Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012: inventory

{ photo }
What we need for 2012:

Inventory- many of you who know me can attest, I am a research junkie when it comes to
real estate. Although many realtors do not usually hold open
houses in December, I do. Why would I do this? Well, I wanted to get an idea of who would be the buyers in 2012.

This is what I learned: I met people who took a while to sell their homes and
were a bit skittish to buy right away. People who lived in rental homes, who felt the holidays were not the same with many sentimental holiday belongings in stuck in storage.

Another group of buyers I met fit into the category of ex-pats being transferred to Houston. They have kids and they need good schools. Yippee for Memorial and their amazing schools. These wonderful buyers have greatly depleted Memorial's inventory.

I've also met a large group of buyers who are coming from private schools and moving to Memorial. Their kids have gone to private school since kindergarten, and they want a change. Memorial High School graduates have great success getting into some of the nation's top colleges and universities.

If you are thinking of selling your home, don’t let the doom and gloom on the
evening news discourage you. Many of us have had record-breaking years.

Homes are selling !!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are you an independent Real Estate Broker? a.k.a: Doesn’t anyone want to hire you?

I’ve been in the business for over 28 years, which means that I’ve experienced two recessions and two bubbles. Throughout everything I have been a one-woman operation, just a helping hand for friends (that’s what my clients become) that want to buy and sell their homes. I don’t waste people’s time; not my clients’ time nor my own. I believe in getting things done in a timely and cost effective way.
Although I’ve been on my own for most of this time, I’ve stayed in touch with my industry. After all, I started out at a big firm and even then I quickly saw that I couldn’t deal with the inefficiency. I felt like the real estate agents were creating busy work for themselves so they could justify their beloved high commissions. Firms are known for their flamboyant culture, and agents want to keep driving their BMWs and Mercedes convertibles and attending society-page benefits.
You want to know something? Most of the heads of these big firms haven’t sold a home since the Internet was invented. When it’s time for these big wigs to solve a problem they pour superfluous amounts of money into a system that is not currently working. That is like putting more and more quarters into a pay phone when what you really need is a smart phone.
Several people at the big firms told me I would fail working on my own, and when I succeeded they said it was a fluke. I suppose it was one of those three-decade flukes! Now many firms are trying to negotiate their way out of their leases because they can’t compete with the fact that people can do their work in front of their laptop at Starbucks now. I can only laugh when I think about how they told me I was unprofessional for saving my clients money by refusing to operate out of a fancy “store front” office!

This whole time, big firm owners have made it clear to me that if I ever wanted to come on board with them I could. They’d give me 2 assistants and a higher commission split. I could live a luxury life! I could be in the society pages! I am not interested and have never been interested. I don’t want to spend wildly. I want to do my job.
My husband is a tech guy, and he’s astonished at the way that real estate firms maintain entire departments for something that could be handled by a few people working on contract from home. Real estate firms still have teams of people making newspaper ads; they have sales meetings, appointment desks, and tons of unused office space. That would all be fine if the customer weren’t forced to pay for it. I believe competition is for the competent and it is time for some real competition.

How big is your company?

When I tell them, one person, often I get, “that’s nice”.  It is meant to be polite but not a as a compliment. Why is that.  Why do we think bigger is better.  I have a 80% referral rate when the industry average is 20%.

Why is it we perceive the firm with the most overhead or employees as the most successful?  One thing is for sure, once you get your overhead up, it’s hard to cut it. I have never understood this “bigger is better” thinking.  Let’s be honest. It’s all about the egos.
What DO YOU LIKE about today’s MARKET?
I love that a person with a desk and a laptop can do anything. Sustainability and profitability is success to me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Meet the Smiths

Several years ago I was introduced to the Reggie and Leigh Smith. Reggie, a partner with King and Spalding Law Firm, was referred to me by a friend from Atlanta. The family was relocating to Houston  to open a a new firm and needed to find a place. Three houses and many years later, the Smiths have created a beautiful River Oaks haven.

I am absolutely blown away by their home. Reggie and Leigh have taken a traditional Southern home and splashed it with some of the most incredible art. I have to confess my ignorance; I know absolutely nothing about contemporary art! But, I do know that I love the overall aesthetic their pieces create for a room. I also love the way Reggie and Leigh embrace antiques and traditional architecture and make them seem completely new.  

