Buying Real Estate Isn't Simple

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And I don't know why people expect it to be.

Cancel that. I do know why. Popular media. It's not all that common in popular media, but on those occasions I see someone buying a house in the movies or on TV, it's glossed over in terms that amount to the Fairy Godmother waving her magic wand. Partly, this is because the writers don't understand it, but mostly, it's because that if it's not your house, there isn't the necessary degree of emotional involvement to make it interesting. In short, it's boring, something studio and programming executives understand very well. Even on the real estate channels and shows, it's glossed over in ways as to render it basically into a simple magic spell (to the detriment of those agents who pay attention to those shows, and their clients). To an audience, all this stuff is boring, the cardinal sin in the entertainment industry. They can handle repetitive, they can handle stupid, they can handle insanely dangerous - they can handle pretty much anything except boring. To expect an accurate depiction of something so fundamentally boring to an audience is asking the impossible. When you add in how long it really takes (weeks if you're paying cash, months if you need a loan), how are they going to possibly depict that in a 30 or 60 minute TV program or 90 minute movie? Not to mention the fact they have no desire to because it's boring, and boring programs don't keep the audiences the advertisers pay for. There's no money in showing it accurately - the money for the media is in somehow being able to make it interesting. Even if they have to make up stuff that isn't there - and leave 99.99% of what is there out - to do it. Of course, by then what they show bears no relationship to the actual process.

There is nothing simple about an intelligent, informed decision as to which piece of real estate to buy, or securing any necessary financing. You can choose to do it the easy way, hoping that in your "ignorance is bliss" state of mind nobody takes excessive advantage of you. How many millions of people are in foreclosure right now who had that attitude? I have documented pretty extensively on this site exactly how easy the basic research that allows you to avoid the traps these people fell into is. Unsustainable loans aren't the only problem, though, only the biggest problem we're dealing with en masse right now. All of the individual con games that get played with real estate itself are still there, and nobody's proposing to pass any laws that will have any kind of real effect upon the problem.

Here is the situation: Here is a major asset, worth several years of your family's total income. Comparatively minor differences in perceived value make a major real world difference to how much money the seller walks away with. If that seller can net $10,000 more, that's roughly two months of free income from any regular employment they may have, and around here, a $10,000 difference is pretty trivial - the usual bar for quick turn fixing is at least $50,000, more like $80,000 to $100,000. Just because it's money borrowed from the lender doesn't make it any less real - in fact, it's all the more dangerous for that.

Given the high payoff for extremely minor games, people will play those games. People will lick the bugs off a car for $20. People will cheat on their taxes and risk nasty fines, penalties, and jail time for small amounts of money. 419 scams continue to make millions of dollars off their victims daily. People will bear professional false witness for dirt cheap amounts. 7% of the people surveyed said they'd murder a stranger for $10,000. On that scale, how likely do you think it is that they'll make things appear a little better than they are to net $50,000 extra out of a real estate transaction? With several times the amount at stake that takes 7% of the population to murder you, do you really want to take that risk?

There are friendly, amicable real estate transactions where everything goes easy, everything required is disclosed, the people concerned negotiate like reasonable adults, everybody keeps what is reasonable foremost in their minds and deals with the other people involved on that basis. I wouldn't bet on it. Nor are many transactions something like the picture painted by Churchill's most famous speech, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering." But if you're mentally prepared for trouble and it doesn't happen, you're going to be pleasantly surprised. All too often, people think they're in for the media "magic wand" version, and freak out when they're confronted with reality. I'd like it to be easy, but frankly, if it were I'd be out of the most interesting part of what I do. Nobody would need an agent if it were easy. Those people who do business with me and through me know how often I use the phrase, "If it were easy, anybody could do it." The context is almost always something has come up, and I have to do some work to make it right, but I'm also making the point that that's exactly what I'm paid for. It's an inalienable part of the job. If it were all peaches and cream, the vast majority of all new agents wouldn't quit (or essentially quit), would they? One of the nice staff people down at my local Board of Realtors tells me that significantly more than half the registered agents do zero or one transaction per year. You can't survive on one transaction per year unless it's maybe a ten million dollar property. You can't even keep up with changes on one transaction per year (but nobody can really do fifty or more transactions per year, either - not and guard their clients interests as you're supposed to)

