is Emily Post when I need her?

In the time before Social Media, long before Facebook and Twitter, we all knew or should have known the rules of engagement. Someone holds out their hand; you shake it. A stranger smiles at you on the street; you smile back. A woman stands next to you on the bus; you render your seat. Someone sneezes; you bless them. When so many of our relationships now exist outside of the physical world, how do we translate the old rules for today? And have they really changed?

I read a great post by Erica Johnson addressing the etiquette of “commenting” on blogs (read here), which led me to ponder (as I often do) about other areas where we may all need a little direction.

Facebook: Stop the sales pitches, please. I love my many friends on Facebook, but I have painfully started to “de-friend” them when the only thing they bring to the conversation is a sales pitch. Imagine attending a cocktail party and starting in on the “pitch” the second you are introduced to a stranger. No…we strike up conversation, find common ground, add to the discussion and then maybe, if invited, hand them our card and tell them what we “do”. Real life rules apply here, too.

Twitter: See comments above. The sales pitches are even more annoying when squeezed into 140 characters. I think Twitter is best used to share information with like-minded followers. Yes, we can link to our blog or web site. But let the follower decide to follow instead of ramming our business/service/product down their throat with every Tweet. And please turn off the auto-responder. I would rather hear nothing than a canned comment (which usually includes a sales pitch).

IM: How in the world do we end a conversation politely? On the phone, I can say “I have to go, good-bye” and hang up.  But online where they can see I am still “there”, how do I tactfully let go? I end up saying goodbye at least 5 times before the connection is severed. I welcome comments here because I have not yet figured it out. Also, can we in good grace ignore a Facebook IM when we are otherwise engaged? Oh, the guilt…

Games: While I am not a big game player, I do enjoy the faux Scrabble Words with Friends. I recently had someone I know well “decline” to play me. Gasp? So, does this mean right now or forever more? Did I do something so heinous that I have been permanently banished from their Scrabble world? Don’t worry, I can still sleep at night but perhaps an explanation would have been nice rather than… “Declined”. Ouch:).

Frankly, I see Social Media as a huge sandbox filled with lots of wonderful, interesting kids all trying to get along and play together. Some follow the rules and some do not.

How well do you play with others?


Top #10 Steps to Sell Your Home!

January 23, 2011

 

Thinking about selling your home?

Would you like a little sage advice that could save you time, money, anguish and probably a bit of all three?

1. Understand your real estate market – The old adage “Location, Location, Location” not only applies to your home but to your market as well. What you hear on the national news may not have any bearing on your individual area so learning local conditions is a must to determine the best strategy to find a ready, willing and able buyer.  You can learn a lot by following updates from the local association of Realtors in your area as well as contacting active Realtors who make it their business to understand and decipher the current market conditions.

2. Hire a Terrific Realtor – Okay, I had to say it. If you plan to try to sell yourself, then certainly skip to the next step. However, I am a proud Texas Realtor and always think that we are your best shot at getting sold. That said, all Realtors are not the same so making sure you hire the best is crucial. Ask your friends, do research online,  and pay attention to see who seems to list and more importantly “sell” homes in your community. (Just because an agent lists a lot of homes does not mean they actually sell them.)  The Houston Association of Realtors, HAR, has a fabulous rating system online for those agents who participate. This is a great indicator of performance and appears to be helpful to the consumer. For an example, you can see my ratings here. I know Zillow is attempting this as are other sites so you may have access to agent ratings or rankings in your area, too.

3. Check your calendar – Time of year is very important when determining how to position your property in the market place. Seasonal markets will ebb and flow like the seas and your Realtor will be able to help you determine the best time to list. Homes sell throughout the year but there are times when demand will be at its peak and therefore, sales prices will be highest. If possible, take advantage of these peak selling periods. If not, adjust your price and days on market expectations accordingly.

4. Hire a Stager – Staging has become a huge business and has been proven to assist sellers in presenting their homes in the best light possible to potential buyers. This equates to more money in your pocket when the home is sold. Some of us have taken staging courses and either handle it ourselves or hire independent stagers to work with our clients. If you are in the Houston Area, I love and recommend Linda Burnett with Envisions Designs. Regardless of who is doing the work, take the time and effort to follow the instructions of a good stager and it will pay off in the end.