Leigh's taste for design is only matched by her dynamic personality. She has a charming southern accent where she can turn a 1 syllable word like "book" into a 3 syllable word,"BOO-OO-UHK." She's not pretentious at all, instead of cruising around in a fancy Mercedes, she drives an adorable mini cooper! I feel like her decorating taste reflects her free-spirited and distinctive character. The home exemplifies how contemporary and southern can be beautifully and uniquely melded. The decorating by Terry Prather is breath-taking and inspiring. Enjoy. 

They are featured in this article  featured on

{all photos by:Jack Thompson}

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Your sofa is from IKEA? Really?

I get ecstatic when you find a great piece of furniture at a bargain price. Although I didn’t exactly find this bargain myself - Two of my favorite decorating bloggers did! {Both are local Houston gals.} To say these women have a great sense of style would be an understatement.  I was impressed to find each blog featuring great decorating advice using a sofa at a price tag of $399.00. How can you go wrong?  The Ektorp white linen sofa featured in both blogs comes from the Swedish Mecca of cheap furniture, IKEA!
{photo: morning-t}
I love a business/decorator that can think in an innovative and economical way. I found Cote de Texas author/decorating genius, Joni Wise’s use of the sofa for her college daughter’s new digs charming. And Morning T blogger’s home re-do was nicely complemented by the inexpensive piece. Featured on Cote de Texas, Bemz is a company where you can order chic slipcovers for the IKEA Ektorp line. I am loving all the options the designer fabric's at Bemz can supply.
 {photo: cote de texas}
 I am still completely blown away with the luxury and comfort of this reasonably priced sofa. The simplicity is unparalleled and the decorating possibilities endless. All I have to say is my couch is getting replaced this weekend!!!
{photo: cote de texas}

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When I die, spread my ashes at Chateau Domingue

My friend Ruth Gay opened a small shop a few years ago and man has she taken it to a whole new level. The place is huge now.  She is very hush-hush about her clientele, but I will tell you, I was in there when I spotted the person I would leave my husband of 28 years for. (sorry Mark) Don Henley of the Eagles!!!   I was shocked when he gave Ruth a big hug and knew her on a first name basis. How could my good friend be holding out on me!!!
Ruth has amazing taste.  You might ask yourself, “Wouldn’t someone with an amazing sense of style and innovation go to France or at least somewhere in Europe to buy a unique mantel or interesting flooring?”  Where the answer once was, “yes.” it is now, “not anymore."
I met-up with Ruth in France for only a few days while I was on vacation, but I needed a vacation after spending just 3 days with her.  This girl wakes up at 5:00 am to be the first at the markets. Every vendor knows Ruth. Her ability to communicate with them in their native French makes it simple for her to negate the often- overwhelming market scene. Ruth painstakingly selects every piece that goes to Chateau Domingue as if it were going into her own house.  For five hours she makes her way through a field of rubble that is actually a stone yard all while sweating in 95-degree weather and that was only one of the several visits.
{Ruth and I way to early in the morning and she's got a boot on! Nothing slows her down.}  

She can instantly distinguish what is quality and what is not.  She can look at a mantel and recognize authenticity. That is why her clients and designers trust her. They know their product is unique. They will not see it in another home and it is what she says it is. She is often contacted before the architectural elements are even removed in most countries in Europe.  I have seen her fly to Europe for 3 days to look over flooring and fly back and go straight to work and then do it again in 2 weeks.
What I love most about Ruth and Chateau Domingue is how she takes just as much time with the customer who may be buying only a few tiles for a kitchen back splash as she did with Don Henley.
{ all images taken from }
Chateau Domingue is an architectural boutique carrying distinctive, impeccably curated, antique found objects. You can learn more here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

To Cabo, or not to Cabo?

Ever since taking my daughter on her senior-spring-break trip to Cabo I have debated whether or not to embark on the wild excursion again. Recently this has been a huge point of debate and discussion in my household. Enjoying a thousand-dollar vacation should be turmoil and stress-free, but this trip is anything but.  The trip is considered to be a right of passage, but a passage to where/what???
I did the senior trip 2 years ago with my daughter and it was quite an experience!!!  I will never forget the quiet plane ride home where none of the parents were talking to their senior, including me.
First of all, let me share with you the particulars. The hotel catering to the senior trip is the Pueblo Bonito. It is not a bad hotel but definitely photo shopped to an unrealistic perfection. The photos made it look like paradise on a Greek Island with beautiful cool blue water. In reality, it was at best a 3 star hotel, but someone very generous gave it 5 stars.  I think the hotel might have done some self-rating. Continental / United must have a special calendar with an alert on all the spring break vacations because what is normally a $400-$500 ticket jets up to an $800 ticket that week. The 5-star hotel is around $250 per night and you definitely need to do “The All Inclusive”.  Not because you will be eating every meal there, but because the bar bill when you go to check-out is more than the actual hotel bill.

