The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

Yearly Archives for 2009

The Post About Bulk Mail That Is So Long No One Will Read It

Holiday Cards: 448

Trips To Various Post Offices: 4

Seinfeld Episodes I Lived In The Last Week: 2

Percentage of Cards That Will Actually Be Looked At And Appreciated, Thus Rendering This Whole Debacle Worthwhile: 5ish? Maybe?

My business partner (whose name is also Elizabeth, and we’re the same age, but she’s not short and brunette, she’s tall and blond. She’s like the bizarro-Elizabeth Newlin) and I have been mailing to a subdivision in Chandler for three years now. It doesn’t net us a ton of business, but the occasional listing and referral are generally worth the sporadic marketing energy and money we put into it. Unfortunately, this year our marketing efforts have been even more sporadic than usual for the all too common ‘economic recession issues’ and also the other Elizabeth had a baby this year, so she is no longer able to complete her duties as the more organized and  motivated force on the team, as she now has traded in her mind and sanity for a child (which I did many years ago).

So the point is, our big, consistent mailer of the year for this subdivision is our Holiday Mailer With Calendar. We also send this one out to our friends, family and past clients. Last year (because Lizzie was still gestating and totally ‘on it’) we had these cards and calendars on fridges December 6, I swear. This year went a little differently.

The cards are a multi-step process. First off, we order calendars in the fall. Then, in October or November at some point we take pictures and compose a card:




The next part of the process involves affixing business cards to the calendars, stuffing everything into envelopes, printing and affixing labels and sealing the cards. Finally, everything is taken down to the post office and bulk mailed out. So, yes, even at it’s best, the whole thing is a bit of a circus.

This year, however, every little detail turned into the disaster that ate the Christmas cards. To begin with, the date we had on the calendar to do the photo-shoots for the cards, I was actually in the middle of a four day hospital stay with my middle son and his nasty case of valley fever. So we started out about a month late on that. I ended up begging the photographer from my brother’s wedding over email to send me whatever picture she had with my entire family in it because if I had to dress my whole family up and get us to a photo-friendly location with a photographer again this year, I was going to have to throw myself into oncoming traffic. I’m a woman on the brink! I told her. Clearly, my plea was successful, even though the bride and groom haven’t received their pictures yet. Sometimes a little desperation is all it takes.

The next hurdle wasn’t due to poor timing or family illness, just general idiocy on my part. When I went to attach my business cards to the sticky portion of my calendars, I realized about 100 in to my 500 that I was going to run out of business cards by about number 200. This was December 7. So I spent the entire day reordering cards, paying huge amounts extra for faster shipping, waiving proofs and just generally begging on the phone. Unfortunately, this time desperation wasn’t enough. I was promised the cards in hand by December 11 and they didn’t actually arrive (after days of screamy, hand wringing, hair-tearing out frustration) until December 18.

So, of course, I enlisted my poor, long-suffering Realtor-assistant/husband to help me finish assembling, labeling and sealing all of the cards in one night. By 10PM Sunday night all we had left to do was seal them all. We watched Episodes 3 and 4 of True Blood (season 1) while we licked 448 envelopes. When we got to the point where there were about 30 left, I literally couldn’t lick another one without likely vomiting. Jason got it done, and I went to bed and had nightmares where I was marrying George from Seinfeld and I died from envelope-licking poisoning, but Stephen Moyer brought me back as a vampire and made me drink foul-tasting synthetic blood that tasted like envelope paste. And I woke up the next morning with my mouth glued shut.

By that point, poor Lizzie had all of her stuff totally assembled for a week and was just waiting me and my daily proclamations that “Worst case scenario, we’ll mail by Friday, I swear.”  But she has a life too, and was headed out to California to visit family for the holidays, so I was tasked with facing the dreaded bulk mail czar alone.

If you can believe it, the thing we dread most about mailing is not everything that I’d already been through, no, this is all unpleasant and time-consuming, but the worst, most stressful part about mailing is going to see the Bulk Mail Nazi (ding, ding! Seinfeld episode reference number 2!). Basically, bulk mail is insanely financially worth the hassle (25.6 cents each instead of 44 cents each, so instead of $197.12, $114.69 for my 448 cards), but it’s such a super-secret, complicated process that almost no one does it. There are all these rules (you must have at least 200 pieces going to the same general area, you must wear a yellow hat when you show up to the post office, only come between, 1pm and 1:03pm on the third Thursday of the month, the secret password is Green Eggs and Ham) and even though we’ve done it several times a year for the past three years, we never know if it’s going to work or if there’s going to be some kind of ‘NO BULK MAIL FOR YOU!!’ incident at the post office (Jeff, the bulk mail czar has told us before, ‘you know, we’re going to start charging extra fees when we have to help people because they’re not doing it exactly right,’).