5. Do what the Stager tells you to do – This is the part where some folks get hung up. The stager is a professional who looks at your home dispassionately and is really working for you to try to help you sell your home. The more you can complete of the stager’s honey-do list, the better. I realize there may be unexpected expense here but if it is major, then trust me… it may very well cost you more in the end to ignore rather than fix. Flooring, paint, landscaping… these are all items that can be a major turn-off to buyers if not in great shape.

6. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise – Make sure you have as much exposure as possible. Today’s buyer is really beginning online for their home search so you need to be there, too. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it. A little sign in the yard without an online presence will only net you the few people who happen to drive by. It is a brave new world out there and your home listing needs to be in it. Another must is you need multiple high quality photos and a virtual tour, if possible, to accompany your online advertising, as well as a good description of your home.

7. Offer a Buyer Agent Commission – If you are listing with a Realtor who will place you on the MLS, then there will be a published offer of compensation. However, if you try to go it alone, you really need to consider offering to pay an agent that might bring your buyer. Trust me, agents know more potential buyers than all your friends, co-workers, neighbors combined so it is important to utilize this great resource. In the US, usually the buyer’s representative is compensated out of the listing agent’s commission. But if not, please be mindful that there are wonderful Realtors out there who may have a client that would be perfect for your home but they need to be paid. If compensation is not offered by the seller, then the buyer would have to pay it and they will simply take it off the offer price. This may also cause a bit of confusion for the buyer who does not understand why their agent is not getting paid by the seller. Ask several Realtors in your area what would be a fair amount and then advertise it on your sign saying,” Realtors Welcome”. Besides, you do not work for free, why should they?

8. Consider Public and Agent-Only Open Houses – Public Open Houses are a good way for the public to view your home. Of course, attendance can be affected by time, date, weather, location, accessibility, signage, etc. If you see several Realtors holding open houses in your area, call them and ask if you could hold yours open at the same time. This brings in more traffic and a home that does not work for one buyer may work for another. Also, high attendance elevates buyer excitement.

9. Open Title – Whether your state requires you use attorneys or title companies, it is always best to make sure you have a good, clean title to be able to close. So many issues can run interference with a smooth transaction: probate issues, divorce, tax liens. It is best to get a clean bill of health with regard to your title up front so you are not stalled at the closing table. Another thing to do is find out your payoff amount on your mortgage, if any, to make sure you do not have to bring money to the table to close. If you discover you have to sell but do not have the funds necessary to close, in other words, you are “upside down” , you may want to contact an agent who specializes in what is known as a short sale.

10. Know Rules on Pre-Inspection and Disclosure Requirements – In some cases, it is a good idea or is even required to get your home inspected prior to going on the market. This will help you discover issues that may require repair as well as help narrow down the repair list for the future buyer. More real estate transactions fall apart due to failure to properly disclose items or fear of items that show up on inspection reports. Nip them in the bud and you will have a happier buyer and better transaction. And if you remember nothing from this post, always Disclose, Disclose, Disclose. If it is something that you as a buyer would want to know about a property, then you must disclose it.

As an experienced Realtor with Prudential Gary Greene, Realtors, a top listing firm in the great City of Houston, we do know a thing or two about the marketing of residential real estate. In fact, we have been honored twice now by J. D. Powers and Associates for “Highest Seller Satisfaction”. I welcome your comments or additions to this list. If you would like a market analysis for your Houston Area Home (and absolutely no pressure to list), just let me know. I am happy to help and only hope you will consider me should you decide  you wish to hire a Realtor. I can be reached at www.christiborden.com or via cell 832-372-7478.

Happy Selling and Good Luck!


Is Now the Time to Invest in Real Estate?

January 8, 2010

I always liked being the center of attention, even as a kid in my grandfather’s restaurant where I frequently accompanied the piano player – probably to the chagrin of those trying to enjoy their food.

I still get the same attention now – without the singing, mind you –  because my business is the business of real estate. When anyone finds out I am a Realtor, the subject of conversation invariably hits on “How is our market?”. I love this, of course, because it is one of my favorite subjects.

In reading today’s Tycoon Report, I came across a blog addressing real estate in Florida and how the economic indicators point to NOW as a terrific time to get off the sidelines and hit the field.