I knew my daughter wanted to do something fun and adventurous. I was always so proud of my sweet, angelic, unknowing, naïve, and perfect daughter. These were adjectives I once believed to describe her! After Cabo I realized just how well she new how to navigate the party scene!
I imagined snorkeling and long walks up and down white-sand beaches, not long walks up and down the sleazy nightlife scene. Have you ever seen the advertisement for Girls gone Wild and thought, “where did those parents go wrong?”  Well, you’ll realize you’ve become one of those parents when you visit the popular bar, El Squid Roe! I would even go as far as to say that this trip is the audition for GIRLS GONE WILD. Every value you have taught your child is long-gone out the window- I kept thinking why did we ever go to Sunday school!!! With signs all over the place like “Poke smot !” (the tricky slang version of saying “smoke pot”) The whole place was basically one big grinding-convention with glow-in-the-dark jello-shots as the tapas!!

Despite all of this craziness there was some structure. One of the more experienced parents  (thank you John Walker) set up some boundaries indicating that the kids had to be at the door by 1:00 am to leave or you did not get to go out with the group the next night.  I could not figure out why the parents from the previous years did not think the clubs were that bad and then I realized they did not go to El Squid Roe every night. Let this be a message for you.  “Just say no to El Squid Roe!”
During the day sitting out by the pool was entertaining and enjoyable, but to my dismay there was also a wet t-shirt contest every afternoon. The Kids would race down the beach to decide the winners and sometimes participate. On the beach they sell these cute sunglasses with two cupcakes for the frames. I bought a pair for my friend’s birthday only to find out that the cupcakes were not cupcakes, but actually boobs!! I should’ve known better having bought them from a vendor right by the wet t-shirt contest. I was just relieved that my child didn’t enter and win the contest. Every year, someone knows one of the girls that wins! Does this go on their college resume under “Honors and Rewards??”

I was determined not to go back on this trip not because I did not enjoy the days by the pool but the nights almost killed me! 2 of the nights I had to take home sick girls (who’s mothers stayed back at the hotel) and the 3rd night I saw 2 teenagers having sex on the stairs at El Squid Roe. One. Word. PURELL!!!!

Now, much to my own surprise and disappointment, I have caved-in and I am letting my son have his “right of passage” to Cabo.

This time I have rules for the trip:
  • Have a set time to meet at the door of the club.
  • Only take your child, do not volunteer to take another’s child, even if they are staying at the same hotel.  (You don’t want to end up in my situation where the child the parent sent you with, gets sick and you have to take them home and leave your own child to fend for themself and get home safely.  The sick child has vomited and is sober by the time you get them back to the hotel meanwhile the mother has enjoyed a relaxing evening reading her book back at the hotel!! )
Parents-we are all in this together, there are no chosen ones who get to call this a vacation-it is work!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The 9 Big Deal Breakers in Real Estate

1. EXCLUSIONS: As a seller, you need to make it clear which furnishings and fixtures come with your house and which don't. You should disclose these items when you show your house, or remove them beforehand. These days, wall-mounted TVs seem to be causing an overabundance of disputes. Don't let the deal fall apart over a TV or a chandelier!
2. FAILURE TO DISCLOSE: In relation to deal breaker number one when in doubt, DISCLOSE IT, and the earlier the better. A problem will seem much bigger to a buyer when they have discovered it on their own or are already under contract.

3. APPRAISAL: The days when a home always appraised for the contract price are gone. Sometimes the appraisal comes in "short," and this can be a dealbreaker.