So this week, I showed up at the post office we’ve been doing this at for the past three years (my company has our specific bulk mail imprint that only works at the right Gilbert post office) and got in line. Of course, because it was December 21st, the line was out the door. So I waited. and waited. When I finally got to the front of the line, and said to Jeff, “OK, I need three long bulk mail boxes,”  he said, “Oh, we don’t do bulk mail any more. It was all transferred to the Val Vista office months ago. We sent out a letter of notification.” Awesome. So I drove over to the Val Vista office (the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach growing ever larger) and got into the back of that 40 person line. When I got to the front, I was told to drive around back with my mail and park in the bulk mail spot and wait for Mary (see, it’s like Davinci Code of mailing). Mary came out and was actually super nice and helpful (The bulk mail king is dead!! Long live the Queen!!) and got all of my paperwork together and my boxes all worked out and weighed and we were good to go. I was so relieved. It was like a Christmas Miracle. Of course I had to go back and wait in line AGAIN to pay, but whatever, I was happy: IT WAS DONE.

You know, until 6:30PM that day when I got a voicemail from Mary that our order was at least 110 pieces more than we had counted and it wasn’t going out and I needed to come back in and recount the next day. So the next day (after frantically figuring and re-figuring how our count could have been that far off and finally determining that GODDAMN IT, IT’S NOT THAT FAR OFF) I went back down. And stood outside and waited for 30 minutes for Mary before being told she was in a meeting and wouldn’t be out for at least another half an hour and that she would call me. Which she did not. I finally called and called her until I got her on the phone and she told me to come back down. I went back down AGAIN and was ushered back to a little room in the back of the giant warehouse post office and was shown my boxes of mail and told to count them. I got 3/4 of the way through (with the numbers still tracking with my original count) and opened a small box only to find it stuffed with someone elses mailers. When I took them over to Mary she said, “OH! Well that’s the problem, I must have mixed them in with yours. You’re fine! You can go! I’ll send them out.”

So… at this point here’s the big question: Was it actually worth the $82.43 I saved? Excuse me, I’ve got some traffic that needs throwing of me in front of.

Cockadoodle Don't

Houses Seen: 11
Closets I Coveted: 2
Golf Cart Rides I Wasn’t Convinced I Would Walk Away From: 3
Farm Animals That Made My Clients Reconsider Their Decision To Purchase: 1

It’s kind of been a year of new builds for me. My husband and I, of course, build a new house out in North East Mesa almost exactly a year ago, four of my clients have actually purchased a new build property in the last year, and almost all of the buyers I worked with considered building at some point in the buying process.

The builders have had to drop prices like Oprah dropping weight on a juice fast to stay in business with all of the short sale and foreclosure prices dragging the market down the last few years. This push for competitive pricing has really made buying new attractive to a lot of people; especially those who are willing to live closer to the outskirts of town where new houses are still being constructed.

Checking out new build communities is always a fun experience, but it’s amazing how time consuming and informationally overwhelming the process can be. First you have to hear the builder speil about why their home construction saves baby seals and causes redwood forests to grow back, will give you money back on utilities instead of you having to pay for them, and grows rainbows in your master bathroom. Then there’s the tour through the model homes. If you really want to have fun, bring the builder’s agent with as you walk through, point out everything you LOVE and think is amazing about the house, ask, ‘is this standard or an upgrade?’ and watch him squirm as it becomes increasingly apparent the model was build with $100K in upgrades. And finally, you tour the spec homes that have already been constructed and are ready for purchase. This is where it all really starts to makes sense. “Oh, now I get it! The solid gold bidet in the master bath is EXTRA.” One decent new build community will time-suck an entire afternoon and you’ll often leave more confused that when you got there.

