A Tale of Three Realtors
Recorded with King County on February 14, 2012 at 14:59, Petra and I officially sold our house in Kirkland, Washington to first time buyers Nathan and Sarah Curde with the help of our awesome Keller Williams Realtor, Jeff Jaeger!
We originally took possession of the house in the Kingsgate Highlands, Division 5 subdivision on the fourth of July, 1998 at 11:35, and officially purchased it on July 6, 1998 for $206,000. Thirteen years, seven months, and eleven days later, we sold the house, after a much longer than expected listing period with three separate realtors. We learned a lot from the experience, and have written the following account of the details to help us remember everything that transpired over the extended period.
Kirk Mitchell was our realtor when we bought the house, so we went back to him to sell it. We began talking on March 16, 2010, signed the listing agreement on March 31, 2010, and officially listed the house with Kirk on April 3, 2010 for $439,950.
Kirk was originally with Champions Real Estate, and then switched to RE/MAX while we were listed with them.
Twelve days later on April 15, 2010, Kirk requested that we drop the price by $10,000 and relist it at $429,950. I found this disconcerting thinking that it was way too early to be discussing a price adjustment, and declined. On May 14, 2010, Kirk recommended that we drop the price to $425,000.
I asked him how many open houses he had held. He said that he does a lot of virtual open houses, but didn't find that qualified buyers traffic open houses - so none, he had never held an open house.
I asked Kirk to take care of any needed lawn and maintenance since we were out of state. He couldn't find anyone to do the work, so he and his wife Sherry did the work themselves and billed us $125 to mow, spread out the fertilizer we had in the garage, and reimburse them for some weed killer they bought to take out the dandelions.
After one month we agreed to drop the price on May 23, 2010 by $14,950 to $425,000.
Five weeks later, after receiving no offers or any inquiries during our 90-day listing agreement (a time period referenced within my corporate relocation package to Nashville), we concluded the relationship on June 30, 2010.
Kirk is a Christian, was attentive, and tried very hard, helping with the yard, etc. However, he priced it wrong, didn’t hold any open houses, and most importantly, did not correctly asses the condition of the house, which required considerably more work to be competitive.
I was able to coordinate with corporate relo to relist the house for another 90-day period. 55-Days later on August 23, 2010, I pulled Steve Green's name off the Internet after seeing some of his listings in the area, and reviewing his profile on Windermere.com. We reviewed a number of new comps and other information that Steve had sent me to determine current placement, and we dropped the price again by a whopping $25,050 to be just under $400k, and officially relisted with Steve nine weeks later on September 15, 2010, at $399,950.
I sent an email to Steve two days later on September 17, 2010 regarding the main listing photo and how awful the yard looked. By this time we had been away from the house for over 8 months after leaving to drive to Nashville on January 8, 2010. The yard had been cleaned up by Kirk a few times, but it’s just not the same as the owners living there and constantly taking care of everything, as you can plainly see in Steve’s listing photo.
When I first saw Steve’s photos, I was shocked. The house looked abandoned and completely unkempt. I couldn’t believe that it could get in such condition so quickly, or that he would think that the house and these photos were fine, that either were reflecting a property that was inviting and competitive. So I called my sister Carol and brother-in-law Corey down in Olympia and asked them to drive up and take a look at the house. When they arrived they found that the furnace was not working and the house was freezing. The handrail on the down staircase had been ripped off the wall. There were two holes punched in the main bath wall upstairs. There were some holes in the new carpet. The yard and the gutters and everything outside were in awful shape. All of this was very disappointing to say the least, considering that we had just finished a complete interior remodel on the home only a few months prior. Although there remained one issue with the ceiling between the living room and dining room that we had considerable trouble in finding someone to repair.
So I called Steve and asked him if he had been to the property, rather than just the person who came by to take the pictures. He said that he had, and didn’t see anything wrong at the time. He took no responsibility or real ownership to help resolve the situation, other than suggesting his assistant’s husband I believe could come out to clean things up for ~$500 a month, or we could find someone else.