4. SURVEY: As you approach closing, you might get your survey back only to find out that your fence stretches 5 feet into your neighbor's property, marking your lot short of the 7,000 square-feet your buyer desired. Know your boundary lines! Many contracts call for a survey 3 days prior to closing, but you should have the buyer order the survey when they order the appraisal. Don't wait! If you take care of this in advance, you'll have time to work out a solution.
5. INSPECTIONS: Most inspectors call it like it is. Sometimes your buyer will want you to fix every single potential problem that your inspector sees. You don't have to do this! You both have choices.
Your buyer has four basic choices after the  inspector report. The buyer can:
  • Ask you to make their requested repairs
  • Ask you to reduce the sales price in lieu of repairs
  • Request no repairs at all
  • Decline to buy the property
They can't force you to make repairs, but they do hold the ultimate power of walking away from the sale if they can't live with the decision of your repairs.
As the seller, you have three choices. You can:
  • Agree to the buyer's request and make all of the repairs
  • Agree to part of the request and make some of the repairs, or create an allowance for the repairs and stipulate in the contract, "the house is being sold 'as is'"
  • Agree to make no repairs or credits at all
6. LENDER CHANGING THE DEAL: This is a tough one to avoid, since this falls in the buyer's court. Still, you can emphasize to your buyer the importance of working with reputable and reliable mortgage broker, not someone's cousin or a friend of a friend.

7. SPOOKED BUYERS: Today it's very common for buyers to get spooked by cocktail-party-talk. Jealous friends and relatives (who typically bought real estate at the peak of the boom and are suffering) tell buyers what a terrible time it is to buy a house. Enough of this information will spook any buyer. Never forget that in real estate the best advice to follow is: "When the news is the best, sell it, and when the news is the worst, buy it."

8. LENDER DRAGGING THE BUYER OVER THE COALS: Today's lending environment is very different form the environment even a couple of years ago. Chances are good that your buyer will get scared by the everything-but-the-rectal-exam approach that lenders are taking these days. Many buyers take the lender's tactics as a sign that they shouldn't be buying a home. They fear that they will not get approved and do not want to go through the humiliation. Reassure them that it's normal to feel that way and they will just have to get through it.

9. WAITING TOO LONG TO RESPOND: Always get back to your buyer within 24 hours. Procrastination is a deal-killer.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The 3 Golden Keys for Pricing

There are three things I keep in mind in every single one of my transactions when I’m evaluating a home and setting its asking price with the seller. Using these three concepts is the secret of my success and the reason why countless other realtors and customers have called me over the years to ask, “How did you get that listing to sell?”

The three concepts (I call them the three “-tions”) are simple and vital for anyone who wants to understand how real estate pricing works.

1. COMPETITION. A home seller might try to inflate their home’s price, thinking that they need to set the bar high before they negotiate. Or they might have a real estate agent who wants the listing so badly that she’ll tell them whatever they want to hear. But in doing this, that home seller is putting himself at a severe competitive disadvantage.

It’s like a football game: you simply must know the competition. How many homes in your price range are on the market? If there are several homes in your neighborhood waiting to sell, you must price your home aggressively—read: a little less than you might have liked—in order to get the buyers.

Keep in mind, the amount you come down in price is probably equal to or less than a month’s worth of carrying costs, which is the amount you’ll pay if you hold the home for longer.

If there are fewer homes in your neighborhood for sale, then you can shoot for a price that’s right on the market.

2. ATTRITION. So now that you know how many homes in your price range are available, find out how many of those homes have been selling per month for the last three to six months. This will give you what is called the “absorption rate” or rate of attrition. With this number, you can get a clear picture of what to expect as far as the time it will likely take to sell your home. It’s no guessing game; it’s a business calculation.

3. CONDITION. How does your home’s condition compare to other homes on the market and to those that have sold? Be realistic. What is the condition of the landscaping? How about the exterior paint or updates? What’s the condition of the carpet, flooring, appliances, roof, and interior paint?

In a buyer’s market—and today’s market is certainly a buyer’s market—updated homes sell faster than those that need updating. “Updated” means that your house has been redone in the past five to six years and the updates should be comparable to recent construction.

Evaluate your home the way a picky buyer would and have realistic expectations.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

5 New Market Rules

Let me say it one more time, because these days you can’t say it enough: the real estate market in Houston is stable! It’s not what it was nor will it be but it is better than the rest of the nation.But of course, there are rules, and most of them are new rules. Pay attention and you can still play the game.
  1. Buyers today are pickier than ever. Why? Well, the national news is so dismal that it’s easy to forget that real estate markets are very localized. Think of real estate like food: it’s best to focus on your local market.
  2. Buyers today are cautious. The future is uncertain, and they don’t want any more reasons to lose face. Basically, they do not want to be the guy at the dinner party who bought in 2007/2008 who totally shrivels when real estate comes up. It’s understandable.
  3. Buyers today have Ph.D’s in real estate. Wait, there’s no such thing. But they all THINK they do because of the Internet--and for the most part, they’re right! These days, my buyers have all done their research on Trulia, Zillow, and Yahoo Real Estate.  Each one of the sites has great information on the do’s and don’ts of home buying, and the information is accurate and up-to-date. Don’t be surprised. If the Internet can tell you what kind of chardonnay your Aunt Martha had last week, it can tell you how to buy a house.
  4. Lenders today love to rake buyers over the coals. By the time they make an offer, they’ve been through the wringer. Don’t be surprised if they’re demanding, they’re just paying all their annoyances forward.
  5. Buyers today are not looking to make improvements. With Houston being such a migratory city, people are moving in (not as rapidly as in 2005-2007, but we’ll take it) and they need homes in move-in condition. Your home needs to be updated if you want it to sell.