About a month ago, I spent a weekend with a couple of old friends who are moving back to Arizona after almost four years in California. We started with resale homes but eventually moved on to a Fulton Homes community in South Gilbert called Freeman Farms. Apparently Fulton is working hard at making the process of home buying out in the farmland of Gilbert a more authentic experience because this is who greeted us when we pulled up:

 fulton chicken

That little guy may not look like a big deal, but I have to tell you, he was a bit of an impediment to the process. In general, I am pro-animal. I’m not a vegetarian or anything, but I feel pretty strongly that people should be nice to other living creatures and if there’s a kitty within reach, I will happily pet him (with a couple of exceptions… there was once a cat in a house I was holding open who would not let me enter the room he was in without hissing violently. I also think he may have had acid for saliva. Additionally, my sister has a cat that is bigger than most medium-sized dogs. He freaks me out a little bit.). However, any kind of jumpy, loud animals sort of make me a bit hysterical. Barking dogs? Make me twitch and sometimes pee my pants a little. Flapping birds with sharp beaks and claws? I’m just going to climb into the trunk of my own car and hide for a little bit, ok? 

Unfortunately, my client felt this way also, only more strongly and apparently chickens can sense fear (you know, like dogs). So this chicken jumped on top of the golf cart we were riding in and flapped at our faces as we toured the spec homes. 

 fulton chicken 2

The builder agent kept assuring us that if ignored him, the bird would go away. Apparently he was drawn to our hysterical screams and frantic giggles.


'Cause I'm A Multi-Tasker Like That

Miles Driven: 52.5

People Actually Fooled by Exterior-Only Shots Taken By Listing Agent: 1, Oh wait, that guy was just kidding, he wasn’t fooled either: 0

How Glad I Was On A Scale of 1-10 The Sellers Weren’t Home When I Was Videoing Their House: 12

An out-of-state buyer I’ve been working with for a couple of years emailed me yesterday with a new property that had popped up on her search she wanted me to preview. She lives in Albuquerque, but has adult children here in the Phoenix area. She and her husband are looking in the Tempe/Chandler area for a house on a little bit more land with a huge garage. Because it isn’t really the normal property we see out here, we’ve just been watching and waiting for the right house to come on the market.

The house that appeared on the auto-search I have this client set up on seemed almost perfect on paper. It’s in a great South Tempe neighborhood, on a third of an acre of land, with a nice big four car garage and enough interior square footage that it should be a comfortable size for my clients. It just had one big glaring red flag flying from the rooftop: it is only listed with two photos (both front exterior shots taken from different angles).

In this digital day and age, where it takes more effort to play Wii Tennis than it does to slap eight photos up on the MLS showcasing all of the features of a house, what this says to me (and everyone with half a brain and an Internet connection) is that something is so horribly, hideously, mind-scaringly wrong with the rest of the house (infestation of giant hairy desert scorpions? quicksand in the kitchen? rare, toxic, red mold climbing the walls of the master bedroom? meth lab in the bottom of the empty swimming pool in back?) that it’s actually BETTER for the potential buyer just to imagine the potential horror that awaits than to capture it on film and release it to the general public.

So this morning I headed over to the house, with long pants and bug-squashing tennis shoes on, and my trusty video camera in hand to record all of the possible mayhem that I’m going to encounter, and of course, the house is a lot less disgusting, scary and horrible, and a lot more, messy, outdated and generally cluttered (with a bit of ‘poorly designed and constructed additions’ thrown in). My point here, to the listing agent is: DUDE. Suck it up and post some pictures. No, it’s not the most photogenic house I’ve ever seen, but you might have a chance of getting a buyer in the door who could potentially want to purchase the house, if you did.

Regardless of all of the lack-of-photos drama, I did learn an important lesson at this house today. Houses built in the 1980s tend to have tile step-ups and step-downs in weird place you (ok, I guess I should say ‘I’ here) don’t expect; which can cause incidents like the following when you (and by you, again, I mean ‘I’) are attempting to video, walk AND talk:

It’s a good thing I wasn’t attempting to chew gum also. Sigh.

Scary VS. Sweet

I have a new listing that is an anomaly in this market. It’s a ‘normal sale’; which is kind of an ironic name for the least likely type of property you’re going to run across right now. What is a ‘normal sale’, you ask? A normal sale, is a property that is not owned by the bank or a relocation company and is not owned by a seller who has negative equity in the property. It’s just a regular person who owns a house, has equity and has it listed for sale.

Lately, if I have a buyer who marks 10 properties he wants to see, when I pull them up to research, five will be short sales, three foreclosures (bank owned properties), one will be owned by a relocation company and one will have a normal seller with equity (in certain price ranges and areas you can swap out one of the those foreclosures for a new build or a fix’n’flip).