Buying real estate is a fantastically good idea and great investment, as this and this and this being just the major articles directly on point that I can think of off the top of my head. There are also obstacles, I will admit. Hell, I pretty much proclaim it in big bold type and explain many of those issues in detail. Credit issues, debt issues, how difficult it is to save for a down payment. Unless you're eligible for a VA loan, there are no more "zero down" or "no cash required" loans at this time. I do believe they're come back within five years at the most, but it's better to act before the boost in price that their return is going to give the market. The point is this: Nobody can make up your mind to do what is necessary but you. I can and will gladly help with preparation and planning and budget and evaluating property and everything else, but you've got to first be the one to make up your mind that you want the benefits of real estate ownership, and will pay the costs required to get those benefits. Nobody can do it for you. Nor is pretending it's free or easy in your best interest. The buyers who tried to pretend it was all free and easy are pretty much getting smashed between a rock and a hard place right now.

My point is this: You shouldn't expect to buy or sell a half million dollar or more unique asset like real estate in the same fashion you would a loaf of bread or a box of paper clips. Especially not when there are major rewards for making it appear just a little bit better for the other side than it really is. Expecting to do so is an artifact of Hollywood, and it's worse than all of the horrible cliches in all the bad movies and TV shows that have ever been made about most other situations, because the people who get involved in those other situations know (or learn in short order) what a horrible crock of fertilizer it is, while people who get ready to buy real estate generally don't, and have only the one experience to learn. But that one experience often controls their life from that point on - even when they don't understand how, why, or the fact that it is controlling their lives. I don't think I've ever seen anything like an accurate media description of being an Air Traffic Controller or any of the other jobs I've done. I've been witness to or involved with several major news stories in my lifetime. Aside from sports, I don't think I've ever seen any events with which I was familiar accurately reported. The reason for the ability to accurately report sports is shared experience and widespread audience understanding of the key elements through repeated personal involvement, or at least personal observation. Not to mention that people are interested in sports or they just tune out. If you care about Antarctic Rules Underwater Basketweaving, you tune in to the station that reports it, while if it comes on and you're not interested, you pay attention to something else. If you're interested, you understand all the major points of Antarctic Rules Underwater Basketweaving - you've done it or watched it enough that you're familiar with what's important, as should any reporters. But with every real estate transaction, things are different from other real estate transactions. Not only that, if it's not your money, it's boring as hell unless you're at least a pretty decent agent who understands everything going on. But pretty much everyone who hopes for a secure financial future is going to have to buy real estate at least once in their lives. It's going to be a unique experience, and it's not all going to be pleasant. Quite often, it's frustrating as hell, even when it doesn't need to be - but you can't force the other side to be reasonable. Don't expect it to be like Hollywood depictions, and you won't be shocked. Whatever your job is (except show business itself, of course) I'll bet you serious money that Hollywood doesn't portray it correctly either. Why should real estate be any different? But here's one prediction I'll stake serious money on: The more time and effort and often disappointment and frustration you spend going through the buying process, particularly if you've got a good agent working in your best interests, the happier the eventual result will be.

My most spectacular, satisfying results have all come from clients who were difficult, or had difficulties, and kept going to the very happy conclusion. I don't have any objective measurements, but it sure seems like to me those were the ones who ended up happiest with their purchases in the end. The stuff you go through to buy a property is temporary. The benefits you get from having done so are permanent, and usually quite large, as discussed above. Even after you sell such a property, you've got more money than you would have had otherwise, money you can use for whatever is important to you. Real estate doesn't have to be your life to benefit from it - or be ruined by it. Keeping this in mind, doesn't it seem like a good idea not to expect it to be accomplished by a Fairy Godmother waving her magic wand?

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on December 13, 2013 7:00 AM.

Why the Real Estate Buyers Agent's Commission is Paid by the Seller was the previous entry in this blog.

What Can You Recover From the Title Company When They Miss an Easement? is the next entry in this blog.

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