So, sellers: home sales are flat for Houston, and that’s actually great news. We’re turning the corner slower than the past. Are houses appreciating like they did during the bubble? No, of course not! But we can still have a steady market.   We are one of the few.

This is both good news and bad news for all of us: in terms of the real estate market, only the strong will survive. If you’re a real estate agent, know that you cannot be a “lazy agent.” If you’re a seller, know that your home must be priced to sell, or it simply won’t. Real estate agents are not genies. Buyers can see every home on the market. What’s more, they’re searching the sold homes, not the active listings. They don’t want to see your set price, they want to see what other buyers are willing to pay. If your home is overpriced, you’ll lose more money than you wanted to gain.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nostalgia, Baseball, and the Memorial Small Town Feeling

This has been an unbelievable season for the Memorial Mustangs. For me, it’s confirmed why life is good in Texas: you can live in a great neighborhood in the middle of the city and still have it feel like a small town. For our kids, it’s a valuable experience. It’s how life is supposed to be.

The game last week was in Pearland—far, but not too far for Mustang Fans to pack the stands. The best seats in the house, though, were those of the teenagers that pulled their F-150’s and Dodge Rams up to the outfield fence and stood on the tailgates cheering. It reminds me of the Little Rascals: Spanky and the Gang! The next night, my son informed that me they found an even better seat, with lawn chairs on top of the shed for a bird’s eye view. The weather was that perfect Houston summer night weather: warm but comfortable, a breezy 74 degrees. I sat in the bleachers as the crowd packed in close. Fans would always scoot over to make room for one more. The kids home from college came to say hi.

I don’t have a son on the team but my heart goes out to every mother who does. The nerves have got to get to you! A tip from my days as a club soccer mom: peanuts are a nervous mother’s best friend. Shelling those peanuts during a game is the only thing that got me through!

There are a few things that feel constant to me throughout every game in the Memorial community. The smell of the burgers grilling. The elementary school boy who sat in front of me and bragged about being the bat boy, reciting the stats of every player like they were already in the majors. There’s the team manager Philip, who is somewhat a celebrity in Memorial. The other day, I ran into a friend whose daughter was home from college and was going to Carrabba’s for dinner just because Philip was working that night.

I grew up with baseball. I went to all the Colt 45 games with my dad, who is a huge baseball fan. If you gave him the choice between living in Paris and living in Cooperstown, there’s no question what he’d pick! After a glass of wine, I can still the sing the fight song of the Colt 45: Shoot ‘em down Houston Colts, fire away Houston Colts, there is a game today…

Three years after the Colts became the Astros, a new family moved in next door, and for my family it was a dream come true: they were the grandsons of the owner of the Astros, and they became my little brother’s best friends. We had so much fun on that block! I was old enough to baby sit, so I had to come along for years to the Astros games. This was back in the days of Larry Dierker, Johnny Edwards, Roger Metzger. I remember Cesar Cedeno when he was a rookie. My husband is still shocked at the extent of my baseball knowledge today!

So, to the MHS baseball team, thank you for showing us all that is right in this world and bringing that small town feeling into our hearts.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's Not All Bad News

All the bad news today seems aimed at making people more cautious in their spending.

But let’s cut through that for a second. It’s actually a really good time to buy a house in Houston.

This is an emerging trend nationwide. CNN Money posted an article today that begins, “For the first time in years, buying a home may beat renting.”

And Houston is on the up-and-up. We are a migratory city. We have people moving into this city  and a large percentage of them are coming here for careers. Texas encourages business, and that’s why we haven’t suffered nearly as much as other regions during the recession.

An increased number of white-collar workers are moving here. With the Internet making satellite offices redundant, many companies are moving managers and executives out of the outposts and into their main office.