So this new listing I have is kind of a gem. No, it’s not super upgraded and new, but it IS adorable, CLEAN and completely MOVE-IN READY. In this financial climate, those are some magic words right there. There is just something to be said for walking into a home smells like a human being could actually live there without wearing a gas mask.

This property is a townhouse in Northwest Phoenix. It was built in 1997, is 1542 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms and has a two car garage. The subdivision has a community pool and tennis courts and is close to the I-17 (which is great for commuters).


I know what you’re wondering: Does it have granite counters and stainless steel appliances?

No, it has original laminate counters and cabinets and white appliances, clean and mold-free.


But it also doesn’t have a window sill covered in bee carcasses.



(I didn’t bring my camera the day I showed this house because I thought to myself as I was running out the door, ‘I won’t see anything super weird today,’ and then the very first house we walked into was a monstrosity with a bees-living-in-the-walls problem. So my client snapped these with her camera phone.)

Does it have an enormous backyard with a pool?

Nope, a cute little patio with pavers and rocks.


But it also doesn’t have a swampy death-trap of a former pool just waiting to suck the neighborhood kids in and put you in litigation before you’ve even moved in.


Are the floors ecologically friendly hardwood bamboo?

Nah, more like a pretty pergo knock-off.


But hey, it doesn’t have holes dug into the walls where an animal was obviously locked into one of the bedrooms (which is good, because it’s bad business to report your own clients to PETA).


And what is the odor like in the house? Is it roses and perfumed candles?

No, more like cookies and green cleaning products; nothing like the short sale I showed about three weeks ago that smelled just like it looks (yes, look close, those are hundreds of cigarette butts mixed in with the rock; it’s like some kind of new decorative landscaping element designed by prison inmates):


All of this loveliness is available for under $100,000. ($1 under, to be exact.) Feel free to check out the details and give me a call when you decide you’d rather your home buying process be less Horror Show, more Home and Garden Show.

Wait, And I Get PAID To Do This??

Miles Driven: 90
Houses Viewed: 7
Paintings by Artists that Rhyme with Lisa Bonet I Was So Close to I Could Have Licked If I Really Wanted To: 1

I’ve been out with a set of clients who I’ve been working with for more than a year for the last few days. They own a 12,000 square foot log cabin in Wyoming that sits on 950 acres and are looking to relocate out to the Phoenix area.

Beyond the fact that their life is different and interesting enough for me to be constantly trying wrap my brain around their 950 acres (I’m always asking them questions like, ‘So, where is your mailbox?’ [Answer: 5 miles down the road] and ‘Can’t you just subdivide the land a whole bunch and sell it to developers?’ [Answer: not so much… that would require roads and utility access and sewers and zoning changes, etc.] and the Wyoming weather (‘It snows 7 to 8 MONTHS out of the year??? Wait, so like how many sweaters do you actually have?’) they are kind of just a fun couple. He has a mocking and sarcastic tone that is reminiscent of my own family (we don’t really trust ‘nice’ people. Making fun is a more genuine way to show affection as far as we’re concerned, and if any of us actually ever say anything kind to one another, well then you KNOW we really mean it and it’s probably causing us pain to do so.). She is sweet and demure until she’s occasionally vulgar in a hilarious manner. They’re down-to-earth rich folk and I feel confident that if they read this they’ll take this description as the compliment I mean it.

We have been looking in the roughly $1 to $2 million range in primarily Scottsdale and Fountain Hills, and let me tell you, we’ve scoured the price range. We’ve gotten to the point where I feel pretty confident I can tell the possibilities from the dogs without taking my clients through. We’ve worked out a system where they comb through the listings online and identify the ones that might work and I preview the houses and take a quick video of layout so that we can narrow the list further.

They came into town for the first time in several months this week. We’ve been planning for this for about 6 weeks; previewing and searching and creating a list of viable options. We narrowed the field down to 15 candidates which we have been viewing in person the last few days.

I have to say, if I could easily specialize in the luxury home buying process, I would. You know, unlike any other Realtor in the Phoenix metro area. They would all hate it, I’m sure. But whatever, I’ve got a taste of the good stuff, and I’m loving it. It’s fun to get to know your client’s wants and desires as well as your own. It’s lovely to enjoy stunning views and pick apart gourmet kitchens (“I don’t know… it doesn’t have a pot filler, my clients are really looking for a kitchen with a double ovens, a subzero, two dishwashers AND a pot filler. I don’t know if this is going to fly.”). It’s fabulous to tour winding streets up the sides of mountains and hear from listing agents about the wildlife seen (javalina, coyotes, mountain lions, tarantulas and the occasional giant hairy desert scorpion).

