Making the Most Out of Open Houses

When you’re trying to sell your home, you want to engage in all the activities that encourage buyers and none of the activities that don’t. Common sense, right? Then why do I see so many sellers sabotaging the sale of their property when it comes to open houses?

Realtors have many marketing techniques to get your property in front of potential buyers. One of those is open houses. Like anything, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do open houses. The right way involves the following:

  • Remove a third of your furniture
  • Clean your house until it sparkles
  • Take Fido to your sister’s house (best not to have pets on the property)
  • Make the beds
  • Open the window treatments (curtains, blinds, etc.)
  • Make sure your valuables are in a safe place (Realtors will safeguard your home, but cannot be in all rooms at all times. Don’t leave out jewelry or electronics that someone could easily slip into their pocket.)
  • Mow your lawn and make sure your landscaping looks great
  • Clean the fireplace (If it’s winter, have a fire in the hearth. Otherwise, put a fern in the fireplace for decoration.)
  • Bake cookies before the open house (your house will smell amazing). If you don’t have time to bake cookies, put a drop of vanilla on light bulbs around your house. It will have much the same effect.

Now that you know what you should do, here’s what you shouldn’t do: as the owner, you should NOT be present when people tour your house (either during an open house or a showing). Be anywhere but home. Go to the movies. Go play with Fido at your sister’s house. Go to someone else’s open house. Go ANYWHERE but home.

Clear enough? If you’re wondering why it is so essential not to be present, here are a few reasons:

Your realtor can negotiate for you. Part of negotiation is the art of timing in asking and answering questions. If a potential buyer asks about whether a feature is included in the price (say, a hot tub), the realtor can ask, “Is that important to you?”  If you’re standing right there, the potential buyer will ask you directly and you’ll need to answer. Your realtor can legitimately say, “I don’t know, let me find out,” while probing about what the buyers really want.

Potential buyers feel more comfortable when the owner isn’t around. Many people feel weird rummaging through a closet or poking around someone else’s house when they’re right there.

Realtors are trained in how to respond to criticism, and are not emotionally tied to the property. This is probably the biggest reason owners should not be present during their own open houses. Prospective buyers should feel comfortable objecting to things about the home that they don’t like: a closet is too small or a room is too dark. When realtors hear these objections, they can often turn negatives to positives. If they don’t hear the objections because the property owner is hovering, the issues cannot be aired, and your realtor can’t address them. The last thing you want is a defensive homeowner defending a property’s shortcomings. That’s not a helpful negotiation tactic.

So, go somewhere fun for a few hours and let your realtor do his or her job. You’ll be glad you did.

As you can tell, there is no way for a seller to overcome these issues if they are selling the house themselves. I know this is biased in favor of working with a realtor, but it is also true.

If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

How to Prepare for a Move

Moving can be exciting, but it tends to come with a few drawbacks (like getting all your earthly possessions from one location to another). So, this column is about some important steps to take to make your move as smooth as possible.

As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re selling your house, it is best to remove about a third of your furniture before you begin showing your house to potential buyers. Depending on where you’re going after you sell your house (e.g., out of the area, stepping up to a bigger place to accommodate a growing family or downsizing as the result of an empty nest), you will need to decide what to do with the furniture you removed. Is it coming with you or not?

If it is, you’ll need to store things for a while. If not, it may be time for the granddaddy of all garage sales. If you’re off to Hawaii to live in a small beach house, you’ll want to liquidate more than just a third of your furniture. Moving is a great time to start fresh. Throw away the old and begin anew. It can be very liberating.

Most of us know we’re moving long before we go. As soon as you know you’re moving, begin gathering the names, addresses, and phone numbers of people to inform of your move, both personal and service-related contacts. A good way to do this is to collect envelopes as you receive them in the mail. Simply put them in a folder (a year ahead of time, if you can), so you don’t forget Great Aunt Mathilda who sends your children Christmas cards each year.

If you want your house to sell sooner than later, I recommend taking care of any maintenance issues you’ve been avoiding (see

Some vendors need a specific move-out date: utility companies (e.g., gas, electricity, water, sewer), the United States Post Office (USPS), your local newspaper, landscapers, cable/satellite service, and others. Be careful to orchestrate utilities with your realtor so utilities that need to be on to show the house are not turned off. At the same time, make sure they are turned off before the new occupants move in. You don’t want to be stuck paying the electricity bill for their new marijuana grow room.

As you move into your new home, the same cast of characters need to know you’re there: all your personal contacts, as well as your new utility companies, USPS, newspaper, etc. If you have school-aged children, you’ll need to enroll them in school. If you employ the services of housekeepers or landscapers, you’ll need to find new ones. Your realtor can be a great resource for recommendations.