Fortunately our neighbor is an HVAC expert and was able to come over and quickly resolve the heating situation. My sister and brother-in-law fixed the banister and holes in the bathroom, mowed and raked up the yard, and cleaned the house from top to bottom – all on her birthday. They came out a couple times after that as well to keep things up and help keep an eye on the place. We sent them a new WiFi iPad for all their amazing help.
Another 55-days later on November 8, 2010, Steve requested an $11,950 drop to $388,000, and we agreed. We reduced the price again 50-days later to $374,950 on December 27, 2010. On January 18, 2011 I asked Steve again if he had ever been to our house, if it was intact and secure, if the heat was working, and if both keys were there, after another realtor had reportedly locked the key inside the house. He said that the house was fine, keys were fine, and that he had been there several times. On January 30, 2011 we were told that Windermere did not think staging would get us sold as we were in great condition, but the price we needed to be at in order to really sell the house was $355,000-$360,000.
Petra flew back to Kirkland on March 8, 2011 and assessed the condition of the house. Two days later on March 10, 2011 after receiving a number of disturbing photos from her, I called Steve and told him that we were pulling the house off the market and no longer were in need of his services.
We have the perception that Steve was basically an absentee realtor, who never looked after the house, or our interest, and was just looking for an easy commission. The house was damaged and had deteriorated tremendously during the time that we had it listed with him. Steve also knew that a neighbor was parking his RV on our driveway and never said anything to us, or the neighbor. He never brought us an offer, or ever provided any tangible feedback on the house to improve it or our situation in any way so that we could sell the house. We would never recommend Steve to anyone.
OK, timeout, after being through two realtors and 266 days on MLS with no offers or even any inquires it was time to stop and reassess the situation first hand. So Petra and I both flew back to Seattle where I worked from home for the next month while we tried to remove any blemishes or characteristics in the home that anyone could point out as derogatory.
Unhappy with the results of the first two realtors, I was thinking that it may be time for a FSBO (For Sale By Owner), so on July 23, 2011, I registered and built www.TheKirklandHome.com, where I could write what I wanted without limitations on number of words, or size of my photos, etc.
One of the main changes that we wanted to make was in staging the house. We simply hadn’t staged the house at all before. When we moved out we took everything with us, and the house had been completely empty during the first two listings, which was really hurting us. So we drove around to all the stores in the area to find the best reasonably priced furniture and decorations we could and bought everything we needed to make the house look warm and inviting, and lived in, to make the best presentation possible. In two and a half weeks, from July 28, 2011 to August 14, 2011, we found and purchased furniture, art, and decorations, etc, for every room in the house. It was amazing how it all came together so quickly. God was really with us!
On August 4, 2011, we saw our neighbors getting a new asphalt driveway and asked A Class Paving & Seal Coating, Inc. to do ours as well, which they did for $1,500 cash since they were already there. Then they came out on the 17th and sealed it for $250 cash. The old driveway was in bad shape and this definitely helped with the curb appeal and projecting an image of a newly remodeled home.
On August 6, 2011, we contracted with Access Garage Doors, LLP, through Angie’s List, and Scott Johnson came out and installed two new Amarr Oak Summit 3000 insulated steel back doors in white bead board with black contrasting Blue Ridge faux straps and hinges. We had originally ordered the non-insulated 1000 series, but they were all out of them on the scheduled day of installation, so they upgraded us for free and the doors only cost $1,233! Scott also swapped out the original opener that had been in the house for decades for a newer used opener that matched the one we had on the other side for $137 installed. Scott was very friendly and helpful and did a terrific job; we would highly recommend him.
We met Jeff Jaeger on August 15, 2011 after receiving a wonderful recommendation for him by our neighbor’s daughter Erin Eldridge, for whom Jeff had moved a number of flips the previous year. After getting all of the documentation together we officially listed the house on MLS with Jeff on August 18, 2011 for $409,950.
We had a long talk with Jeff before getting started with him and we told him that we wanted to be extremely aggressive and were willing to do just about anything to sell this house. We shared our complete dissatisfaction about Steven Green, and made it clear that we needed a realtor who would be as aggressive as we were; someone who would hold a lot of open houses and be actively engaged to move our property, and would take care of things in our absence as if it were their own property. Jeff assured us that he was the right person for the job – and he was right.
