Michael Garr has sold over 300 million dollars of real estate from Central Park South to Tribeca. He is also the Broker Specialist for the Chelsea Mercantile, having completed 59 transactions in the prized building. Here, he writes about going above and beyond simple staging to sell apartments at top dollar.
Last Sunday’s article in the New York Times about sellers renovating their homes to appeal to buyers only scratched the surface of the work that goes into preparing my exclusive listings for the market. My team of contractors, tilers and painters have renovated several apartments and guided owners to make spot-on choices that will yield fantastic results at the closing table. For example:
After six months on the market with another company, the owner hired Michael Rubin and I to market a top-floor duplex on West 22nd Street. We chose a walnut stain for the floors after they were sanded. We removed the floor in the kitchen and put in a cream tile, which pulled everything together for a fresh buyer-ready look. The vanity in the bathroom was replaced, and updated light fixtures and new hardware were added and then painted Benjamin Moore White Dove — a color many art galleries use. For the terrace, the wood planks were painted a brighter color and plants and flowers were placed on the sides. The outdoor space felt larger (feelings are facts in real estate) and inviting. For the staging, we added the little extras needed for dramatic photogenic touch: bright pillows, hip table lamps and understated art work … all from my staging storage unit. An offer was accepted in four weeks.
I’ve often wondered what separates GOOD from GREAT.
Not GENIUS…that’s an entirely different thing all together.
Jim Collins wrote a brilliantly inspiring book dedicated to the analysis of the few companies that have evolved from good to great. (A must read for anyone looking to build a GREAT company).
But, how about the things we personally experience and are touched by in our daily lives?
What makes a great broker?
What makes a great musician?
What makes a great builder?
A great reporter? Chef? Architect? Attorney? Doctor? Tailor? Athlete…?
Other than the required intrinsic qualities, raw talent needed, devotion of 10,000 hours (according to Gladwell) and focus, I think it is very much the process…
When I’ve observed great people, I’ve noticed that they have a systematic approach to their greatness. And it is the perfection of that system that enables them to repeat the process.
Again and again.
Great brokers have systems they repeat.
They answer calls promptly.
They inspect any property they haven’t seen.
They update their contact data base efficiently.
They follow up on leads consistently.
They dress appropriately.
They don’t email too much.
They stay abreast of industry trends.
They maintain strong relationships.
They brand themselves.
They read any relative data necessary for a deal.
They ask questions – freely.
Without the structure of a system – chaos reigns!
Narrow your focus
Because selling and buying is more effective when you have a specific goal in mind.
If you’re a buyer
- set specific parameters
If you’re a seller
- define realistic goals
If you’re a broker
- be an expert
It’s impossible to be effective when you’re all over the place.
…and the weather is cold.
We brokers have a saying:
“If you’re out with a buyer in the snow, then you know they are for real”
Real estate is seasonal.
So take advantage of that if you’re a buyer!
Look at property when no one else is.
Buy that penthouse with outdoor space – in the winter – and buy a summer home – in December.
You’re more likely to get a deal when there’s less activity on a property!
One reason real estate brokers have a generally-less-than-stellar reputation as professionals is that because a large amount of the time, the client is unhappy.
Unhappy beyond our control -
And unhappy people like to lay blame…
Usually on “us”.
The buyer loses a property because they’re outbid -
The broker gets blamed…
The seller loses the buyer because the property is overpriced -
The broker gets blamed…
The board turns down a buyer (for some unknown reason)-
The broker gets blamed…
Is the key to being a good broker having the ability to seek out and work with generally happy people who see things as they are?
I think so!
More and more, I find myself seeking out the opinion of experts.
And since the advent of the Internet, it has become easier to do this. As a consumer, I can focus my search efforts to find a firm or person, who’s the best at what they do – mainly, because this is ALL they do – and it is their core focus.
When I buy a car, I don’t want to speak to a person who sells motorcycles – as well.
I want an expert.
If my knee hurts, I don’t want to see a doctor who will check my eyesight – as well.
I want a specialist.
The pasta at the buffet table next to the chicken chow fun never seems as appetizing as the pasta they serve you in a fine Italian restaurant.
There are some real estate brokers that sell mortgages, insurance, management services, and properties located in different states and countries – as well!
Good luck finding an expert.
I don’t think you need to do multiple things to be successful.
In fact, the “less” you do – the “more” successful you will become.
And expertise is scalable -
Focus is not.
31 years after the advent of the walkman, our good friends at Sony have decided to stop its production.
When was the last time you saw a cassette tape, let alone someone using a walkman to play to one?
It seems to me that a lot of “people” in the real estate brokerage business are more nostalgic than Sony. They are operating with their version of the 4 track.
It’s time our industry has a REALity check.
We can stream music over a satellite to earth from outer space – yet, we still have NO multiple listing service (in NY)?
I’m giving myself the luxury of going on a RANT today. One that I have avoided for years, but one I can’t hold in anymore.