One of the first things to do in your new home is to make a list of repairs and maintenance projects. Pull out those inspections you paid so dearly for, and decide which items are do-it-yourself projects and which ones will require professional help. Make a comprehensive list in priority order based on time, money, and urgency. For example, if you have a roof leak, it gets top billing.

Now that you’ve had a moment to breathe, and the USPS has your change-of-address order, you can start with Gr. Aunt Mathilda and send everyone a note to let them know you’ve moved. A fun way to do this is to take a family photo in front of your new home and send a photo postcard. Locally, Triple S Camera will give you 15 percent off a “We’ve Moved” postcard if you mention this column.

If you’re moving to a new area, ask your current realtor for a referral to a new realtor in that area. Your realtor will be happy to provide one and can even coordinate closing on your old home with the acquisition of your new one.

Next time I’ll write about Earth Day. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at If you make a suggestion I use, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery & Café. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

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You Can’t Disclose Too Much. Really.

When you sell a house, you are legally obligated to disclose anything that would negatively affect the value of the property or a buyer’s interest in owning it. So, if you’re selling your home, you probably have quite a list to compile.

In Mendocino County, real estate agents typically use an 11-page document that covers a wide variety of issues. In addition, sellers must also complete a Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS) that includes anything he or she knows (or should have known) about the property.

Typically, disclosures fall into three main categories. Property-specific disclosures include things like a leaky roof, a well that runs out of water each September, a septic system that has a swamp over it, or an addition for which there is no building permit. Proximity-specific issues can include things like whether a property is at the bottom of a hill with erosion problems, near a Superfund contamination site, or within earshot of a popular shooting range. And finally, regulatory disclosures include zoning and other issues. For example, is the property zoned for its current use or within 300 feet of land zoned for agriculture? These issues can affect how the property can be used and the owner’s quiet enjoyment of it.

If your head is already spinning, hold on because we’re not done yet. Some local sellers (especially in Willits) must also complete the Alquist-Priolo disclosure that warns buyers that the property is close to an active earthquake fault. And, your realtor must do a diligent visual inspection of all visually accessible areas (so, not necessarily the attic or under the house, but everywhere you can easily see).

After the visual inspection, the realtor has to describe the property in detail. The report doesn’t have to include explanations regarding the cause of the problems, just that they exist. For example, the realtor’s report may state, “There is a stain on the ceiling,” but not, “Looks like a leaky roof.” Or it may state, “The lawn over the septic system is green and soggy and smells like a sewer,” but not “The septic system clearly needs attention.”

If the sellers don’t hire a realtor, they must complete the disclosures on their own, so be sure to get all the appropriate forms. On the upside, this process is an excellent way to make sure you haven’t overlooked common issues. On the downside, it is time-consuming and a legal liability probably better handled by one accustomed to completing it.

There are a few exemptions, folks who do not have to complete some of the disclosures, most notably people who acquired property by foreclosure are exempt for the TDS requirement. If the owners did not have problems disclosed to them, they may have no way of knowing a problem exists. However, to the extent that the post-foreclosure owners knew or should have known about problems, they are on the hook. For example, if a neighbor repeatedly sends letters concerning a property line discrepancy and those letters are tossed in the trash, a judge will likely rule that the owner should have been aware of the problem.

If you’re trying to decide whether to disclosure something, your decision should basically come down to three rules:

  1. If you wonder, “Gee, should I disclose this?” The answer is almost certainly YES.
  2. If you would want to know about the problems, you should disclose it to the buyer.
  3. If you picture yourself in front of a judge explaining why you didn’t disclose something, is the judge likely to rule in your favor? If not, disclose.

Here’s the thing. When a potential buyer is walking around the empty living room picturing her couch next to the fireplace and her kids squealing with delight as they run around the backyard, that’s the time to disclose issues. Be up front. If you mention a minor issue that isn’t really material, no harm is done because the buyer will recognize it as minor. If an issue is material, then you are legally obligated to disclose it. So, just err on the side of caution. After all if the disclosure is going to kill the sale, wouldn’t you rather have it die before escrow closes than six months later when you hear from the buyer’s attorney?

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season. I wish you and your loved ones a happy and prosperous new year.

Next time I’ll write about some of the highlights from 2013 as we plunge into 2014. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

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How to Hire a REALTOR: 4 Simple Questions

A few months back, I wrote about why you should consider hiring a realtor if you plan to buy or sell a home. What I neglected to mention was how to hire a realtor. Like anything, if you’ve never done it before, it’s hard to be an expert out of the gate.

Briefly, here’s a reminder on why to hire a realtor.

