Editorial

Realtors—Heaven Versus Hell

Buying or selling a home can be one of the biggest financial transactions of your life. Some agents are amazing, and some are stinkers. How do you find the right one for you?

I’m going to share some personal stories with you about our experiences with Realtors over some of our 14 transactions to date. We’ve had one from heaven, one from hell, and a whole bunch in between. By the end, I hope you’ll learn better how to recognize the good from the bad, gain the confidence you need to hire a great Realtor, minimize the stress, and actually enjoy the experience.

First, who are Realtors and real estate agents and what do they do? 

The name “Realtor” is a trademark of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in the United States that refers to agents who are members of this organization. You can still work with many good agents who are not members of NAR. 

All real estate agents are licensed by the state where they do business. There are approximately 1.5 million Realtors and 500,000 agents nationwide today. Many are full-time, some are part-time, and others are dormant, working only occasionally with friends, family, or for their own investment transactions. For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to agents and Realtors interchangeably.

What do Realtors do, and are they really necessary to help buy/sell homes?

Realtors work with buyers to help them find a home to purchase, they work with sellers to find qualified buyers, and during escrow, they help pull all the people and pieces together to ideally close the transaction quickly and efficiently. This is no easy task since there’s usually a lot of emotion and stress involved on both sides, but they do their best to shepherd the deal to close. 
 
Of course, you can go it alone, which is like defending yourself in a legal fight, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have years of experience in the industry.
 
We didn’t realize how important Realtors were until after our first purchase. You don’t know everything they do and how much value they bring to the table until after you’ve been through your first transaction. Even if you fancy yourself as a deal maker or real estate smarty pants, I urge you to find a great agent to work with, especially if you’re a first-time buyer. 

There’s a lot of money at stake, and it’s helpful to work with someone knowledgeable about the laws, rules, and market conditions, with practical experience.

A good real estate agent can save you not only time and frustration, but they can save or make you thousands of extra dollars.

In the US, you don’t typically pay Realtors directly out-of-pocket as a buyer. They earn a commission when they close a deal, traditionally paid from the seller’s side of the transaction. Today’s commissions generally range from 2 to 6%, sometimes more for specialty properties.

Okay! Let me tell you our war stories.
 
silicon valley apple campus

Silicon Valley

Diane and I were newlyweds back in 1990 renting in Silicon Valley for about two years before we decided to buy a home in 1991.

We visited open house after open house and met numerous agents over the next year. We narrowed our search to a few suburbs, including Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Santa Clara. Palo Alto would have been a great investment, but it was one of the priciest towns to buy real estate even back then.

We worked with several decent to mediocre agents starting out, names changed to protect the marginal:

The first was Janet. We met her at an open house in Sunnyvale. She was salivating for the business, she gave off a weird vibe, and she was kind of pushy. It was easy to tell after just a few outings with her that she was hungry for money and didn’t care what we bought. She always asked if we wanted to make an offer on every house we saw with her.

The second was Debbie. She was the niece of a friend, who showed us condos in Palo Alto one day. After seeing three places, she pretty much said to “call her back when we’re serious.” It came off quite rude, given that we thought we were pretty serious, if maybe uncertain about the exact area we wanted to live.

The third was Stacey. We met her at another open house in Sunnyvale, saw a lot of properties with her, found one we liked, and she helped us make an offer on a house in a multiple bidding situation that we lost. Oddly, she disappeared after that! Was she too busy?

So we had some initial bad luck with these agents over nine months.

But it wasn’t a complete waste of time. It was helpful to get to know the market and learn what we liked and disliked in a home, as well as a Realtor.

One day we went into another open house in Saratoga that we seriously wanted to make an offer on, but it had some issues. Unable to get a hold of Stacey, the agent who had helped us make the prior offer, and after hearing about our frustration, my mom called a local real estate office and randomly found our gem, Judy Tucker.

