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Know When to Walk

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It is much more difficult now

Our real estate market here in the twin cities has changed quite a bit in the last couple of years. It is much more difficult to sell a house than it used to be. Last year I made some mistakes that I decided not to repeat this year. I will publicly admit that not all of my listings sold.

I was beating myself up, but…

For a time I was beating myself up a bit over it but it wasn’t me not doing a good job. In every case the home owner was upside on a mortgage and the asking price for the home was too high. I would show my clients numbers and local sales data and recommend a price reduction but they would tell me that they couldn’t reduce it. I canceled two of those listings myself.I watched as one of those listings I canceled listed with another agent, six months later she listed it with yet another agent.

It is still on the market listed with agent number four. The price has been reduced slightly, mostly by agent number three but the property is still on the market and has been for the last 15 months. The property is worth less money today than it was the day I originally listed it. If she would have accepted my recommendation she would not have had to make fifteen months worth of mortgage payments, pay a years worth of taxes and insurance on an investment property that she is upside down on.

When did you buy it?

This year when a home owner calls and asks me to list their home I ask them when they bought it. The question is less personal than asking a total stranger that just contacted me how much the owe on their home. If they purchased the home after 2003 my questions get a bit more personal. Sometimes I give them a kind of lecture and ask them if they really have to move and if they have ever considered renting the place out. I have been able to help a few people find good tenants. I don’t make any money that way.

Some people call me and I do a market analysis for them and then they tell me how much money they have to have for their home and I tell them that I won’t list it for them. I explain that I can not sell it for the price they want to ask but assure them that there are plenty of Realtors in the Twin Cities and that they should have no trouble finding someone who will list it for them.

The same goes for buyers

It is pretty much the same with the buyers. After I have determined if they have talked to a lender I ask them how long they plan on living in the home. If they give me an answer of five years or less they are advised that buying and selling real estate that often may not be the best use of their resources. I explain typical buying and selling costs.

Last week I had a couple ask me to discount my fee because they owe about as much on their property as I can sell it for. I told them that I wanted to work with them, and I meant it, but that I could not reduce my fee. They explained that they do not have a lot of money and they need as much as they can get from the sale of their home. My heart goes out to them but I also have bills to pay, and selling their condo is going to be a lot of work. I explained the value of my services and the ways that I will save them money. I also told them that they can find an agent who will charge less. They signed a contract with me last Saturday, and their home will be on the market this week.

I’ve said “no” just as often

In the last couple of months I believe I have said no to new clients at least as often as I have said yes. I still have some tough listings but I am confident that I can sell them. It isn’t easy saying no. When I started in the business I worked for one of those huge real estate companies. They would encouraged me to get listings at any cost and we were all thought that some commission is better than none. We were discouraged from discounting our fees but in the end the company would rather see us take less than get nothing at all.

A woman who called me last week spent some time trying to “sell” me on the idea of listing her townhouse. The answer was still no. I did feel some compassion for her and her situation but I have learned that if I don’t remain some what emotional detached from my clients and their problems I end up wearing myself out and doing a lot of work for free. She has her unit listed with another agent. I asked if that agent had ever suggested reducing he price. The caller said yes. I told her that she should listen to her agent.

Learning when to say no

Learning when to say no is important. Last year I spent too much time and money trying to sell homes that were over priced. Now I am not afraid to say no, I think I have had enough practice now so that I am good at saying no. It just kind of rolls off the tongue and I enjoy saying it. It makes me feel like I am running my business instead of letting it run me. Every hour spent trying to sell and over priced listing is an hour that could be used for activities that will lead to revenue generation.

Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    April 8, 2008 at 6:09 am

    Teresa, I have to keep my emotions out of it too. I have potential clients telling me after I show them the market value, “Well we’ll just sell short?”
    Is the the big catch all?
    Last time, both had excellent jobs and were transferred out of state, good investments. This freaks me out that so many are reading the papers and think that is a way to go and don’t care about credit.

    I told them to go back and renegotiate with their employers, for more benefits or to make them whole.

  2. Kevin Sharkey - IBR Broker

    April 8, 2008 at 7:30 am

    Teresa,
    Great post as usual. There are many opportunities out there to choose from, especially for an agent like yourself. I agree with your whole idea of being more selective in who you choose to work with. Ultimately, you will generate more revenue because of being more selective.

    There are other agents who do not have as many options as you, and are more likely to “chase leads”. Others get emotionally involved and will reduce their fees to help out. As a broker, I am conflicted by some of this activity. On one hand, there will probably not be a closing for my bleeding heart agent. On the other hand, an agent will get more experience, an opportunity to work with marketing a home in a down market and maybe someday have enough experience so they can become more selective in who they work with.

    I think this may just be part of the whole growth cycle of an agent. The better the agent becomes, the sooner they can take control of their business. Clearly, you are at that point. Thanks again for the great words.

    P.S. I still have the other red mitten. It wants to join its mate.