The problem is it’s a market hard to cultivate. Buyers in the upper price ranges are few and far between to begin with (whereas the majority of buyers will purchase in the $100K to $200K at least once in their lives) and they tend to put down roots. People who spend $1.5 million aren’t looking to move again in three years generally speaking. Also, many of the people buying in the Phoenix metro area in that price range are coming in from out of state. They are second home buyers from chilly states, or corporate drones relocated in. How do you market to a crowd that geographically diverse? It’s a lucky break to get a buyer in that price range.

Today we visited a house in Fountain Hills in one of the most exclusive communities in the city, Shadow Canyon. The house is listed for about $1.7 million and sits up on one of the highest points in Fountain Hills. It has the kind of view from every single one of the windows in the house that ruins you on every view you’ll ever see again. I spent most of the 45 minutes we were in the home transfixed in front of the closest window; practically hypnotized by the sprawling mountains, desert landscape, Four Peaks and the famous ‘fountain’ of Fountain Hills dancing before me.

The house, according to the listing agent, is owned by a 90 year old couple as a vacation home. They are selling to move into an assisted living facility. They own an island somewhere and insane amounts of art. In fact, we were told we wouldn’t be able to see the house without the listing agent present because of the crazy amounts of valuable property to be potentially stolen.

At one point, I was waiting in the hallway for my client (she takes extensive notes of all of the properties we see) and I glanced over at the painting I was standing next to only to see the unforgettable (yes, I’m a bit of an art geek; Jason and I took art history together in college and loved it) signature of Claude Monet on a waterlily-ish type oil painting. I got a little bit fan-girl for a minute and went running in to the other room to find the listing agent.

“That’s not a REAL Monet in the entry way, is it?” I asked, willing my voice not to crack with excitement.

“Well… um, yes. That’s why I have to be here with you,” she replied.

Wow. Sometimes I really love my job.

A Bit About a Taboo Subject…

Realtors discuss commission amongst each other constantly. Usually the numbers, assertions and claims are vague and inflated, but that doesn’t stop us from talking about it. Bizarrely enough, however, commission is a taboo subject between agents and the rest of the world. In fact, lots of buyers have no idea how or what their agent is going to be paid.

I have a dear friend who bought her first house before I was a Realtor and she used another friend of ours as her purchasing agent. When we were discussing real estate years later I discovered that she was carrying a load of guilt about how this friend had helped her and she hadn’t paid her anything. When I explained that the seller traditionally pays the commissions to sell the property, she was so relieved that her agent had been compensated for her time. She’s a sweet-hearted person to think that a real estate agent, of all people, would help anyone out of merely the goodness of her heart (ba-dum-dum, ssss!).

It goes the other way, too. Sellers, especially, do the math on what they think we walk away with and decide that it is just way too much. Sometimes I just want to sit down with them and break it out to the hourly rate; but I don’t.

So I’m going to tell you a story about one of my most recent closings and the commission breakdown. There are probably lots of Realtors who are going to disagree with the fact that I’m posting this story, but the point of my blog is to give you a look into the wild world of a real estate agent, ups and downs, pros and cons (and by that, of course I mean: professionals and convicts). There’s a ton of confusion on the part of the general public about what agents are paid, and I’d like to clear a bit of it up.

Right now our market is flush with short sales. They’re a little bit like dog poo in the park around the corner from my house, and my clients are like my two year old. When we’re out together, he’ll go running off to play in a bit of longer grass and come back with a handful of doo thinking he’s brought me a treasure. I don’t want to break his heart and tell him what he’s actually got in his hand, but at the same time, I don’t want it to make him sick. It’s often a lose/lose situation. Occasionally, though, we come across a short sale property that really is just too good to pass up, so my clients and I take a deep breath and dive in to a stinky situation.

All listings on the MLS (multiple listing system) have a section that tells the buyer’s agent how much commission is being offered to the agent who bring a buyer into the property. The listing agent generally negotiates a commission with the seller and then offers part of that commission to the buyer’s agent. We are a free trade business, so the commission to sell the property can be anything. It can be a fixed dollar amount or a percentage of the sale, but whatever it is, the listing agent is required to pay the buyer’s agent at the successful close of escrow.