She was an angel, heaven-sent, a Realtor’s Realtor. After discussing the issues with the Saratoga house with Judy, we opted not to make an offer and soon after bought a house in Sunnyvale, with her help, that turned out to be a better deal, a better fit for our lifestyle, and free of major issues.

A few years later, when we decided to move up to a larger home in Cupertino, we instantly hired Judy. 

On the sell-side, she coached us on how to get the house staged, ready, and what to expect. 

On the buy-side, she helped us win against another bidder. We, along with the other buyers, were bidding up to our last pennies, and we could not quite come up with the cash difference required by the seller, so Judy threw in a bit of her own commission to get the deal done! That simply blew us away. She was a true partner in getting our deal done.

Seven years later, we sold our Cupertino house, and as usual, Judy was invaluable, guiding us once more on how to prep the house for buyers and navigating through a difficult, sudden downturn in the market.

She brought incredible savvy to the negotiation, helping us close the deal with a difficult buyer of a certain culture, who she knew would likely, after being agreeable throughout the transaction, come back right before close and try to beat us down on price for numerous repairs and fixes, etc. To nip this in the bud, Judy advised us to make the purchase agreement “as is”. 

It worked. The buyer tried and failed, and we never would have known to expect this without her.

Judy did well financially, earning four commissions with us buying and selling two homes, and she deserved every penny. We wish we could have engaged her for all of our future transactions, but we left the area and couldn’t take her with us.

What Makes a Rockstar Realtor?

  1. Proactive. Judy jumped on opportunities and had a sincere desire for us to win. She gave us homework and brought lots of energy to the table.
  2. Strategic. Judy knew the market cold, how to get the best deal, and how to avoid problems.
  3. Communicative. Judy always kept us informed, never kept us guessing, coached us through the entire process.
  4. High integrity. Judy wasn’t afraid to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with us. She was not a yes-man, always honest with her opinions. She never pushed us, respected our decisions. She was fun to work with and very supportive.
  5. Professional network. She had a full cadre of excellent handymen, inspectors, lenders, peers, helpers, title and escrow officers.
truckee northstar winter

Truckee

Once we sold our Cupertino home, we turned our focus to Truckee, where we wanted to move. 

Judy helpfully referred us to a top agent in the Truckee market, who I’ll call Sally. She knew the market cold, but we ended up clicking better with her younger assistant agent, Denise, and spent more time with her. 

We originally wanted to roll profits from our expensive Silicon Valley home into a Truckee dream house, but after not finding anything we liked for the money, we ended up buying a small temporary house and bought land with the intent to build.

Sally had been in the business for over 20 years, which she constantly reminded us of to reaffirm her qualifications. 

We quickly discovered that she was pretty set in her ways. Denise seemed much more open-minded and helpful.

When we wanted to make an offer on a home for less than the asking price, Sally resisted. The home was in her neighborhood, where values generally held, but our internet research suggested the seller might be open to dealing, and he was. 

She was genuinely surprised that he came down in price. It seemed like she was a big fish in a tiny pond who didn’t want to see neighborhood values fall. That was my impression anyway. We got through the transaction, but her resistance to our making a lower offer (that ended up saving us $44,000) left a bad taste in my mouth.

The truth is, every agent is on trial all the time. If you’re not getting a good vibe, try someone else on the team, try someone else from the same brokerage, or try another Realtor entirely. Years of experience don’t guarantee great service.

When it came time to sell our Truckee home, we went with a new agent, Lil, who we had come to know socially. She was super savvy, a lot like Judy, but lower-key. We sold that house in 4 days.

Mammoth

A couple of years later, we fell in love with the Village at Mammoth when it was under construction and decided to buy our first second home there, a condo. 

We liked the sales agent, who was very helpful, so we worked with her again a few years later when we sold it at a good profit. She was straightforward, competent, and professional, keeping us reasonably informed without drama.

Look for low-drama agents who stay neutral and communicate in a timely fashion. High-drama agents who always blame others can be difficult.

downtown reno riverwalk

Reno

In 2004 we discovered a brand-new development on a golf course in NW Reno called Somersett. We asked a lot of questions, read the contracts carefully, and bought directly from the developer without a hitch.