  3. Bill Lublin

    April 8, 2008 at 8:07 am

    Teresa: Great post- and what courage to address an issue that so many agents keep in the closet- Its always better to take a listing that will sell then just to take a listing- and if its needed, its better to be the second agent when the listing doesn;t sell. As far as fees go, if you can;t negotiate for the fee to feed your family, how well can you negotiate on behalf of the seller when it comes time to actually negotiate the sale of the property? You have the skills and knowledge that the consumer needs, and you are well worth the cost of that service 🙂

  4. Kristal Kraft

    April 8, 2008 at 8:18 am

    Wise advice T. The last time we had a bad market I get very good at asking people (with a straight face), “How much money can you afford to bring to closing?”

    Eventually they got the message after hearing it from agent after agent. Seller’s realized we weren’t miracle workers and to sell their home it would take money out of their pocket.

    Once agents realize this is the way to make it happen for the seller, the market will turn around. Or at least they will be able to sell their home and move on to the next destination.

    The good news is, sometimes what they perceive to lose on the selling end them may gain on the buying end. It may not be as bad as it looks.

    Of course if the homeowner doesn’t have to sell right now, they shouldn’t. This too shall pass. Really!

  5. Teresa Boardman

    April 8, 2008 at 8:30 am

    KK – I often question sellers on how badly they “have to sell” and advise against it if they are upside down or close to it.

    Bill – I learned that line in real estate school and never use it. I just know that to stay in business I need to make a profit and that my time and experience is worth money and sold to people who will pay for it.

    Kevin – loved the mitten! Will call, my right hand is getting cold.

    Missy – hate the idea of a short sale for people who just want another house. i am seeing agents in my market encouraging it. I won’t.

  6. Greg Cremia

    April 8, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Over the past 2 years I have turned down more listings than I accepted. There is a wall right next to my desk that I can bang my head against if I ever feel the need to.

  7. Andy Kaufman

    April 8, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Learning how to say “no” is a valuable skill and one that I’m still perfecting.

    I also spent a good portion of last year caught in non-dollar productive activities that drained me mentally, physically and financially, but I feel that it’s almost a rite of passage that one needs to go through to in order to learn the lesson first hand.

    The challenge lies in that it’s a lot easier to say no when you’re drowning in business and are forced to pick and choose rather than when you’re sitting around the office most of the day and working with that ‘on the fence’ buyer or seller that will happily devour your time & energy if you allow it, just for ‘experience’

    I’ve learned a few lessons from those clients. Most notably how to identify and either incubate or steer clear.

  8. Vicki Moore

    April 8, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for reaffirming the position I took recently. A close friend told me of a neighbor who wanted to list their house for far above its value. They gave me all of the details, including that the seller didn’t care if it took over a year to get her price. It became quite a conversation. I told them that I was in the business of selling houses, not listing them, how much it would cost me to retain a high-end listing for over a year and that the likelihood is that by then both the seller and I would be sick of each other and I wouldn’t make the sale anyway. They had arguments for every position that I took and I’m sure that the seller would have too. However, it’s my business. I’m the one taking the risk. I have to choose where to put my time, money and efforts.

  9. Teresa Boardman

    April 8, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Andy – I have said no when business is bad and it is hard to do but I remind myself that the time that I would have been working on something that is not going to generate revenue could be spent making money. I am not in the business to show houses or to list them, if I want to make money I need to sell them. I am willing to work hard and market the hell out of each and every listing but I am not willing to work with sellers who will not cooperate for any reason.

    Vicki – the more you say no, the easier it gets.

  10. ines

    April 8, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    I’ve never had a problem saying “no” – now Rick…..that’s a different problem (I know that’s mean). Rick and I sat down today to discuss which listings we are not renewing – it’s important to know where you are spinning your wheels and where you are getting results. It’s also important to identify which customers you work well for and who really appreciates your expertise.

  11. Mike Farmer

    April 8, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I have about four in the wings now I’ve convinced to wait to sell. They are all making improvements to their homes waiting until the market is more favorable.

  12. Teresa Boardman

    April 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Ines – I don’t renew them all. 🙂

    Mike – I hope yu gave them some chocolate so they will remember you and list with you. 🙂

  13. Matthew Rathbun

    April 8, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    T,

    This is one of the most important mindsets that an agent can have in this market. You’ve done a great job of using your experience to help other agents. That’s one of your most endearing qualities. I really appreciate your openness and willingness to share.

    The concept of having a business plan and only taking on those clients who fit into that plan is a great risk mitigation tool. It all starts with being determined to say “no” if you the client isn’t realistic and you aren’t a good fit.

  14. Teresa Boardman

    April 9, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Mathew – you bring up another point. The “good fit” thing is why I sometimes say no to buyers. A personality quirk of mine but I have to feel comfortable with the people I work with. I spend a lot of time with my buyers and do a lot of hand holding as many are moving from other states or are first time buyers. If I don’t trust them or feel like they don’t trust me, I just can’t do a good job so I end up interviewing buyers after they get done interviewing me.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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