Jeff held an open house every weekend, sometimes two! When Petra flew back to Nashville to be home for Thanksgiving through New Year’s, Jeff drove her to the airport, and then mowed the lawn every Saturday to prep for the open house on Sunday, even on his birthday.
Jeff would scour the neighborhoods to provide current intelligence on competing property actives, pendings, and solds, visiting the competition and driving Petra around so that she could see herself what was moving and why.
I asked Jeff to get creative with the advertising and if we were doing everything that could be done, so he took out a large display ad in the Seattle Times, and had a professional walkthrough tour video made with narration and music that turned out very nice.
We also found Tim Aitkins from Kirk Remodel Design, Inc., through Angie’s List, who came out on September 6, 2011, and finally began the much needed key repair on our ceiling between the living room and dining room. While that was drying he hung sheetrock in our garage, and under the stairs. Tim was prompt, dependable, respectful, helpful, and an absolute expert at his craft. He completed his work on September 8, 2011, and charged us a very reasonable fee of only $797. Tim was one of the best contractors we’ve ever seen, and we of course highly recommend him!
At this point the house was spotless, move-in ready, and we were finally done with everything. There was nothing left to improve upon, and we were not going to spend another dime on the house. We had built the website, and the rest was up to Jeff from here.
With all of the sales going on around us, and the house being as good as it was at this point, the only thing left for us to do was drop the price even more, and that’s what we did. Even though the house value was estimated to be $440,000 on Zillow.com and elsewhere at the time, and we were $30k below that, we started reducing the price pretty aggressively as I wanted Petra home by her birthday and we just had our fill with the place.
Thirty three days in on September 19, 2011 we made our first price reduction of $15,000 to $394,950. Fourteen days later on October 2, 2011 we made our second price reduction of another $15,000 to $379,950. Nineteen days later on October 20, 2011 we made our third price reduction of $19,950 to $360,000, where we said that’s enough!
One day earlier on October 19, 2011, we extended our listing agreement with Jeff out to February 19, 2011, who also sent updated photos that I put up on TheKirklandHome.com.
Petra had flown back to Nashville so we could spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve together. But since we did not sell the house during that time, she had to fly back to Kirkland to take care of the house there. Neither one of us wanted her to have to go back, and both of us were upset about how much time we had been spending apart with her there. We were at the end of our rope, completely frustrated with the lack of results, especially with all of the hard work we had done on the house. There was absolutely nothing left to do. The house looked incredible and we knew that Jeff Jaeger was doing an amazing job!
Before the economy tanked, before we had done anything on the house, it had appraised at $480,000. Now after the complete remodel and full staging and website, it was on the market for $360,000. Sure, we only paid $206,000 for it, but property was selling all around us for $172 a square foot, and we were only asking $159 a square foot.
Petra and I had read the stories about people burying St. Joseph statues and were thinking that we might be ready to try anything, but of course we are not Catholic, nor do we believe in the practice. But we joked around just before Petra left and about how cool it would be if she could fly there and then be able to fly immediately back after selling the house, and that’s exactly what happened.
Petra flew Southwest from Nashville to Seattle on Sunday, January 8, 2012 and arrived at 5:35 pm, where Jeff picked her up at SeaTac after wrapping up his open house that afternoon. The next morning on my mom’s birthday, Jeff called with the good news that a couple who had come through the open house on Sunday were ready to make an offer. Jeff forwarded me the written offer the next day on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 11:13 am. They came in $10,000 low from the asking price of $360,000 at $350,000, which wasn’t too bad, but they also wanted $8,000 in closing costs. I split it right down the middle and countered with $355,000 and $4,000 closing, which I thought would be the end of it. I received their counter on January 12, 2012 at 10:36 am that accepted the price of $355,000, but still asked for the full $8,000 in closing. Five or six, fine, but eight? Anyway, after all this I wasn’t going to lose the deal squabbling over the closing. I also knew that they were recently married, living with their parents, and first time home buyers, and when we bought the house, I was able to go through the VA with nothing down and no closing, so I just accepted their offer.