While the home was being built, we bought a temporary house in Reno nearby. This time, we worked with our contractor’s wife as our agent. 

She was proactive, kept us informed, and was willing to show us anything, a high-volume agent who had a solid work ethic—all the qualities you want in a Realtor. 

Most importantly, she managed to find us an in-office listing in a very competitive market. These are insider listings that come up and aren’t yet entered in the MLS for the public to see. You absolutely want agents with these kinds of intel opportunities.

A year and a half later, we sold that house to a colleague, with Diane as a new Realtor representing our side, which went well.

After living in the new house for several years, we, unfortunately, had to short-sell it after the 2008 crash. This was a tough one, but our next Realtor was a trusted colleague and friend who was patient, diligent, honest, communicative and got it done for us.

Okay, so far these have been good to great Realtors, but what about the Realtor from Hell?

old san juan puerto rico

Puerto Rico

In 2014 we were at a point in life where we wanted to live overseas and decided to move to Puerto Rico. This is when we encountered the Realtor from Hell.

At the time, Diane was still a Realtor and worked for a well-known international luxury brokerage in Lake Tahoe with an office in San Juan. We contacted them and ended up working with a pleasant, fairly new agent in their office. After several showings, we found a fantastic townhome in Dorado with other buyers interested as well. 

After thinking about it for a day, we called our agent and left a voicemail saying that we wanted to write an offer—but she didn’t call back! 

We called again but could not get a hold of her, which was really odd. What agent doesn’t want to make a deal? 

So I called the listing agent to let her know that we wanted to make an offer and that we were trying to reach our agent to write it up. The listing agent tried to contact our agent, but she couldn’t reach her either.

The listing agent then called the managing broker of the luxury firm to find out what was up. The managing broker informed the broker-owner, who turned out to be a real piece of work. 

This dragon lady immediately called Diane and proceeded to chew her out for letting me “get out of control” by calling the listing agent directly—treating Diane like some wayward housekeeper who had just dropped her favorite, expensive vase on the floor. 

Diane was stunned speechless and told the dragon lady that she should talk to me. 

It’s still kind of a man’s world in Latin America, Puerto Rico’s cultural roots. This woman was buttery sweet to me over the phone, unlike with Diane, and told me that she’d take care of us and that we were going to get the “white glove treatment.” I would expect so just as a normal client, but especially given that Diane worked for the same international brokerage. 

20 minutes later, Dragon Lady calls back and says she can’t work with us, tells us we’re on our own, no further explanation. We were floored and furious. I’m guessing it’s because our budget was less than $500K. 

It’s too bad because the agent who helped us spent a lot of time and effort setting up appointments, showing us around, and would have made a nice commission from the deal. 

We ended up representing ourselves with the help of an attorney and bought the house. 

Most agents are good, some aren’t, and some are downright crazy. We’ve learned over the years not to engage crazy. This was by far our worst experience buying a home. Bar none. 

This brokerage came highly recommended, so how it all turned out was a complete surprise, but sometimes that happens. Just resolve things as quickly and cleanly as possible and move on.

How do you find good agents?

Like many things, when you start looking for them, they tend to pop up everywhere. Most agents are anxious to be found.

  1. Asking friends and family. This can work if they know you well and make introductions to good professionals they’ve actually worked with, but it’s not a guarantee. Preferably you want someone who has experience in your price range, in the area where you’re looking, with a compatible personality.
  2. Google, Zillow, Realtor.com, and agent websites. Agents themselves may have nice websites, paid ads, testimonials, but you need to call them, discuss the market, and judge for yourself. This is time-consuming.
  3. Agent reviews. Reviews can work, but they’re not 100% reliable. Agents get busy, they have assistants, they build up teams, you may like their assistants better, or you may not, or agents get busy, or tired. There’s a certain amount of trial, error, and chemistry going this route.
  4. Agent matching services. These are sites that search databases and return suggestions for you to interview. This can work, but suggestions are not personal, they are data-driven, and you still have to set up calls, interview, judge, and decide for yourself. Personal introductions, however, can work well.

