2013 was quite a year for many real estate professionals and I was fortunate enough to be among the success stories. My story is unique because the year’s market rebound coincided with my fourth year in this turbulent, but potentially lucrative new profession.
Buyers came out in droves due to a better economy, low housing prices and low interest rates. At the same time, the years of long hours, financial investment and creative marketing I put in started to have a real return.
But this post is not about me.This post is meant to inspire others who may be thinking of starting a new career or a new business venture. There is no doubt the uncharted waters are bumpy and at times, even frightening, but the payoff of making a dream come true is truly worth it.
Why 2013 Was Quite a Year
Two of the transactions I completed in 2013 and a new client they referred me to were a direct result of long term relationship building and serve as a great example of how perseverance can have quite a nice pay day.
The transactions were with a couple I met in the Spring of 2010 at an open house I hosted in Maplewood, NJ. I was only in the business a few months, the market was in a downward spiral and I hadn’t made a dollar in my new venture. To say I was second guessing my new career choice is quite an understatement. I hosted open houses almost every weekend for months, in the hopes of capturing new buyers. To date the strategy hadn’t been successful.
On this particular Sunday, the open house was well attended, but most people who came were either already working with a real estate agent or were just out on a nice day and happened to stop by when they saw the sign. My frustration level was high and I was seriously questioning my decision to become a Realtor.
And then Tolan, his daughter and Diana entered the home. They looked around for a while and I could sense they really liked it. When I engaged them in a conversation about their real estate goals they explained they owned a condo that they were renovating themselves and planned to sell when it was complete. The profit from the sale would be the down payment to purchase their first house. They were very forthcoming and I made a judgment that these were solid people with integrity and I’d stick with them.
With that in mind, I followed up with them via email and made a date to see their condo in progress. It was in an amazing location, just a few blocks to downtown Maplewood and the Midtown Direct train line, which takes commuters to New York City. It is a perfect alternative for people who want to take the first step of leaving Manhattan without the overhead of maintaining a house.
Upon entering this 2 bedroom / 2 bath apartment, I was super impressed with the work they had done, but was equally surprised to see how much more remained. We discussed the investment they had made, the additional renovation costs they planned to incur and the potential sale price for the unit. I was adamant that the kitchen counters be granite. Other than that I liked their ideas and thought it very sellable.
I stayed in touch over the next two years with phone calls, mailings, email market updates and the occasional visit. By now, it was the beginning of 2013, the market had made a turn and prices were rising. Maplewood, in particular, was very much in demand. So when I got the call from Tolan saying they were ready, I was extremely optimistic.
The visit was quite surprising. When I walked into the lobby of the building there was evidence of a major renovation in progress. The lobby and hallways had new carpet, wall paper, hardware on the doors, lighting fixtures, and furniture.
After discussing possible pricing and the amount of time needed to finish the final updates, we visited the new gym – a great new amenity that would also positively affect their list price. They told me that the rest of the building’s updates would be complete in the summer, including a renovation of the large outdoor pool.
In July, we prepped the unit for its market debut. Together we staged it, removing all personal accessories and re-arranging furniture to create a more open floor plan. When we were done it looked amazing! See for yourself.
After much discussion, they decided they wanted to price the apartment at $249,000 – approximately 40% higher than any sale price in that particular building in the last five years . But it would be the first listing since the building was renovated. If successful, we would be setting a new pricing bar for all the units in the building.
Timing was key since the outdoor pool was a valuable amenity and it showed beautifully. In the latter part of August (a pretty dead time in real estate), after shooting photos, a video, creating a custom website, and a brochure we put the apartment on the market. I was very concerned that the price was too high.
But, my concern was unwarranted. Three days later we had a full price offer in hand from a qualified buyer and closed 6 weeks later. Since then prices in the building have skyrocketed. Inspiring story right?
But that’s not the end. While they netted a great profit, home prices in South Orange and Maplewood were rising as well so they were now going to get less on the buying end of their transaction. This became a major disappointment as we ratcheted up the house search. Diana and Tolan went to open houses every Sunday in Maplewood and South Orange and we previewed all together about 15 homes. We made offers on 2 properties that had multiple bids and lost both. Their frustration was mounting and the pressure was on.
We visited a foreclosure property on three separate occasions that was in a great location in South Orange. We brought contractors to provide estimates for repairs to make the house inhabitable. But the analysis showed the investment was too high for the potential resale value. Time was a major issue since they were now renting an apartment while doing their house search. I was getting worried that they would have to put off buying a house until they had saved more money- but it would be a shame to miss out on the housing market during its rising tide.
Then Diana suggested we expand our search to include West Orange where prices are a bit less and buyers get more value for their money. And that’s exactly where we found a jewel of a house that had just come back on the market. A spacious 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath colonial in great shape, brand new kitchen (of course with granite counter tops), newly refinished hardwood floors throughout, great architectural detail and one of Tolan’s must haves – a fireplace in the living room.
By this time it was getting close to the holiday season and they wanted to close before Christmas which was only 2 1/2 weeks away. We all worked hard to get the place inspected, appraised, have all contractual provisions met and indeed we closed on December 23, 2013… just three and a half years after we first met.
Of course Tolan and Diana mean a lot more to me than being customers. This was a true partnership and we were able to successfully work together to realize their dreams. They also referred me to another home buyer I am currently working with who is every bit as solid as they are. My judgement about Tolan and Diana 3 years ago, and the ensuing rapport we developed, led to 2 closed transaction and an additional one in the works.
And who knows what other opportunities may come of it? As a commission based professional, deciding which leads are the good leads, takes time and experience…and then you can’t always be right. On a visceral level, the day I met Tolan and Diana I immediately felt they were genuine and would be loyal. For thos ethinking of a new business venture (or any type of venture), stay focused and trust your instincts. Tolan and Diana are already talking about making some improvements to their new home and the potential to flip in it in a few years. I think the picture below of Tolan with his rake outside of his new home kind of sums it all up just fine.