Real Estate Agents

5 Biggest Client Complaints

It’s been a long time since I sat in Real Estate School classes, gulping down the many facts and rules and equations necessary to get my licensure. But like any job, many of the most important lessons I’ve learned as an agent were not taught in the classroom.

They were taught to me by my clients – buyers and sellers, alike.

Yes, agents have to know the most up-to-date information about oil tanks, and yes, it’s handy to have a list of great vendors for clients – from floor finishers to structural engineers. However, there are a few things that may be more important, and I know that because clients have come to me with these complaints about their previous agent. Here are the top five:

  1. "After we signed the listing papers, our agent handed us off to others." One client told me she never saw her agent again after her house was officially listed. Instead, she was assigned to a listing manager, a stager, and various office assistants. There is nothing wrong with having an assistant follow up on details. However, I consider my listings my direct responsibility, and I make sure to be in touch with sellers regularly throughout the marketing and sale of their home.
  2. "My listing agent would schedule house showings and then no one showed up." To be fair, buyers often change plans, even after a seller has filled the morning tidying, stashing kids’ toys, and relocating a pet to the neighbor’s. It's understandably annoying to ready a house that no one comes to see. If a buyer cancels, I consider it my first responsibility to let the seller know  – whether they are my clients, or theirs is a home was going to show my buyers. Having sold my own house recently, I am very attuned to the effort that goes into a showing.
  3. "The agent who was showing me houses didn’t know the town." It’s easy to show homes in your own town, especially if you’ve lived there awhile. However, if agents are showing homes in an unfamiliar town, they have to do their homework. A good agent should be able to tell you distances to grocery stores and have a working knowledge of commuter options. I live in Montclair, but spend a lot of time in Glenridge, Cedar Grove, South Orange, Maplewood and other nearby Essex County suburbs for the sole purpose of providing my clients with the most accurate information possible.
  4. "I felt constant pressure to increase my bids." Buying a home can be stressful and, in my opinion, an agent’s job is to try and reduce that stress. Not add to it. We should provide data, insight and knowledge. We should not make a client feel insecure about a bid (which, apparently happens a lot). My only agenda with my clients is that they find the home that suits them best. 
  5. "My agent never answered my calls." I will confess: I do not answer the phone while driving, but beyond that, I respond to my clients – calls, texts, and emails – immediately or, at least, quickly. That’s just good business.

So, as you can see, I’ve learned a lot over these 14 years. If you want to put me to the test, I’d relish the opportunity. Then again, maybe there are a few things I could learn from you too!

Call or text:  973-809-5277  If I'm driving, I'll call you back!

Tag, You're It!

Most people I talk to have some kind of relationship with Facebook – they love it, or hate it, or…it’s complicated. I’m a Facebook enthusiast. My business page is a great, easy way to disseminate information about real estate issues; community pages provide quick access to all the local goings on; and local “swap” pages allow my clients to get rid of some of their excess stuff before putting their homes on the market. 

But nothing quite compares to the Facebook moments where I’ve found myself “tagged” in someone’s post and then gone on to read a comment like this one:

“If you want someone super smart, who doesn’t just know the market but has fully analyzed it (she has an MBA) AND who knows everything about things like the value of your particular boiler, then please choose Paulina “Lina” Panza – Walkable Suburb. I’ve sold a home and bought a home with her, my mother just bought a home with Lina, and one of my closest friends bought and sold with her. She is amazing.” 

Reading that felt great. 

If you know me at all, you know that it’s not really my style to point out a comment like this, but I’m biting the bullet today because I think it’s important for every buyer and seller to know that picking an agent to work with can be complicated – and checking out an agent’s areas of expertise can provide you with a partner that goes beyond merely showing homes and negotiating contracts. 

First, I just want to go on record as saying I do not know the exact value of every particular boiler off the top of my head. But I usually get pretty close. I do not consider this a superpower as much as the result of my innate interest in houses and homes. My father, Paul Weidlinger, was a noteworthy architect and engineer – designing and teaching design at some of the world’s most respected universities. So, maybe it’s in my DNA. But the fact is, I was brought up by a man that saw the world through the eyes of a structural problem-solver. I think this is what led me to study architecture as an undergrad, and also what fostered my lifelong passion for understanding the structural aspects of renovation.

Meaning: when I walk through homes with my clients, we can really get into what kind of changes can be made and how. 

Helping people find their right home – and helping them make their home right for them – are two things I love spending my time doing. If you or someone you know could benefit from my expertise and passion, give me a call. I can help you find (or create!) the house of your dreams!

Gratitude for Jodi Aishton (and Pie!)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I (like most) spend a lot of time thinking about food, but even more time thinking about all I’m grateful for. Work-wise, I immediately think of the people who have entrusted me to help them buy or sell their homes. (Thank you!) And my colleagues, who offer advice and guidance when I’m faced with a challenging real estate situation. (Thank you!) And, of course, the friends and former clients who refer me to people. (Thank you!)

But always at the top of that thanking list is Jodi Aishton. I seriously could not get through a single day without her.