One thing you will note in this article is that the author addresses investment to “hold and lease” – much different from Speculation – which is the type of investing that got us into so much trouble. If you purchase property or any investment for that matter in anticipation of earning money from the short term sale of that property – you are a speculator. While in some areas of the country that gambit has paid off, most have seen  their dreams of instant wealth vanish before their eyes. I am still amazed at people that lost money through investments during the dot.com debacle with the attitude of “easy come/easy go” but when the same thing happened in real estate, they were shocked and felt that they “were done wrong” by some entity and should be “bailed out”. Why did they expect protections for speculating in real estate that they did not expect for stocks? Gambling is gambling, no matter what you wish to call it. While I love a go at the Craps tables occasionally, I promise you that the Pit Boss is not going to give my money back just because I do not know what I am doing!

Let’s take a look at real estate as a true investment without the specter of Speculation hanging over our heads. Purchasing a property to hold and lease no longer takes into account the sole expectation that the property will appreciate (there are no guarantees in this world) but sets the expectation for a reasonable rental income (backed up by factual past rental data for that particular type of property and area) and then perhaps the hope of some accrual of appreciation at the end of the life of that investment (icing on the cake but not the batter itself).

Self-Directed IRA’s could be a good way to fund your investment but you need to know that this is heavily regulated and you would not want to make an improper move that would endanger your IRA protections. I would talk to a Self-Directed IRA specialist before moving in this direction. Also note the words “Self-Directed”, meaning you need to know what you are doing. Hire a professional Realtor to assist with finding the best properties to meet your investment goals. Word of caution: Do not be tempted to jump on the latest Foreclosure just because it looks like a “deal”. There are many factors that go into finding a viable leasehold investment and “deal” is not at the top of that list.

All in all, now is a terrific time to investigate real estate as a long-term investment to add to your diverse financial portfolio. Good Luck!


Frozen Pipes – information from Texas Dept. of Insurance

January 6, 2010

Frozen Pipes

 

(January 2010)

 This information is taken directly from http://www.tdi.state.tx.us/pubs/consumer/cb011.html

Icy winter weather can cause water pipes to freeze and burst if you haven’t prepared them for the frigid temperatures. Outdoor pipes, pipes in unheated areas, and pipes that run along uninsulated exterior walls are susceptible to expanding and bursting if they freeze. The result can be thousands of dollars worth of water damage to your walls, ceilings, carpets, and furniture.

Prepare for the Freeze

You can protect your home by taking the following precautions to prepare your pipes for a freeze:

  • Protect faucets, outdoor pipes, and pipes in unheated areas by wrapping them with rags, newspapers, trash bags, or plastic foam.
  • Insulate your outdoor water meter box and be sure the lid is on tight.
  • Cover any vents around your home’s foundation.
  • Drain water hoses and store them in a garage or shed.
  • Protect outdoor electrical pumps.
  • Drain swimming pool circulation systems or keep the pump motor running. (Run the pump motor only in a short freeze. Running the motor for long periods could damage it.)
  • Drain water sprinkler supply lines.
  • Open the cabinets under the sinks in your kitchen and bathrooms to allow heated air to circulate around the water pipes.
  • Set your thermostat at a minimum of 55 degrees, especially when you’re gone for the day or away for an extended period.
  • Let indoor faucets drip, but don’t run a heavy stream of water.
  • Make sure you know where your home’s shut-off valve is and how to turn it on and off.
  • If you leave town, consider turning off your water at the shut-off valve. Leave your faucets on when you turn the water off to drain the pipes.  Make sure you turn the faucets off before you turn the shut-off valve back on.
  • If you drain your pipes, contact your electric or gas utility company for instructions on protecting your water heater.

If Your Pipes Freeze

If a pipe bursts and floods your home, turn the water off at the shut-off valve.  Call a plumber for help if you can’t find the broken pipe or if it’s inaccessible.  Don’t turn the water back on until the pipe has been repaired.

If the pipe hasn’t burst, thaw it out with an electric heating pad, hair dryer, portable space heater, or towel soaked with hot water. Don’t use a blowtorch or other open-flame device. They are fire risks and could produce dangerous carbon monoxide.

Apply heat by slowly moving the heat source toward the coldest spot on the pipe. Never concentrate heat in one spot because cracking ice can shatter a pipe. Turn the faucet on and let it run until the pipe is thawed and water pressure returns to normal.

If You Have Damage

Contact your insurance agent or company promptly. Follow up as soon as possible with a written claim to protect your rights under Texas’ prompt-payment law.

Review your coverage. Most homeowners and renters policies pay to repair houses and replace personal property damaged by the bursting pipes. Most policies also pay for debris removal and for additional living expenses if you have to move temporarily because of damage to your home. If you can’t find your policy, ask your agent or company for a copy.