This is happening in a big way in the oil business, which has kept the Memorial home market strong. These executives have children and they want the best schools for their kids; since many private schools have long waiting lists, SBISD comprises the schools du jour.
If you want to take advantage of this demand and sell your home, know that buyers these days are looking for updated homes. I would venture to say 50% of home buyers have been transferred to Houston for work, and they do not want to come into a new city and remodel. No way! They’ll pay top dollar to avoid this.  There is virtually no new construction in the city, so a home that is in move-in condition with great schools sells fast.

Homeowners worry that home prices will decrease even further. I disagree. First of all, Houston is a cheap place to live, even with $4 gas (but let’s hope that that stops sometime soon). These transferred executives will stay in Houston till they retire, and only some will go back to their previous city. People who move here will fall in love with the climate; once they learn to stay indoors during those months of 100-degree heat, they’ll enjoy never ever having to be snowed in!

But most importantly, as few new homes are being built, the demand will soon outpace the supply, bringing us closer to the years of price stability and safe investments that we all loved so well!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Southern Living in the City

While I’m most certainly not writing this blog to promote my listings, this home is so beautiful and so reminiscent of the sophisticated, French-inspired Southern Living aesthetic that’s been on my mind so much lately—I had to share it!

My friend Deborah’s home was already one of my favorites out of the whole Memorial area. It’s stately and sweet, and Deborah reflects her home’s charm out to everyone she meets. She even calls me “sugar”—and trust me, in real estate, having a client that calls you “sugar” will turn the worst day into a great one. Look at how gorgeous this porch is: whenever I go to Deborah’s, I make sure to get there early so I can have some time to sit out there and sip from my imaginary thermos of mint juleps.

The lovely paneled walls in Deborah’s home remind me of the panels in the home I sold to Ruth Gay, who owns Chateau Domingue (an architectural boutique carrying distinctive, impeccably curated, antique found objects). Ruth has spectacular taste that she used to just transform her home; she saw the potential in the paneling and painted it a beautiful French blue and pale lavender.
If you have the vision, these small details can be used to give your home a real touch of atmosphere. Ruth’s house feels like an old French chateau, or maybe a breezy country farmhouse. Deborah’s home feels like a charming Southern retreat. What do you want your home to feel like?

To get some ideas, visit one of my favorite blogs: Cote de Texas. It’s all about incorporating thoughtful, sophisticated design into your Texas home, mixing vintage and antique with modern for some extraordinary results! If you’ve never looked at this blog, you’ll thank me. We could all use a touch of classy Southern Living in our lives!

Monday, April 18, 2011

And the Top Producer award goes to 80% of our firm!

Kenneth Schnitzer, the man who the New York Times called a “visionary” and whose buildings make up our distinctive Houston skyline, was my mentor in the real estate business. When I was 27, he gave me a promotion, and I became the youngest vice president that the company had ever had. I was happy, of course, but I just kept on doing the same work I had always done. One day Kenneth came over to me laughing, saying, “Sissy, you are so different than anyone else! You couldn’t care less what we call you. You just want to get the job done.”

It’s true! Titles are just titles. And I think there are a lot of real estate agents who think in just the opposite way. I was recently looking at the Chronicle real estate section and noticed a bunch of quarter-page ads by real estate firms advertising their "top producers."

It seemed strange to me. How could so many firms have so many top producers? I called my sweet friend at a large firm, and I asked her, “What makes a top producer?  Is there some sort of standard guideline that top firms adhere to?” I had to laugh thinking of a secret meeting of all the biggest real estate firms in Houston, in which they’d get together in some conference room and agree on the very important definition of a “top producer.”

Well, I laughed even harder when my friend told me that there’s no definition at all! Each firm defines what a top producer is for themselves. A top producer could be somebody who’s listed four homes at your own firm, or it could be somebody who’s sold four homes at another firm. It could simply be the number of years that they’ve been in business! Some firms give 70-80% of their agents the top producer title! These words are just totally meaningless. Just goes to remind you that titles don’t mean anything—it’s the work that counts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's okay to ♥ Houston!

It’s been a hard year for the world, and with the global economy and the Internet’s flattening effect on industry and communication, what happens to the world also happens to us. We’ve had the Japanese disaster, the implosion of the old ways of the Middle East, and uncertainty only grows larger as we enter Libya.
Where you stand on these issues depends on where you’re sitting, and in the face of constant bad news—global, domestic, and local—I want to say that we’re still sitting pretty. What I see in Houston is an economy that, in spite of everything, has weathered this recession better than any other city in the United States. With the price of everything—food, gas, medicine, you name it—going up, we still haven’t seen the challenges that other parts of the country have seen. Our cost of living is still remarkably low relative to every other major city, and we’re truly the last surviving industrial city in America.