Where to live is a very personal, sometimes complicated choice, and there’s no one right answer for everyone. 

To help you find your perfect place, we recommend using a spreadsheet with weighted scores to help you clearly prioritize your choices. Our free template below can save you hours of time as you weigh your options.

One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

2020 was a big year for people migrating from blue to red states. Did folks still move to red states in 2021, and if so, why?

We’re going to examine the trend of people moving to red states, explore why it’s happening, surmise its likelihood of continuing… and what this means to you if you’re planning to make this kind of move. 

The hubby and I have been looking for the best place to live in America (for us) and we came across an article predicting that more people would move to red states in 2022. We know quite a few people who’ve moved to red states in 2021, including:

  • A recruiter friend moved to Texas from California.
  • A real estate broker friend moved from Los Angeles to Austin. 
  • A couple moved last year from Nevada to Idaho. 
  • A Puerto Rico expat friend bought 200 acres in Idaho with plans to move soon.

And many celebrities have made this move too, including:

  • Joe Rogan
  • Ben Shapiro
  • Graham Stephan
  • Chris Harrison
  • James Van Der Beek
  • Elon Musk
US migration patterns

2020 US Migration Patterns

2020 migration reports published by moving companies exposed a massive trend of people moving from blue to red states. 

It is fascinating and unfortunate to see our country continuing to split politically and ideologically in a physical way due to migration. People are either attracted to low taxes, freedom-loving politicians, medical freedom, economic prosperity, strong borders or their not. It looks like they are. Duh.

U-Haul reported that 80% or four of the top five inbound state moves were red: Tennessee, Florida, Texas and Ohio.

United Van Lines reported 60% or three of the top five inbound state moves were red: Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota; and all five top outbound states were blue: New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, and California.

Finally, according to the 2020 National Movers study, 66% or four of the 6 top inbound states gaining new residents were red: Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida. All 6 of the high outbound states were blue: California, Washington, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont, and DC.

2021 migration reports will come out soon, so it will be interesting to see how this trend evolves.

Why Shift From Blue to Red?

With the initial pandemic housing rush starting to cool down, will people continue to make these moves?

If you ask the Republican Governors Association why people are moving to red states, they’ll say it’s because those states are focused on creating the best possible environments for businesses, workers, and families to succeed.

People who don’t like the highly-regulated, big government approach of blue state politicians, are fueling this trend.

Ultimately, I think most people just want to live someplace where they feel safe and can succeed in their endeavors, where they can enjoy life with family, friends, and neighbors on their terms, without government interference or coercion.

Another factor is that the cost of living in most red states is generally less expensive and with usually lower taxes than that of blue states.

We also highly recommend watching PragerU’s YouTube video Where Do You Want to Live: Red State or Blue State?

The Great American Divide?

It’s alarming that this trend appears to be accelerating a political, ideological, and physical divide of America. Where will this lead, civil war?

Redfin actually called out “more migration for political reasons” as a trend in its outlook for the housing market in 2022

I suppose it makes sense as we now seem to live in an era where you can’t even talk about politics without someone going off the rails, taking offense, or sending the social media mobs. People vote with their dollars and their feet.

medical freedom for families

The Question of Medical Freedom

I think another big reason driving this movement are the heavy-handed covid policies in some blue states—masks, lockdowns, and most of all, vaccine mandates, really unheard of in the freest country on Earth. People are simply tired of this.

This is exactly the point Michael Snyder makes in this recent article.