WARNING! If you write, create or print a market report of some sort, you might find this offensive and I’m sorry, but here goes…
Everyone’s a critic.
But there seem to be more “market experts” with a voice than ever before. And they are broken down into these 3 main categories:
ATMRE’s “Appraisers Turned Market Report Experts”: These are people who have made careers out of creating reports that are dated, not relative to current market conditions and really carry no validity in providing insight into current market conditions. They have also probably never sold an apartment.
BTME’s “Brokers Turned Market Experts”: These are brokers who create reports in various formats. They are mostly for marketing purposes, so they can say they have a “report” and are experts. (CORE’s Real Time Report will get some criticism for this, and if you email me, I will valiantly defend it). Oh, and if you have a better report, I’d love to start using it, so my team who compiles this data every month can start doing something else for our clients, thank you very much.
NRWHNIAOM’s “National Researchers Who Have No Idea About Our Market”: These are people who have probably never visited New York, let alone know what a Co-Op is. They still think that The Bowery is a slum and West Chelsea is a wasteland.
I was going to include specific examples of these people and reports, but I decided against it (for obvious reasons).
The latest absurdity is called the “broker confidence index”. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Buyer Beware! There is NO market report for New York City that exists right now that will give you answers to all your questions. In fact, you will probably be more confused after reading these reports than if you had never laid eyes upon them.
If you want to know what the market is doing, ask your broker to take you on a property tour. They know what’s going on. They are on the front lines, and this is really the only way to get educated. There are no short cuts!
Almost every seller I have ever met believes that their home is valued above what the market will bear. Don’t be one of “those” sellers. This will only hurt your chances of finding the right buyer who will pay top dollar for your home. When you overprice a property, it can have an adverse effect on the marketing effort by alienating buyers, and discouraging brokers from showing it.
You probably feel your home is worth more because you have lived in it and are aware of all its attributes. Remember this – a future buyer won’t get to know these things as intimately as you until they live there. You need to take an objective view.
If your concern is underselling – make sure you have an agent on your team who is doing all the right things to market your home, and the market will dictate your home’s value.
My advice to you, BEFORE you list your property, is to get educated:
1.) Have your broker give you a comparative analysis of homes recently sold, in contract and currently on the market.
2.) Take 2 hours to go and see what the competition is.
3.) Ask your broker to bring in a few more agents to get their opinion on the value of your home.
Chapter 1 for Buyers:
Why on earth do you want to move?
Not many sane people want to pack, relocate and uproot their current home, their nest, unless they have a good reason to! If home is where the heart is, then moving is not for the faint of heart! Trust me, I’ve moved a couple of times in my life!
Real estate is one of those life necessities. Everyone needs shelter, and even though we are a first world country with abundant resources, there are approximately 3.5 million people homeless in the US (In South Africa, my home country, 60% of the 45 million people living there are without electricity, 16 million have no access to clean water and 22 million people lack adequate sanitation). A little perspective is always refreshing! So, if you have a nice home and are happy in it, then you need to make sure there’s a good reason to move.
Of course, almost every mortgage broker and real estate broker wants to convince you to move. And who can blame them? That’s how they make their living so they can pay for their housing. There are certainly a number of compelling reasons to move. A large part this country’s notion of “The American Dream” is that everyone can own a home and Uncle Sam actually does a lot for us in that regard. Having just come out of the “era of irrational exuberance”, the fundamentals of home ownership have never been more scrutinized than they are right now.
Having sold thousands of apartments, I’ve become intimately familiar with the top ten reasons real buyers buy. They are:
1.) I’m relocating for my new job.
2.) I’m getting married.
3.) I’m getting a divorce.
4.) We’re expecting another child and five people in a studio won’t work.
5.) My children have moved out and we don’t need so much space.
6.) I’m tired of making my landlord rich, rates are low, I’ve saved for my deposit, and I want to build equity.
7.) I can’t walk up these stairs anymore after 50 years. I need an elevator and a doorman.
8.) My grandfather just passed and he left me this amazing 7 room co-op.
9.) My commute to work is killing all my time with my wife and family.
10.) I can’t afford to live here anymore.
Here are the top ten reasons NOT to buy:
1.) Look at the Jones family! (Google “keeping up with the Joneses”)
2.) The guy over at the bank said he can get us a cheap loan for a bigger house. (Reminder: That’s what got us into this mess)!
3.) We stumbled upon this open house and loved the views.
4.) My broker said we could make bank on selling our current home.
5.) I’d like to live in a building with a putting green on the roof or a triathlon training facility.
6.) There’s a great club across the street that I frequent.
7.) I could be a part time flipper and make a small fortune.
8.) The most recent “housing report” says it’s a “good time to buy”.
9.) I received an unsolicited bid on my home, so now I need to move.
10.) It would be cool to live in a (insert “starchitect’s” name here) building.
Most of this seems to be common sense, but I have found that when it comes to buying things, small or large, common sense is not always that common.