Now a short sale is a slightly different story because the owner of the house is underneath the loan, and therefore, it is assumed that he won’t have cash to pay for closing costs and commissions, so the commission will be paid by the bank who is servicing the loan. However, the bank will not negotiate anything about the deal or the house without an offer on the table. So most of the time, the listing agent has to list the property and offer a commission to the buyer’s agent without knowing what commission the bank is going to be willing to pay.

Because a listing agent is held to what he advertises on the MLS, if an agent offered X to a buyer’s agent on the MLS and then asked the bank to pay 2X, but the bank only agreed to pay 1.6X, then the listing agent only received 0.6X, which seemed a bit unfair to most of the listing agents working short sales. So lots of agents started employing the technique of offering 0.8X to the buyer’s agent on the MLS, but still asking 2X in commission for the bank, so that when, inevitably, the bank was only willing to pay 1.6X, everything still worked out pretty evenly for everyone.

Most buyer’s agents have also been listing agents at one time or another, so when we all started seeing commissions at maybe a little bit less than we’d seen before, we understood this was part of the market, part of the game, and we didn’t want the listing agents to have to end up taking the short end of the stick, so we went with it.

Here’s where things get a little ugly. On the last short sale I closed, I was offered that 0.8X I’ve come to expect with short sales in the MLS, but when I received the settlement statement at just before close of escrow to go over to ensure that my client was paying what we had agreed to, I discovered that the bank was actually paying 2X in commission, but I was still receiving my 0.8X. So the listing agent was making 1.2X.

Now the listing agent is under no legal or ethical obligation to pay me an equal half of the commission the seller is paying. The only obligation the listing agent has is to pay what is advertised in the MLS. That’s was a bit of a knife in the back, though. Up to that point the agent had come across as sweet and easy to work with. I’ve never been in the position, as the listing agent, where the bank has agreed to pay more than I’ve expected them to in commission, but I know agents who’ve had it happen to them. One of my close friends actually, has had it happen to her twice, and I know for a fact, that she called up the buyer’s agent and offered to split the overage with them (which they joyfully accepted).

In this case, I contacted the listing agent and pointed out the unequal split (just in case she didn’t realize it) and asked if she was willing to split it with me. She was not. She cited expenses (she had apparently hired a professional negotiator to handle the short sale, had trashed out the house and had had it rekeyed) and apologized. I let it drop because legally, there’s nothing I can do, but I can’t say I was mollified by her excuses. We all have expenses. I spend tons of time driving clients around and spend money on gas (at a time, gas that cost in excess of $4/gallon). It’s ridiculous to nickel and dime the process with the other agent. Who spent more time, energy, money, etc? It’s going to be a close call, regardless.

But like I said, she’s under no obligation, and them’s the breaks. You can bet, however, that I’ve learned my lesson on this one. On future short sales I will have a conversation with the listing agent at the time when we are writing the offer about where she stands on the ‘splitting the overage’ issue. At least at that point I’ll know where we stand, and sometimes agents are a little bit more willing to split the difference at the beginning of a transaction when they haven’t counted all of their pennies just yet.

'Distressed' Property

Miles Driven (Saturday and Sunday): 275
Price Range Viewed: $85,000-$1,699,000
Hours Spent in the Car: 12
Mammalian Bodily Fluids I Came Too Close For Comfort To: 2 (At Least)

I’m still immersed in a buyer crunch; showing property at all free moments. This weekend I went from Maricopa, to South Gilbert and Chandler, to North Scottsdale and finally Cave Creek (or as I fondly refer to it, South Flagstaff).

Saturday, my client and I started out in a house in Maricopa with a great layout we’d even seen before. It was a 3000+ square foot foreclosure property. Usually, with foreclosures the bank will, at the very least, send a crew in to toss all of the trash in the house, and sometimes will clean and paint the property. Not so much with this house. This house was pretty clear of debris, but it had a nice little crime scene on the floor of the kitchen:


Yes, that appears to be blood. It was splashed up on the wall in the kitchen also. We CSI-fans refer to that as ‘blood splatter’. My client actually said to me, “Do you think someone was killed here?” Nice.

The other winning house of the weekend was a cute little number over in Gilbert. We’d already tried to view this one twice, but it had tenants in the house who weren’t willing to let us in to see it unless they were there. The agent eventually had the tenants evicted and today was the first time we were actually able to get inside to view. I’m not sure I would say it was worth the wait.