Homeowners policies may require you to make temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage. Your policy covers the cost of these repairs. Keep all receipts and damaged property for the adjuster to inspect. If possible, take photos or videos of the damage before making repairs. Don’t make permanent repairs. An insurance company may deny a claim if you make permanent repairs before an adjuster inspects the damage.

Most homeowners policies do not cover loss caused by freezing pipes while your house is unoccupied unless you used reasonable care to maintain heat in the building; shut off the water supply; and drain water from plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems.

For More Information or Assistance

For answers to general insurance questions or for information on filing an insurance-related complaint, call the Consumer Help Line between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Central time, Monday-Friday, or visit our website

1-800-252-3439
463-6515
in Austin
www.tdi.state.tx.us

For printed copies of consumer publications, call the 24-hour Publications Order Line

1-800-599-SHOP (7467)
305-7211 in Austin

Help us prevent insurance fraud. To report suspected fraud, call our toll-free Fraud Hot Line

1-888-327-8818

To report suspected arson or suspicious activity involving fires, call the State Fire Marshal’s 24-hour Arson Hot Line

1-877-4FIRE45 (434-7345)

The information in this publication is current as of the revision date. Changes in laws and agency administrative rules made after the revision date may affect the content. View current information on our website. TDI distributes this publication for educational purposes only. This publication is not an endorsement by TDI of any service, product, or company.

For more information contact: ConsumerProtection@tdi.state.tx.us


Update on Katy, Texas Mobility Issues and Improvements

January 6, 2010

This is a reply from Andy Meyers – County Commissioner Pct. 3 – when an inquiry was sent in about the traffic build up on Fry Road at 99 in front of the HEB. This was his reply to that inquiry. I have quoted this reply so that this important information could be shared with my readers. Post any questions about this directly with the County Commisioner’s office as they are the best source for this information. I am merely the messenger….

Interstate 10 is a federal highway and SH 99 (Grand Parkway) is a
state road, both are controlled by the Texas Department of
Transportation (TxDOT) not Fort Bend County.

“The traffic signal at SH 99 and Fry Road is controlled by TxDOT, the
traffic signal in front of HEB on Fry Road was installed by HEB, and
the traffic signal at Fry Road and Seven Meadows Blvd. was installed
by the county.  We conducted a year-long traffic study on Fry Road to
find a solution to one of the worst traffic problems we have in the
county.  We closed one of the left-turns off of Fry Road into HEB and
HEB installed a traffic signal at the second left-turn in order to
keep it open.  The county is working with TxDOT to synchronize the
three traffic signals.  TxDOT needs equipment to accomplish this.
TxDOT, at our request, recently made the center east-bound lane of Fry
Road an optional left turn going north onto SH 99 or straight ahead on
Fry.  Also, at our request, TxDOT made the center south-bound SH 99
feeder lane a right-turn lane onto Fry to alleviate the back up of
traffic on SH 99, which was causing a significant safety issue.  That
puts more traffic onto Fry at a quicker pace.  Most of the Fry Road
east-bound traffic coming out of HEB and Home Depot turns north on SH
99.  We are asking the HEB Shopping Center owner to re-configure the
center’s parking lot so traffic coming off Fry Road into HEB parking
lot does not stack up in the parking lot.  This will allow for more
vehicles in the parking lot lanes instead of the vehicles being backed
up on Fry Road.  The turn-lane and parking lot modifications and
coordinated traffic signal timing should move traffic quicker and more
smoothly.  TxDOT will not allow exits/entrances from/to either the HEB
or Home Depot Shopping Centers as their studies show this would create
safety problems.

The major problem with the severe traffic congestion at Fry & SH 99 is
the HEB store is very popular, one of HEB’s highest grossing stores,
and this creates additional traffic volume.  We initially closed both
left-turns off Fry into the HEB center, but that created bigger
problems at Seven Meadows Blvd. with many drivers making a U-Turn at
the signal to get back to HEB.

TxDOT received funding for two (2) direct connectors (ramps), one
going from SH 99 east onto I 10 and the other going from I 10 south
onto SH 99.  Construction is scheduled to begin mid 2010 and will take
18 months.  Traffic signals at that intersection will be re-timed to
accommodate the direct connectors.

The Fort Bend County/Harris County line is essentially at Kingsland
Blvd. and SH 99.

Fort Bend County has begun construction on Katy Gaston from FM 1093 to
Cinco Ranch Blvd. with a traffic signal at Fry and Katy Gaston.  It
will take about 1 year to complete.