I think that housing prices will remain steady in Houston, the main reason being that we’re a migratory city. We have people moving here at a rate that outpaces any other area of the country, because we still have jobs. We certainly don’t have as many jobs as we used to, and I don’t want to discount the suffering that the recession has caused plenty of people in our city, but we’re one of the only cities in America that has successfully created jobs in the down economy.
With that being said, there’s been very little construction since the recession, and although I feel that people will continue to move to Houston, I suspect that they might not be moving because they want to but because they have to.

For us, the Houston residents, we should think about how our city’s made it and be proud and thankful. We have foreclosures, but our foreclosure rate is nothing compared to the rate in states where people were allowed to pull equity out of their home like an ATM card. Our homes didn’t show the out-of-control appreciation that homes in other states did. We had steady appreciation, which is always better.

We don't have personal income tax. We have other, higher taxes to make up for it—but I’m pretty sure a lot of us appreciate this anyway. Like the adage goes, it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters! And high property taxes may have a lot to do with our real estate being able to weather the recession’s storm.
And the bottom line is that we have an entrepreneurial spirit unmatched by any other city or state. We have more Fortune 500 companies than New York, and in contrast, we’re still home to 230,000 businesses with less than 100 employees—a pretty remarkable statistic in 2011.

Houston will continue to grow. Forbes ranked us the #1 “Place to Get Ahead” city in 2009. People will continue to come here for business opportunities. The housing market isn’t exactly rosy right now, but I believe that it’ll take about four years for us to see a housing shortage and a substantial increase in prices. Sit tight, and soon we’ll all be sitting even prettier. As this shirt says, it's okay to love Houston!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A new generation moving to the Heights?


About two years ago, a friend invited me to a restaurant called Shade in the Heights. I hadn’t been to the area in probably 10+ years, but I’m always ready to try a new great restaurant—and what I found on that trip was an amazing, surprising neighborhood that would soon start attracting people from outside the loop.

Shade was fabulous. The design is sleek, and the atmosphere is casual, quirky, and elegant. Once inside, you can forget you’re in Houston and imagine you’re in Soho on a visit to New York. When we finished our meal, we walked down to the Penzey Spice Shop, where they had some of the coolest, best spices I’d ever seen. There I was able to buy a present for one of those friends who’s impossible to buy presents for; since she sprinkles crushed red pepper all over every dish, I bought her an imported spice that was 10 times spicier than what you’d find at the grocery store. I love the feeling of getting the perfect gift, and with that plus the food at Shade, I was hooked on the Heights.

Recently, I’ve had three families from the Memorial area move to the Heights. They’re not empty nesters, and it made me realize that this shift was becoming a trend. For the last few years, national trends in everything from food to fashion to music have shifted from a corporate flashiness to a humbler and more hip aesthetic, and it seems that Houston is no exception. Farmer’s markets, Discovery Green, and now, formerly Memorial-based families moving to the Heights.

The Heights, with its mix of people and real estate (gorgeous, expansive homes next to run-down shanties), appeals to everyone. It has a small-town feel, yet it’s minutes from downtown. When Wal-Mart tried to open a store in this area, the community response would make you think that they were trying to build a nuclear power plant. Just like the West U community continues to protest with ever-increasing indignance against the Ashby high rise, the people of the Heights want to keep their local charm.

And why wouldn’t they? There aren’t too many places in Houston where restaurants are still locally owned, where the community braves the heat to hang out with each other outside. Food trucks, a trend that never left Austin, have come back to our city—a welcome reminder of my college days, where the third vendor on the drag would sell “lemony lemonade salvation sandwiches,” and one time the Vietnamese eggroll cart caught on fire and made the front page of the Austin statesman.