He observes that while one side wants the medical freedom to choose whether or not to take an injection, the other side wants to mandate injections for everyone. For example:

  • Mayor de Balsio of New York City just recently announced mandatory vaccinations for all private sector workers.  
  • In Massachusetts, UMass Memorial Health just let go 200 medical professionals who missed its vaccination deadline.
  • Colorado recently launched the SMART Health Card, making it easy for people to show their vaccination status… a gateway to the vaccine passport?
  • Hawaii has already created an inter-island vaccine passport program that exempts vaccinated travelers from testing or quarantining prior to traveling between islands.
  • Oregon is considering making masks mandatory indoors.

As people tire of the pressure to comply, and workers are let go for resisting the experimental injection, they may naturally gravitate towards counties and states where such measures aren’t required.

In fact, South Dakota has actually launched a campaign to encourage frustrated law enforcement officers to move to their state amid blue-city condemnation of the police.

 The Implications for Real Estate

Finally, from an investment perspective, what will this do to home prices in red states? We’ve already seen some incredible price increases there.

According to a recent ReMax housing market report, four of the five cities experiencing the highest home price appreciation year-over-year were in red states:

  1. Boise, ID, 28.8%
  2. Salt Lake City, UT, 27.3%
  3. Raleigh-Durham, NC, 20.8%
  4. Tampa, FL 19.8%

If the influx proves continued for 2021, prices for top-tier red state cities should remain strong.

So if you’re thinking about making this kind of move, it might be smart from an investment perspective to start looking in secondary metros to find better deals.

If you’re thinking of moving to a red state, I’d say don’t wait too long based on the data!

Where to live is a very personal, sometimes complicated choice, and there’s no one right answer for everyone. 

To help you find your perfect place, we recommend using a spreadsheet with weighted scores to help you clearly prioritize your choices. Our free template below can save you hours of time as you weigh your options.

How to Decide Where to Live

We’ve relocated our family for fun several times. We’ve moved from Silicon Valley to Lake Tahoe to Reno to Puerto Rico and back, with a bit of vagabonding “nomadic life” in between.

Although living in Tahoe is fantastic, we’re not sure it’s our forever home. So we’re starting to look at the best places to live in the United States as we approach retirement. We hope you’ll join us on our amazing adventure, because we’d love to help you find your perfect place too. Here’s exactly what you need to do to get started:

 

Step #1 – Assess Where You Are

My first significant relocation as an adult was out of Stockton, California. I didn’t care for the lack of trees or that it was flat. I disliked the hot summers, the boring culture, and I didn’t like not having a trendy downtown with cool stores and cafés.

I did like the small city conveniences of having two malls. We had some nice parks, and I liked the winter fog and the many canals around town. I also liked that you could drive to either the mountains or the sea in just a couple of hours. But I was ready to try something new.

Take a look at where you’re currently located. What do you hate about your current location? What do you like about it? To get a clearer picture of what’s essential to you, make a list of likes and dislikes.

Step #2 – Make a Spreadsheet

When we were considering relocating to South America, we made a spreadsheet to help us narrow down our choices for where to visit in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay as well as the areas around them.

The sheet is an effective way to quickly and easily compare and score locations for various attributes. In the first column, list out all the attributes that matter most to you, which may include some of the following:

  • Affordability
  • Airport proximity
  • Churches
  • Climate
  • Community vibe
  • Cost of living
  • COVID restrictions
  • Crime stats
  • Government
  • Grocery proximity
  • Gyms
  • Hiking trails
  • Hospital proximity
  • Job opportunities
  • Local community groups
  • Medical care 
  • Proximity to family
  • Recreational activities
  • Restaurants
  • Schools
  • Shopping
  • Sports facilities
  • Startup scene
  • Taxes
  • Things to do
  • Veterinary services
  • Walkability
  • Yoga studios

Add a column that ranks the significance to you on a 0-10 scale to get more accurate results. 1 means the attribute isn’t important to you at all, while 10 means it’s very important.

Next, add columns for each place (city, state or country) that you’re comparing, for example, Miami and Austin. Rank each attribute from 0 to 10. Generally, high scores are good and low scores are bad.

To learn more about any particular attribute, look up information about the location online and make a judgment call. In many cases, such data is readily available from government sources.