My office-mate, Tamima, and I have “shared” an assistant for years. The woman who held that position previously was amazing – 30 years of real estate experience and the ability to anticipate our every need. When she left, we never thought we would find someone to fill her shoes.

Then, about eight months ago, Tamima happened upon Jodi at a fundraising committee meeting at their temple. Back in our office, Tamima said, “I met someone who would be a great real estate administrator -- if only she knew something about real estate.”

If you have ever bought or sold a home, you’re familiar with the vast number of details required to see a real estate transaction from contract to closing. Appraisals, inspections, paperwork sent here and there. Everything needs to happen by a certain time, and Jodi seamlessly manages it all.

She designs our postcards and brochures, gets them printed, coordinates photography shoots and attorney meetings. I am in awe of how she can set up six different Saturday showings that not only accommodate schedules of buyer and sellers, but also plan it all around the most efficient driving route. Working with her is like having our own personal 5-star app!

I know Thanksgiving is a holiday for “family,” but in the short time she’s been with us, Jodi has become family, and I am so incredibly thankful for that. Because of Jodi, I can serve my clients better. And because of Jodi, our office runs smooth as a pumpkin pie. 

(See how I moved right back to food?!)

And speaking of smooth pumpkin pie, The Pie Store on Watchung Avenue makes one of the smoothest.  

Happy Thanksgiving to you and those you cherish.

QUESTION: My best friend just got her real estate license. Should I list with her?

handshakeI read somewhere that the average person is friends with 5 real estate agents. If that’s true, the good news is you'll have 5 people you know and trust who can help you buy or sell your house. The bad news is you can really only work with one of them.

The other bad news is that most newbies don't last very long in the business. The attrition rate is high, with 87% dropping out in the first 5 years. And of the agents currently working, most of the real estate “business” that you see around you (an estimated 80%) is being conducted by the top 20% of the agents in the area.

Listing with a friend can be a high-pressured situation, especially if he or she is new to the business. Of course, you want to help them but the truth is, they are learning the ropes on your largest financial asset – and that’s something you need to be aware of going in. Because an agent’s “education” can hit a seller in their wallet.

We’ve all gotten the call from someone we adore: “Hey, I just got my real estate license!” But it’s still wise to ask ourselves: Of the 5 real estate agents you may know, who's still learning on the job? Who's getting ready to drop out because it just isn’t as easy as it looks? Who's in the 80 percent, struggling to put together a few deals a year?  Who's selling real estate only on weekends and after their day job on Tuesdays?

I can tell you from my 13 years experience and over 200 homes I’ve sold, the more you’ve “seen” in real estate deals, the better equipped you are to service your clients. Contact me to learn more about what I can do for you whether you're buying or selling. 

Pricing Your Montclair Home: What's the Sweet Spot?

5-back-iconWhen you're pricing your home, it's always tempting to ask for a bit more than you expect - to leave a little room for negotiating. But this strategy actually doesn't work.

According to industry experts, houses priced 10% over their ultimate selling price typically receive no offers. In fact, even houses priced a mere 5% too high will typically get showings, but no offers. If you start too high, you'll have to gradually lower your price over time until you find someone willing to buy.

In real estate, "gradually" is not great.

No one wants their house to sit on the market. Not you. Not your agent. The DOM (Days On Market) of a home is the leading indicator as to whether it is priced appropriately.

In Montclair, the average DOM is 50.

Examples of homes priced too high: 363 Park Street - Original price: $1,450,000; DOM-370 Offers started when price was dropped to $1,199,000

18 Capron Lane - Original price: $1,200,000; DOM-170 It sold when the price was lowered to $989,000

Even a house listed at its "correct" price - that is, the price it is likely to sell for - may not be ideal for the seller. Studies show that the market responds most enthusiastically when houses are priced just below their true value.

When a home is listed at about 5% under its ideal sales price, the property nearly always sells for more than asking, and often substantially more. This doesn't make complete logical sense, so it requires a leap of faith on the part of the homeowner. As a seller, you need a strong stomach and a good realtor who knows the market and how to price at that sweet spot.

Here's what happens when houses are priced to sell:

117 Haddon - Listed $699,000; Sold $826,000; DOM-11 19 Windsor - Listed $699,000; Sold $838,000; DOM-9 131 Wildwood - Listed $899,000; Sold $111,0000; DOM-10

When clients ask me how much negotiating room there should be when pricing their Montclair home, the answer is none.

If you'd like to talk about home pricing, or get a better sense of the market, call me. I love to talk real estate! 973.809.5277

*Studies performed by Jeffery Otteau of the Otteau Valuation Group www.otteau.com

Another Happy Client!

There isn't much more stressful in life than buying a home - and especially buying your first home. You can get a sense of what it's like to work with me if you spend some time reading reviews on Zillow. Here's a recent post that made me feel great about doing the work that I do:

"Lina helped us purchase our home recently. As first time homebuyers, we had many questions going in, but Lina patiently and confidently guided us through each step of the process. Lina was professional, reliable and very accessible, returning callskeep calm and addressing questions and concerns efficiently.

