Overbuilding the neighborhood

Rick Ryckeley's picture

A real-estate agent came by our house the other day and gave us a free assessment as to its value. With the ever-changing housing market, we thought it was a good idea. Okay, I thought it would be a good idea. The Wife was getting irritated at her husband for bringing a critical stranger in the house during nap time.

Unfortunately, like most things free in this world, the real-estate agent’s free opinion wasn’t worth much. It seems The Wife and I have overbuilt the neighborhood.

As she went though the myriad of reasons why we shouldn’t spend any additional money on our home, I came up with a free assessment of my own. The real-estate agent really didn’t know what she was talking about.

The guided tour of our house started with the outside. As we walked around, I explained the four retaining walls we installed to save the 100-year-old oaks. We reclaim gutter water with an underground piping system and the retaining walls terrace the yard, enabling us to install more plants and trees than grass. I was proud of the fact we had planted more trees than were removed when we built our house. It was then the real-estate agent said, “Landscaping doesn’t sell a house; it’s not important.”

Oh, really? It was time for the real-estate agent to get an education. I told her about another homeowner who thought preserving trees and the environment was important. On his self-sufficient 125,000-acre estate located in Asheville, N.C., he had planted 1,000 trees a day for 10 years, reforesting the spent farmland.

Back in 1895, I’m sure some real-estate agent told George Vanderbilt that landscaping wasn’t important also. Frederick Olmsted, the man who started the National Forest, designed the U.S. Capitol grounds, and built that little park located in the center of New York, designed and built the many gardens on his estate. I suggested that she go for a visit to see how important landscaping is to a home. She suggested we go inside.

After showing her the entire house, we headed for the basement. For months, the Wife and I have been building the gym, workroom, home theater, and wine cellar. The only things left to complete were a bathroom and hardwood floors. After looking at all we had done, she said, “I wouldn’t spend any more money on your basement, you’ve already overbuilt the neighborhood.”

Oh, really? The house that good old George built was three stories, 170,000 square feet, and had one of the first elevators in the country. It also had 33 bedrooms, hot and cold running water for the 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Cutting-edge technology throughout the home and located in the basement included a swimming pool, a gym, walk-in refrigerators, two huge boilers that brought central heat to every room and, yes, even a wine cellar.

Somewhere along the line in our recent economic climate, people have gotten the idea that a house is a tool — a tool that should be flipped in order to make money. They are wrong. A house is your home and it’s meant to be lived in. That’s what George Vanderbilt thought when he overbuilt the neighborhood of the post-reconstruction South.

William Cecil, Jr., was born in the house his great-grandfather built over 113 years ago. Requested by the city of Asheville, in 1930 the Cecils opened the house up for the public to tour and enjoy.

That’s what my plans are: in about 20 years I’m sure the city of Senoia will ask me and The Wife to open our house up for public tours of the award-winning designed landscaping, the yet-to-be built water gardens and, of course, the overbuilt basement and wine cellar.

I wonder if we can charge $50 a ticket like the Vanderbilts.

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Submitted by KateHenley on Mon, 10/26/2009 - 5:28am.

Thanks for sharing this information. I found it very informative as I have been researching a lot lately on practical matters such as you talk about...
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mudcat's picture
Submitted by mudcat on Thu, 09/11/2008 - 7:22pm.

Where to start.
I had a real estate license and let it lapse a few years ago. Those useless continuing education classes were not only boring and useless - it put me in the same room as a bunch of uneducated losers who were there just to keep their real estate license current.

And losers they were. No emphasis on learning the business - only an emphasis on self-promotion and "prospecting" whatever that means. Most of the clueless were from Metro Brokers and Keller Williams and Bullard - obviously real estate agent factories that process new agents through their alleged system.

There were 3 winners there - 1 from Home Source and 2 from Prudential and it was intersting to see the 2 recruit the 1 and he actually agreed to join them following week. It was also interesting to see the 3 winners avoid the many losers - mostly based upon the losers name badge.

Nevertheless, real estate agents are generally not that smart or helpful.

Robert W. Morgan's picture
Submitted by Robert W. Morgan on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 4:34am.

Sure there are good and bad in every profession, but the Realtors weed out their own bad apples long before they can damage the public or at least they try most of the time. Most of the bad rap they get is because those that take listings really have no control over actually selling that house, since they rely upon other agents who do have customers to bring them to their listings. The big flaw in all this is that the agents who list are not honest about their role or the role of the other agents. If they were honest, it would lead to a trend towards discounted real estate commissions. Hasn't because the Realtor organizations have a very strong lobby and up until recently a stranglehold on information.

All this will change in a few years as poor market conditions and technology advances weed out the old school bluehairs who can't adapt to changing times. The shrinking market and the inevitable advance of discount brokers like Rhonda Duffy ($500 gets you everything you need to sell your house - including MLS access) will also make it more difficult for the untrained part-timers to enter the profession.

Those 2 groups - the bluehairs who think balloons on signs sell houses and the new people who still work at Delta or UPS and are "trying" real estate part-time are the ones that provide people like mudcat with all the real estate agent horror stories. Fortunately they are in the minority and are most certainly a dying breed as the real estate business morphs into something that is 100% based upon technology and empowers the next generation of home buyers and sellers to be in total control of their transaction.

Lot's of used Lincoln and Lexus sedans will be available for sale very soon.

Full disclosure - I taught a real estate class for 15 years.

Submitted by Bonkers on Mon, 10/26/2009 - 7:12am.

I have always thought of "agents" as part of a Ponzi scheme. One of our U.S. Senators used to be a Realtor--not an agent. He is a multi-millionaire!
It seems that they take any and everyone into the fold if they have a "license" (attended class and paid for it) and the realtors gross share of sales is about half of each agent.

If one does the math on the average agent one finds that they make a minimum amount of money over a month. However minimum amounts times 100 equals a lot of money.

I never have thought that the MLS was anything more than a monopoly for realtors! Not allowed to reduce the selling charge significantly by MLS??? Like furniture companies demanding that furniture stores sell at factory dictated prices!

It is the same with all the ladies products sold by millions of sales ladies.

I am talking "averages here and of course on a "bell" curve a few middle "artists" in the lady business can do well also.

I also suspect that the Realtor favors certain agents for advertising purposes--able to say they sold a million dollars worth (2-3 houses in Fayette in a year.)

The big problem is that the buyer pays all of the fees since the house will be priced to include all overhead if possible.

Houses would sell cheaper if no fee existed. How? Owner selling lists it and shows it. Hires own lawyer.

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