The county has also begun construction of the intersection of
Greenbusch and Katy Flewellen, which will have a traffic signal and
which should be completed within the next 90 days.

The county will begin widening Katy Flewellen to 4 lanes from
Greenbusch/Pin Oak to Katy Gaston in February or March 2010.
Construction will take 12 to 18 months to complete.  The Katy
Flewellen/Katy Gaston intersection is now an “All Way” Stop.

The county should begin widening of Greenbusch (Westheimer Parkway) to
4-lanes from Katy Flewellen to Falcon Ranch Blvd. sometime this
summer.  Work will take 12 – 18 months.  We have to wait until the
pipeline company moves its existing pipeline.

We are identifying intersections in the Katy area for traffic signals.
 One under consideration is Fry Road and Spring Green Road.
Installation of traffic control devices (signals, stop signs, yield
signs, speed limits) are dictated by state law.  We are required to
have an independent Traffic Study conducted and that Study has to
conclude that certain conditions are met before the county can install
a traffic control device.


Seller’s Disclosure: What does a seller have to disclose to a buyer?

August 1, 2009

in a word: EVERYTHING… 

In the bad old days, the seller did not have this requirement placed on him and it was a case of Caveat emptor – “Let the buyer beware!”. Times have changed and the onus is now entirely on the seller to make known any and all material facts regarding the condition of the property he or she is selling.

In real estate transactions, the root cause for most problems is lack of disclosure by the seller. Funny thing is… most of the time it is entirely unintentional. Why would anyone in their right mind try to hide an issue that will come out anyway through inspections, diligent research or nosy neighbors happy to share any and all facts known or rumored about your home. Yes, your nosy Nellie next door did happen to see the foundation repairman and the roofer two years and will certainly make sure your buyer knows all about it – in great detail.

One interesting disclosure item that always causes issues is disclosing a prior death on the property. Now, deaths by natural causes, suicide, etc. are not required to be disclosed but those caused by a defect of the property or criminal activity – yes, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE! Should you let the buyer know about a death that is not necessarily required? That is a judgement call you will have to make. Example: my brother-in-law bought a home in Austin a few years ago. When we visited, being the chatty gal that I am, I stopped by the neighbor’s house to introduce myself and learn more about the area. I found out in less than one minute that the prior owner had committed suicide in the backyard. Now, that is not a required disclosure item but… should it have been shared? Probably. Would it have caused a termination in the contract… Probably not. My feeling about the matter is: Would you want to learn about something of this nature from the seller or later from the neighbors? 

When I work with sellers, I deliver to them the Seller’s Disclosure form, a 5 page document that is required by the State of Texas to be filled out to the best of the seller’s ability and given to the buyer of any property within a mandated time frame according to the actual contract. There are individuals who are exempt from the use this form: Banks or other entities who own foreclosure properties, Probate administrators, etc. but the normal seller in the State of Texas must render this form… and that is where he/she gets in trouble.

I am often asked by my sellers…”Should I disclose this or that…?” As your Realtor, I am not allowed to assist in the completion of this form but my answer to that is always the same… a resounding YES! If the question was brought up in the seller’s mind, then YES, disclose whatever it is. The litmus test is you should disclose any and all items that if not disclosed, could cause the buyer to reconsider his offer. Meaning, if the non-disclosure of an item would cause your buyer to either make a different offer or pass on the property, then yes, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE. Even if it was a roof repair 20 years ago…Again, I repeat… IF IN DOUBT, DISCLOSE. 

You can always explain your answer. I have had clients add several pages of explanation to the disclosure form, which is entirely appropriate. The disclosed item may have no affect at all on a buyer’s interest in a property. In fact, most homes (like people) have a past and as long as the issues are not on-going or improperly addressed, your buyer will proceed as usual. But by making your disclosure, your buyer simply will not have a reason to come back to you later if any and all matters are disclosed up front.

Another important item to disclose is any inspection report on the home within the last 4 years: structural, mechanical, environmental, termite, etc. And if you had a major issue that needed remediation (mold, for example), that really should always be disclosed even if completely re-mediated. You can again attach your explanations of repairs made and receipts for those repairs.

Disclosure items are a mine field of trouble if handled incorrectly so the best road to take is always the high road. Remember, you will be a buyer someday, too and will want your future seller to treat you as you should treat today’s buyer for your home.