I’ve never encountered such an intense odor when walking into a house before. I’ve been in lots of stinky houses, and even houses my client wanted to leave immediately because of the stench, but with this house, it was like a cat was actively peeing into my nostrils (and let me tell you, I’m not a wuss about this smell. We have three cats and occasionally they get annoyed with us and pee in the house.):


We had to cover our mouths and noses when walking through the house. I started taking pictures immediately and when I encountered quizzical looks from my client and her mother and explained, ‘for my blog,’ my client said, “It’s too bad you don’t have ‘smell-o-vision’ on your blog”. True.

But the house was worth the full trip through. Bizarrely enough, the cat pee throughout the house was not the worst feature. No, the house sits on one of those Gilbert fissures you hear about that created a crack in the foundation significant enough to cause this:


Um… wow. So, my client’s not making an offer, if you can believe that. And the crime scene house is staying on the market too.

It's Freaking Me Out

Miles Driven: 44
Pop Tarts Eaten: 2
Egregious Instances of Mold: 5
Dead Body-shaped Objects Shoved Under a Sheet That Freaked Us Out: 1

I’m currently in pre-holiday, end of year push to buy and sell mode, so I’m out showing houses fairly non-stop. This morning, I was in South Scottsdale checking out a few houses with a young couple who have a brand new baby. We decided to head out early to get a couple of houses in before they had to be at work.

We met at the first house on Earll Drive at 8AM. The house is in an older, but geographically desirable neighborhood off of Hayden and Thomas. From the outside it was cute brick ranch with a carport that needed a bit of work. On the inside, it was the most horrifying case of mold and neglect I’ve ever seen (and this is really saying something). When I opened the door and took a step inside, I was slapped with a wave of mildew. It smelled a little bit like cardboard boxes left out in the rain and then stuck in the corner of someone’s garage (or, you know, Oregon). It was carpeted with that stuff my mother always calls ‘dead rabbit carpet’. I Googled it and it’s apparently called Sculptured Nylon (by the way, DON’T Google dead rabbit carpet. The results are disturbing, to say the least). Picture this, but 40 years old, brown and heavily stained:

sculptured nylon carpet

The ceiling in this house was covered in popcorn texture, but it appeared to be of the DIY version, and we could tell this by three reasons:
1. It was a thicker popcorn, with heavier kernels, so to speak, than I’ve ever seen
2. In the middle of the family room there was an ornate cross on the ceiling UNDER the popcorn texture.[Dear Earll House, a 1982 Jesus Freak interior designer would like his esthetic back. Love you, Bye.]
3. In several places, large sections of the popcorn was hanging down in a big sheet, or completely missing.

In the kitchen, the popcorn ceiling wasn’t popcorned, at least, but it was black with mold and water damage. Directly off the kitchen was the master bath (which is, in itself, interesting bathroom placement that we have encountered several times in this particular Scottsdale neighborhood), minus about 30 percent of its necessary drywall. It clearly should have been minus about 30 percent more drywall to actually take care of the mold problem housed within its walls. At this point my clients were done and we bailed. It was not a successful house visit, let me tell you.

House number two of the day was cute and in decent shape. It was sorely in need of a remodel, but not a health hazard, and therefore, somewhat unremarkable for the day.

House number three, however, was a doozy. To begin with, it was occupied. The listing said that I should contact the tenant to show. I called the guy and left a message, but hadn’t heard back, so general protocol in a case like this is to attempt to show, but make sure to ring the bell and knock loudly before entering, so you don’t catch anyone doing nude yoga or sacrificing a goat or anything really weird.

The lockbox was on the front door, so I knocked loudly and opened the door while shouting, ‘HELLOOOO!’ like someone’s crazy Aunt Nancy showing up uninvited. We didn’t get a response, but there was music playing in one of the other rooms. This automatically gave the house a slightly creepy vibe. We kept thinking there was really someone there and that he would pop out at any moment.

The living room was fairly bare of furniture, except for a small end table with a black and white framed photo of Jesus (like maybe he followed us from the first house?) and a china hutch with a few knick knacks. We took a few steps into the house and the female half of my client-couple gasped loudly, clutched at her chest and practically shrieked, “This house is freaking me out! I don’t understand; why is there a photo of Jesus and then dentist’s tools?”

It turned out she wasn’t wearing her glasses and couldn’t see super well. The ‘dentist’s tools’ were really a chrome bar set, but by then, she was completely shaken. The converted carport with the giant glass cage housing a snake didn’t really help. The master bath (also with a door right off the kitchen) had a huge crack in the shower floor which had been allowing water to seep through the wall into the kitchen and deteriorating the drywall. She was the first one through the bathroom into the master bedroom, and at that point, she was almost hysterical, and backed right out of the room and declared that she wanted to leave.