We very much appreciated that she took the time up front to learn about our family and the type of home and neighborhood we wanted. She did a very nice job of only bringing to our attention homes that met our criteria.

Lina was very well versed in the local real estate market and was able to teach us more about the geography and detailed attributes of the many different neighborhoods in town. From beginning to end, Lina was calm and patient but knew when to push, frequently offering the right piece of information and guidance at the right moment. It was a pleasure working with Lina, and we look forward to many happy years in the home she helped us purchase!"  -- K.T.

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation!

Atlas Van LinesOne of the most frequent pieces of feedback I get from my clients is that I'm very knowledgeable about and good at explaining the ins and outs of real estate sales. I think that's probably true, largely because I believe the more people know, the better they are at both buying and selling.

So, today, I want to pass on some information about relocating.

If you or your spouse are making a work-related move, the employer may offer a relocation package. They may offer to pay for your closing costs, pay for your move, even buy your house if it sits on the market too long. Most of the big corporations use a relocation company, like Cartus, which provides various services and resources - one of which is to set you up with one of their contracted real estate agents, usually one from a corporate-owned real estate company.

However, you are not obligated to use their recommended agent or agency.

The reason I mention this is because it's often not made clear to sellers that Cartus will work with any agent, usually with no financial ramifications to the seller. Meaning, if you worked with a real estate agent that you really liked when you bought your house, you can use that same agent to sell your house - even if a corporate relocation package is part of the picture.

This comes as great news to many sellers who have already built a trusting relationship with a local agent. Or to those who prefer to use an agent recommended by a friend.

If you're selling your house for a business move and you've been offered a relocation package, let's talk. I can explain to you how the system works so you can make decisions that make you happy. I've been told I'm very good at that kind of thing! 973-809-5277

How Accurate is Your "Zestimate" ?

This LA Times article about Zillow estimates is from a year ago, but it recently resurfaced on my social media pages and seems worth sharing. For homeowners, Zillow seems like the best thing since sliced bread. A do-it-yourself tool to determine home values. Unfortunately, it's not the last word in valuation and is often controversial.

Zillow uses an Automated Valuation Model  (AVM), which is an algorithm that takes into account location, price per sqft, lot size, etc by relying on publicly available data from comparable properties. Sometimes this data is old or just simply wrong.  It's not a bad system for very general ideas about home value, but it doesn't account for anything unusual (good or bad) about your home.  AVMs tend to overstate the value of homes that are in poor condition or in an awkward location (like next to a gas station).  Similarly, they understate the value of homes that have fabulous recent renovations or are walkable to the NYC train.  It's a little like the real estate equivalent of an automated telephone customer service system. It's good for only the most basic information gathering.

And, as this article points out, "Zestimates" aren't even especially accurate - on average they are off by 8%.

Working with an experienced agent (i.e., me!), you'll have access to all the same type of automated information available through Zillow AND the expertise of someone who knows what the inside of the comp homes look like.  So, together, we can make a smart marketing plan if you're a seller, and realistic decisions about bidding if you're a buyer.

I'm happy to come over and tell you what your home is worth. Buying and selling homes is nuanced and subjective. It's not about algorithms. It's about lifestyles and dreams.

A Short Post About Tiny Houses

Tiny houses seem to be all the rage right now. I'm intrigued by the idea of people living in a 200-250 square-foot house, although I can't imagine doing so myself. I recently came upon this video of tiny houses that are being built as apartment "units," which can be removed from the "apartment building" and moved anywhere.

My first thought was, Wow, this could put real estate agents right out of business. My second thought was, Hmmm, for a tiny house it sure can store a lot of wine.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who is fascinated by the emotional wherewithal of people who opt to live in suminimotives-tiny-house-9ch efficient quarters. This hilarious essay in Medium struck a chord with many of us who just don't get it.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to think I could live in a home where I could see everything I own just by craning my neck. But how would I host Thanksgiving? Where would I put the Christmas tree? For that matter, where would I store the Halloween candy? And would any trick-or-treaters even come?

Obviously, I'm not ready to make the big move to a tiny house. Not so for my son; he says he's going to build one in the back yard so I can't nag him about cleaning his room.

If you're ready for a move and are still in the market for a big people's house, I have inventory in all shapes and sizes. Give me a call and let me show you around! 973.809.5277

Montclair is"Buzz"-ing

buzz aldrinOne of the many things I love about Montclair is its creative vibe: How many other suburbs can boast an art-house cinema, an internationally-recognized annual film festival, a jazz club, and a dozen or so art galleries?  Next month, though, my town will be focusing more on the sciences than the arts when it honors a hometown hero--astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Aldrin was the second man (after Neil Armstrong) to walk on the moon. He is also a graduate of Montclair High School's Class of 1947, where he played on the football team. He'll be back at Montclair High School on June 2 to receive the first-ever "Key to Montclair" and see the unveiling of  a plaque commemorating his historic flight. The event is open to the public, and I'm sure it will be mobbed, but I'm definitely planning to attend.

As a Montclair Realtor who loves walkable communities, I can't wait to meet the man who walked all over Montclair before walking on the moon.