If you’re weighting attributes by importance, create a second column with a formula that computes the weighted average of the rating for that place attribute. 

For each place you’ll want to compute an overall score of the weighted attributes.

If all this seems daunting, and you want to have the formulas done for you, copy our free Google Sheet to get started immediately.

We hope you enjoy it! When you begin filling in your new spreadsheet, we recommend ranking your current location to compare against the others.

Step #3 – Google for Ideas

Now comes the exciting part, researching unique locations to see what appeals.

We were seriously considering Chile before we moved to Puerto Rico because it is a huge country with a lot of interesting towns. We did a lot of online research and narrowed down the choices to a small list of places we wanted to visit in person.

One of the first things we considered was whether we wanted to live in a big city or a more rural location.

As we dug deeper, we discovered that we adore smaller towns with lakes and mountains not far from a decent-size city, with a good airport, in a climate where you can produce food.

So we Googled for the top small towns in Chile, best resort towns, where to buy small farms for cheap and so on, just to get started. 

We scoured Google maps and expat forums as well. We ended up adding Puerto Varas, Valdivia, and Pucon to the top of our list of places to explore.

As you do your research, you’ll find many websites, blog posts and listicles that address everything from top cities for entrepreneurs to top towns to raise a family to top places to live off-grid.

YouTube is also a phenomenal resource for learning what it’s like to live in any area of interest.

Put anything that looks interesting on your spreadsheet with links to resources for easy reference until you’ve exhausted the possibilities and have a good list of finalists.

Step #4 – Score Your Top Contenders

We started off by comparing South American nations that we found intriguing. This assisted us in narrowing down our list to Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, with Chile being the winner for us.

We then used the sheet a second time on various towns that looked interesting to help us plan a tour in-country.

You can score as many places as you like and have time to compare. This will help you find the top places to visit to reduce your travel time and cost. 

We strongly recommend visiting first to get a true feeling for the area and not rely on research data. 

What looks interesting online may turn out to be a total disaster in reality—something you’d never know unless you experience it for yourself. 

For example, Diane was interested in a town called Talca in Chile because it was a farming area with inexpensive land, not too far from Santiago. 

The photos looked good on the internet, but when we arrived, it was not what we expected at all. The plaza was okay, but everything was crumbling, poor. There were insufficient services, and it just wasn’t a place we could call home. 

So make those travel plans to see the places you might consider living before making your final decision. You may want to change your scores based on what you see after or during your trip.

Step#5 – Go and Live Local

When we were looking to move to Puerto Rico, we lived like locals during our month-long scouting trip.

We went grocery shopping, to the mall, to the movie theater, to local restaurants (because we dine out frequently), and we spoke with some real estate agents.

They had so much inside knowledge, along with connections to community resources, which made the whole idea of moving there so much easier.

(And by the way, if you need an introduction to a good, local agent anywhere in the US or Puerto Rico, let us know—our team is happy to make that happen.)

So as you visit each place you’re considering, forget the touristy stuff. 

Go out to the grocery store, try the local gym, visit a yoga class, try the nail salon, walk in the park, and sample any other amenity that you need for a happy life. 

Visit the local schools, talk to people in restaurants, and if you’re thinking of buying a home, definitely meet with a good, local real estate agent to get the lay of the land.

Spend the time to get a feel for the place by doing your regular daily activities, and see if you can imagine living there long-term.

Step #6 – Decide Where to Live

Finally, after visiting each of your finalists, weighting and scoring them, it’s time to decide. Take a look at the ratings on your spreadsheet as well as any notes from your visits to the locations you’re thinking about.

Use the spreadsheet as an influential or helpful guide. Obviously, making the final choice as to where you move will ultimately be a gut decision.

You’ve only got one life, so make the most of it and go out there, broaden your horizons, and enjoy the journey.

To help you find your perfect place, we recommend using a spreadsheet with weighted scores to help you clearly prioritize your choices. Our free template below can save you hours of time as you weigh your options.