When I walked into the master bedroom, I understood why she wanted to go. In the far corner of the room, there was an object on the floor under a pile of sheets and blanket that was distinctly human shaped. It was the right height for a man, with even a sort of bend up where the knee would be and looped down over the ‘feet’ at the bottom. I really wanted to tap it with a toe, just to make sure, but I’m sadly, not that brave. We hightailed it out of there. As we were locking up, the wife said to the husband, “That was the scariest house I’ve ever been in!” To which he replied, “Really? What about the first one we saw today?” And she said, “I forgot about that one!!”

Sometimes, You Get an Odd One

Miles Driven: 122
Houses Shown: 9
Doors-to-Nowhere From Which (Presumably) Previous Owners Flung Themselves to the Hard Ground Below Only to Haunt the Property for the Rest of Eternity Viewed: 1

I showed a bucket of houses today. One of the properties was a house my client emailed over a couple of hours before we were going to meet to see another house, so I didn’t have the opportunity to print out the MLS plano. I just pulled it up on my blackberry and met him over there.

It was not the usual house I show, to say the least:

And then there’s the fact that I get a little chicken occasionally. Sometimes I’m stupidly brave. I often show houses to men I’ve never met before and regularly invite strangers into open houses when I’m alone. But when I step into a vacant house with an odd vibe alone, I start to get a bit skittish. I’m a touch paranoid about squatters (and, you know, monsters and ghosts, but that’s a given):

I’m going for the world record in number of times I can say ‘super weird’ and/or ‘super creepy’ in a video here:

Once I get that scary, creeped out feeling, it sticks with me. After wandering in this house alone for about 10 minutes, I walked out to my car and accidently hit the panic button, causing the GOV to freakout and honk and flash lights, and me to scream bloody murder like a little girl. I’m so professional, I know, you’re jealous.

Sometimes I'm Ridiculous. Don't Hold It Against Me.

A few days ago I realized that my Supra Ekey dues needed to be paid. My Ekey is a little electronic box that allows me to open lockboxes. It has to be updated daily and is kind of a vital part of my ability to do my job.

So first I went online and tried to make a payment in their online system. This failed epically. I didn’t even get past the login stage and tried both resetting my password and setting up a new account, to no avail. Enough time and frustration was involved with this event that I set the whole thing aside for a couple of days.

Today, while I was home with the boys, I realized there is a good chance if I don’t actually force my money into Supra’s hands with some method pretty soon here they are going to turn off my Ekey access. Which would make tomorrow’s 6 showings in Maricopa and one in Chandler, and the 4 clients I have set up for the weekend, just a little awkward. “Feel free to peek in the window, there, Sir. I’m going to hop the fence and see if I can jimmy the sliding glass door in the back open…”

This time, I went straight to the phone line and attempted the automated payment system there. Of course, this also failed, but not before I had to enter my 6 digit KIM key code, my 4 digit pin, my credit card number, the expiration date, and the zip code of the credit card’s billing address. Because, you know, that’s pretty easy and quick and all.

At that point I had waited too long to put it off any further, so I had to select the always thrilling door three: wait on hold for the next available service representative. And, of course, the projected wait time was When My Youngest Child Attends His Prom or Never, whichever comes later.

Instead of giving myself a grade three neck crick, I decided to put the phone on speaker and sit on the couch with my two youngest and read to them the new book we’d gotten from their grandma that day.

Now, the Supra on hold chatter was a mixture of some obnoxious guy shouting about how I could make my payment online if I wanted instead of waiting on hold (yeah, right, buddy, come over here and say that to my face!!) and about 10 seconds of excessively loud elevator music, on a loop. Plus, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but my kids are LOUD.

And then there’s the fact that the book I was reading was a brief little tome about a charming fellow called Tickle Monster and his journey from another planet to torture-by-tickle the people of earth. The book also came with special furry ‘tickle gloves’. Well, and I’m an energetic reader, what can I say?

About 7 pages into this book, amid the giggling shrieks of my children, and my own animated description of one of the most sadistic story book creatures of all time, I hear, ‘HELLO???!!! MAAM? IS SOMEONE THERE??’ and realize that I’ve completely forgotten, in my zeal for holding down my youngest and blowing on his tummy, that I was waiting for an actual person to come back to the phone.

As she choked back her mirth, the Supra woman’s response to the situation was, “That was quite a passionate reading you were giving.” *Snerk*