  1. Licensed real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to deal honestly and in the best interest of the principal (you) — this is not just an ethical responsibility, it’s a legal one.
  2. Win-Win. It’s in your realtor’s best interest to help you meet your goal, because realtors only get paid if you get what you want – a completed transaction.
  3. realtors know their stuff and can save you time and money. Just ask people in the industry, because they hire realtors.  Even lenders and people in related industries with the knowledge to do the work themselves feel it’s worthwhile to hire realtors. To the extreme, when I want to list or buy property I use a realtor other than myself.

So, how can you pick a good realtor? First, talk to your friends and neighbors to find out whom they’ve used and would recommend—and maybe more importantly whether there is anyone they would not recommend. Ask your insurance agent, your accountant, your attorney and your local banker, too. These professionals understand the economics of real estate and are likely to have a valuable opinion on the subject.

The realtor you ultimately choose to engage in a business relationship needs to be someone with whom you can have a personal relationship. It’s critically important that your search not be a popularity contest, because we’re talking about dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Before you pick up the phone to talk to any of the potential realtors on your list, make sure they have integrity, a good reputation, and are well connected to all kinds of information. By the end of the interview, you should be really comfortable (hopefully even impressed) with answers to these questions.

  1. Does their communication style work for you? Do they use all the communication tools you like (e.g., cell phone, text, email, even that old fashioned standby face-to-face)? Are they available on weekends or during evenings? How long do they usually take to respond to questions?
  2. Do they have the expertise to meet your needs? When measuring expertise, pay attention to years and type of experience, as well as professional designations as realtor (instead of simply real estate agent). Some realtors even have additional education like GRI (Graduate, Realtor Institute) or CRS (Certified Residential Specialist).
  3. Do they have the capacity to take you on as a client? Although the agent may have wonderful credentials, it is important to find out about their current workload. Can they give you the time and attention you need to buy or sell a property on your timeline?
  4. Do they have the technical tools to do the job right? In this world of constant communication and electronic marketplaces, can your realtor excel? Do they or their company have a mobile app? Website? Blog? Access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)? Franchise affiliation with impressive online networks?

In addition to answering all these questions to your satisfaction, was the realtor organized? If you plan to list your house for sale, did the realtor come with a marketing plan, a market value analysis of your property, and information about themselves and their company? If you want to buy a home, did the realtor review prospective contracts and walk you through what to expect at each point in the buying process?

If you responded positively to all these questions, you’re probably in great shape. When it’s all said and done, the realtor you choose should be someone you trust and get along with, and someone who has the expertise, capacity, and company support to accomplish your objectives.

Next time I’ll write about how to hire a lender. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at or visit our website at Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

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By Way of Introduction, I’m Dick Selzer…

By way of introduction, I’m Dick Selzer and I’ve been in Real Estate in the Ukiah Valley since the 1970s. After more than 35 years in the industry, I thought I’d share a few facts and opinions about buying, selling, renting, and leasing property. I hope you find the information useful.

The question most often asked of Real Estate agents anytime they’re out and about is, “How’s the market?” So that’s the question I’ll be answering in all kinds of ways.

Right now, the market is in transition. Housing prices have pretty much bottomed out and are just starting to go up, but rates remain incredibly low and there’s not much for sale. So, while this is a great time to buy, two obstacles are in the way: finding a property that meets your needs and getting qualified for a loan.

So, how can you overcome those obstacles? I’d recommend finding a Real Estate agent you trust and can relate to. Here’s why: it’s in their best interest to help you meet your goals, and they know a lot about Real Estate.

If you commit to one agent, and it doesn’t have to be one of mine, that agent will commit to you. (If they won’t, find a new one.) Once you’ve got a good agent, here’s what you can expect.

  • They’ll carefully listen to your needs and actively look for properties that meet those needs, so you won’t waste your time looking at houses, land, or commercial properties that don’t work for you.
  • They’ll arrange to get you pre-qualified for a loan so you’re ready when the right property becomes available.
  • They’ll stay up-to-date on the latest market information (like inventory and mortgage rates), so they can make recommendations to save you money or share opportunities that you might not have been aware of.
  • They’ll work in a manner that’s consistent with your lifestyle. Let your agent know how and when you like to communicate (phone call, text, email, mornings, evenings, etc.), and they’ll work with you so you get information the way you want it.

So now you’ve got an agent and the first thing they recommend is getting pre-qualified. Huh?

There are basically two levels of loan qualification – “pre-qualified” and “pre-approved.” Pre-qualified consists of sitting down with an agent and doing some simple calculations to figure out how much house you can afford. To become “pre-approved” for a loan means working with your agent to find a loan broker who will review all your assets, liabilities, tax returns, W-2s, credit history, and any other relevant financial information to begin the process of applying for a loan.

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