Visit the Heights if you haven’t been there in awhile and it’ll feel like a breath of fresh air, a piece of carefree living straight out of your twenties. I recently went to a small restaurant called Zelko’s, where the food is sourced locally and the menu changes daily. The manager is a St. John’s alumnus, and one day he sat down at our table with the young chef Jamie and talked to us about food and wine for over 20 minutes. It’s so different from a lot of the other experiences you’ll have at restaurants in Houston. It’s personal, about making a memory and not turning tables. We finished our dinner, went over to a friend’s house, and sat on the porch with a glass of wine. Within minutes, some neighbors had joined us, and I ended up talking to someone who had left a big corporate job to start a music studio—and had been successful within 60 days! Where else but the Heights could you do this? Then, the neighbors from across the street came over from their relatively humble home and started talking about their son’s deployment to Afghanistan.
Houston is a great city, but in a lot of neighborhoods, we lack the community and relaxation and personal connection that a small town brings. The Heights brings that back, and you can reclaim it through a day’s visit or maybe even a move. If you’re an empty nester or feeling a tug towards those college days where things were unexpected and not always so neatly packaged, the Heights might be the place for you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Memorial is selling!!!


Why are homes selling in Memorial (homes that are priced on the market, that is) while things in Tanglewood are moving a bit more slowly? Well, when out-of-town families and oil executives move to Houston, they don't have the option of immediately placing their kids in private school. Therefore, Memorial is the neighborhood they choose, for its great schools and great neighborhoods. In some sense, this is good, because the market is always strong in Memorial. And it's not bad for Tanglewood either! Tanglewood has dozens of homes available right now, and they're available for a great price. Sure, this neighborhood isn't zoned to as strong a school district as Memorial, but if this isn't important for you, the market is worth checking out.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

No Bad Houses, Only Bad Prices

The real estate industry’s classic motto is “Location, location, location,” but I’ve been working in Houston’s high-end market for almost three decades and I think it’s time that homeowners are made aware that the old motto is a fossil. It’s best kept in some dusty real estate Hall of Fame, a relic from a time when a stellar location meant that you could ask for anything when selling your home.

In today’s market, overpricing your home is the number one mistake that sellers make. Setting the price above what the market dictates—no matter how great the location or property—tells buyers that you are yet another seller buying into the myth of real estate alchemy. You cannot turn lead into gold. You cannot hope to beat the realities of the market. What you need to do is be proactive and work with the existing market.

In the thousands of transactions I’ve handled in real estate, three concepts have always emerged as critical. Using them is the secret of my success and the reason why countless other realtors and customers have called me over the years to ask, “How did you get that listing to sell?” The three concepts (I call them the ThreeTions) are simple and vital for anyone looking to understand how real estate works.

#1: Competition. A lot of home sellers try to inflate their home’s price, thinking they need to set the bar high before they negotiate. Or they have a real estate agent who wants the listing so badly that she’ll tell them whatever they want to hear. But in doing this, home sellers place themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage.

It’s like a football game: you simply must know the competition. How many homes in your price range are on the market? If there are several homes in your neighborhood waiting to sell, then you must price your home aggressively—read: more cheaply than you might have liked—in order to get the buyers. If there are fewer, then you can shoot for a price that’s right on the market.

Don’t forget the simple economics of supply and demand. In particular, please don’t get blinded emotionally by what you feel your home is worth. In today’s value-driven market, you have to know the competition to compete.

#2: Attrition. So now that you know how many homes in your price range are available, find out how many of those homes are selling per month. This will give you what is called the absorption rate or rate of attrition. With this you can get a clear picture of what to expect as far as the time it will likely take to sell your home. It’s no guessing game; it’s a business calculation.

#3 Condition: How does your home’s condition compare to other homes on the market? Be realistic. What condition is the landscaping? How about the exterior paint? In what condition is the carpet, flooring, appliances, roof or interior paint?

In a buyer’s market—and today’s market is certainly a buyer’s market—updated homes sell faster than those that need updating. “Updated” means that your house has been redone in the past 5-6 years and is now comparable to recent construction. In uncertain times like these, people are holding on to their cash and thinking about the future. The need of further improvements seems much slimmer if the home is updated.

Evaluate your home like a picky buyer would and have realistic expectations. You should also be ready to improve your home’s condition in order to realize a successful sale.
What I want to pass onto Houston consumers is this: if you price it right, they will come. But in today’s market, with the Internet enabling people to search real estate at the click of a mouse, you’ve got to price your home correctly and do it fast. Trust me, if you try to inflate, you’ll just end up lowering your price and end up with a “stale” home. Consider your holding costs, remember my three tips, and you’ll understand why pricing your home to the market is the key to a quick and (relatively) painless transaction.

PS-Three Tions has been trademarked. If you are a realtor and would like to use it, Please email me for permission. I am happy to share it.