I flew back into Seattle January 24, 2012, at 12:35 pm. The next day we rented a Budget 16’ moving truck with three dozen furniture pads for nine days at $911. , Jeff drove over and helped Petra and I load the entire house into the truck, then we drove down to Olympia where we spent the night at Mom & Dad’s before making our exodus back to Nashville.
The home inspection took a week to complete due to the incredible snow storm that blew in. As expected through, we passed it with flying colors and the house came back on the appraisal at value of course. Shannon Ochoa, Escrow Officer/LPO at Northwest Title, LLC, handled the closing that took a couple days, and we finally closed on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012. His Valentine to us was the sale of this house.
THANK YOU GOD!
Our Top 10 Takeaways:
- The old adage holds true, that location, location, location, are still the top three important factors in quality real estate.
- Do your repairs. The botched ceiling repair killed us. If we had had it repaired correctly up front, we probably would have sold it in the first 90-days without all of the other trouble. If you want to sell your house quickly, make sure that there is nothing wrong with it up front.
- Provide a competitive advantage. Competition is fierce in the current economy. It’s definitely a buyers’ market. It’s amazing what you can find now at such low prices. People are investing in quality appliances and materials to be competitive, and pricing their properties low. Know your competition, and be very clear up front about your goals before diving in. If you are going to flip a house these days, be sure to do all your homework upfront and make sure that you can stay within your budget. Pay close attention to your competition, you’ll be surprised what’s out there enticing the buyers away from making an offer on your home.
- Ensure curb appeal. Buyers are making up their minds on a home in the first five seconds when they drive up or see its photo online. Ensure that your home is projecting the right attributes that will entice a buyer. Keep it clean, and give it a coat of fresh paint, buy some flowers and plants to spruce things up, and make sure that it looks great from the first moment they see it.
- Stage the house. Proper staging is critical! It’s a lot harder to sell an empty house than a properly staged one. People have a hard time imagining things and seeing where their furniture might go. You have to stage a house with just enough furniture and décor to help people envision their life in your home, while leaving as much open space as possible. You need to pay attention to the neighborhood and set the appropriate style for your target demographic. Set the right mood by baking some cookies, get the lighting just right, and make sure that your buyers feel warm and at home.
- Market everywhere like crazy. Don’t assume that everyone searches for property the same way, they don’t. You have to investigate the market and discover what is working in your area. You can market through multiple websites, magazines, radio, newspapers, flyers, and door-to-door canvasing.
- Be prepared for the long-haul. You might get lucky like our previous neighbors and sell your house within four hours of posting the sign in your yard, or you might go two years for one offer. If you can’t afford to carry the house payments or simply don’t want to (and who would?) you might consider a month-to-month rental agreement while your house is on the market, so you’re not stuck with anything and at least most of your costs will be covered.
- Have faith. Sometimes things just don't work out as planned, even though you may have done all that you could. You must have faith and trust that God will always provide, because he always does, one way or another. There is always another opportunity right around the corner.
- Know when to say enough is enough, and cut your losses. Stand up for yourself, there are a lot of shysters out there looking to take advantage you. The Bible says that we should be wise as wolves and harmless as doves. I like that.
- Use a quality Realtor!!! We used three realtors, all with very different approaches and opinions. If you have a bad one, your house can wind up damaged and in disrepair like what happened to us with Steve Green. If you’re lucky, like we finally were, you’ll find one who shares your values and delivers quality service and commitment, like we found with Jeff Jaeger. We cannot say enough about Jeff, he is one of the nicest persons ever and is an amazing Realtor. Jeff really went the distance for us and totally scored a touchdown! If you want a first round draft pick on your team, we highly recommend Jeff as your starting quarterback for every game! Thanks for everything Jeff, you were awesome!
To have your house personally showcased here on TheKirklandHome.com, please contact Jeff Jaeger at 1-206-618-0020