A look back and a glance forward

#597 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2010, Hills Newspapers

All board members and officers of Tarpoff & Talbert Ltd were present for the annual review – all two of us. Chairman and CEO Anet said that we’d had a pretty good year, and I agreed. Although the economy was disastrous in many sectors, our year in real estate in the Berkeley area was unchanged from the previous year.

But we choose to do real estate differently than many and that no doubt made for more stable results. We work with more sellers than buyers and we make each listing our concentrated project, prepping and marketing, showing and selling one at a time. We can’t handle a large volume, which is just fine with us.

Often we first talk to people who want to sell months ahead of time while they are figuring where they’ll be moving and then getting there, or, in the case of estates, they need time for clearing and distributing contents. Many times the sellers moved out and handed us the keys. We took over the entire job from cleaning out the garage to making sure the utilities were changed to new owners at the end.

With a list of our sales and clients in front of us, we talked at our annual meeting about how satisfying this year has been. We enjoyed going to work every single day. We met wonderful people, we made a living.

All of our listings in 2009 were vacant with two being sold to settle estates. We were responsible for clearing belongings from a third of them. Almost all were painted and wood floors were refinished. Several got some new kitchen appliances, we had new countertops installed in one (gorgeous!), a couple of houses needed and received new furnaces, and the looks of many were upgraded with new light fixtures.

Depending on city requirements, some listings had sewer laterals replaced and energy work done. In order to appeal to the widest number of buyers and their lenders, termite work was completed in some cases. Every penny spent was considered. We asked ourselves each time we bought anything why we were doing it. We found the best quality goods and workmanship at good prices keeping in mind always that people buy houses because they fall in love and/or the price is right.

Everyone likes of course houses that are in good repair with systems that will deliver water and heat and keep them dry. They are also attracted by clean and clear paint in pleasing colors, good floors and furnishings that tell how the house can look once they move in. Over and over again we thought through overall effect of changes and additions we made – gas stove instead of electric? How important? What will it cost?

At the beginning of the year it was difficult if not impossible to get house loans. Later FHA loans became available with down payments of less than 20% but the houses have to meet stringent requirements. Fifty percent of our listings this year could have qualified for an FHA loan but only one was sold FHA. The others got conventional loans or cash was paid. Every listing we had this year drew more than one offer with a quarter selling at asking price and the others for more than asking.

Half of our listings were purchased by first-time home buyers. The others had already sold their previous homes and had cash proceeds in hand. Move-up buyers are fewer these days as it is extremely difficult to qualify for loans on two houses at the same time.

All of our houses looked great. All the work done plus very good staging showed them all off well. Even our fixer house by the time the garden was cleaned up and the windows washed looked pretty appealing. We’re working on our next listing now, the first of what we hope will be a full complement in 2010, and it’s looking just wonderful. Meeting adjourned.

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