Halfway Selling and Cuban Coffee Thoughts

Success with a client means listening. Talking over coffee, getting to know the property and the client is always a part of the job. Thinking about the relationships I have with clients, I can remember the kind of trust a good transaction leaves behind. I’ve read books about sales, relationships, maintaining relationships, real estate practice and even psychology or marketing related to the business. Does it matter? I think, for me, having a relationship after the sale and building trust that lasts through future business means more than the first sale.

If I make the sale and feel I may never work with the client again, whether I missed something or I failed to connect, it is a disappointment. I always feel the cup is only half full if I leave out either side of the transaction.

By the way, one of the best coffee stops on Amelia Island is at Hola Cuban Café on North 2nd Street. Not much more than a courtyard and tiny interior, this was my first exposure to Cuban coffee and now a stop several times each week. Running into the same people each week, with the running group toward the end of the week, local business owners and the owners, interesting on their own, is the kind of thing I enjoy about living here, but also the kind of place to build friendships. As adults or in sales, it is far too easy to be caught up in life and forget the details. The details make life worth living and make sales into something far more. Years ago, my original broker’s motto was “People Who Care”. She passed away in 2000, but I still think about her approach to life and sales. Care about your client. Treat the client with respect and try to give more than they expect. At the end of the day, the relationship and your reputation is always more important than a sale.

 

 

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Low Ball Offers

Presenting an offer can become personal when the offer is far below the asking price. The best advice I ever heard from an old agent is to think of the offer as a “wish”. Spending time with realistic buyers is a big part of making your living, but all good agents think through the best way to present an offer without creating an emotional reaction from the seller. It can be easy to miss the potential for damaged relationships, when working with offers for a living.

“Presenting all offers and counteroffers in a timely manner, unless a party has previously directed the licensee otherwise in writing;” Source: A portion of the Transaction Broker Notice, Florida Statutes 475.278

What is a “low ball offer”? 10% under asking price probably isn’t lowball, but 20 or 30%? It all depends on the market segment and price range. If you see the chart, higher price ranges tend to see a greater drop during negotiation. The days on market is usually higher as well. I like to pull average sales prices and look at average sales price as a percentage of original list to final selling. This can soften the blow to an owner, but can also help a buyer with a “lowball everything” mindset.

  • Is there any chance of reaching agreement?
  • Do all parties have data on the market?
  • Research on the individual property to determine if it is a potential exception?
  • Condition of property and alternatives?

Knowing the trend in negotiation can help bring reality to an offer for agents, buyers and sellers. Assuming each property is different can help. As a broker, I know each property is different, but I also have a good idea when there is no possibility. The numbers you see below are sometimes skewed by new construction selling at more than list price or by distress “outliers” or statistically unhelpful sales.

The ratios now are higher than they were a few years ago and the number of distressed properties is far lower than it was in 2007 to 2011. Knowing the type of property, having a feel for how the property is priced when listed, saves time for me and makes a big difference to a client.

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Community, History and Diversity

I’m an Amelia Island native and have lived here for the majority of my adult life. The charm everyone finds on Amelia Island is really all about the diversity in such a small place. Beaches and river views just a short drive from each other offer amazing views, but the working pieces of the island made is a great place to grow up. My family came here originally, when my father moved here with the opening of Rayonier in the 1939, from another facility in Washington State. Mom worked at the Jacksonville Journal, the Nassau County School Board in accounting and finally opened a real estate brokerage in the 70’s.

The scenery you see along the water and interesting skylines all trace the history of the working waterfront. Whether you’re looking at the port cranes, the mill silhouetted in the sunrise or shrimp boats docked. Our local seafood and dining, recreational fishing or watersports….it all tells a story. The identity or “sense of place” developers try to recreate is something natural to Amelia Island. Where else can you find pirates, a history of 8 different flags, Spanish, French, English, American….legends of buried treasure, ghosts, old forts, world class fishing, world class beaches, dining, locally caught seafood, a historic district, two 5 star resorts, A rated public schools……. Should I go on?

I know of no other place I’d prefer to live and, adding a nearby international airport, diverse tax base and diverse people, we’ll be a more attractive destination for many years.

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Tax Certificates, Auctions, Debt, Divorce, Death and More…..

Every sale has a story. Moving up, moving down, divorce, death, debt, job change….everyone has a motivation and reason to sell. If selling, it makes sense to minimize clues to the level of motivation. Considering the sale of a property, from a buyer’s perspective, it makes sense to look at public record, unpaid taxes and any other visible clues. What was paid and when, is debt attached, are taxes paid, are there any other issues with potential to change the seller’s reply to an offer? I
routinely take time to look for any public records or public information of potential interest to a buyer. Are permits closed? Is the property well maintained? Are permits closed and

It is possible to seriously damage the marketability of a property. Some of the most damaging information can be inadvertent, but sometimes seeing a property from a buyer’s perspective makes a huge difference. One property, years ago, had been scheduled for an auction. The auction, although unsuccessful, had been advertised online and the ad remained for many months…possibly remaining now. When working with a subsequent buyer, guess what came to the top of a search for the property address? Another red flag can be unpaid property tax. After two or more years, certificate holders can apply for a tax deed. See the information below, but unpaid taxes, like any other debt, can say something about level of motivation.

Finding a way to help both parties reach an equilibrium or fairly negotiate, can sometimes be about seeing whether there appears to be any possible room to reach an agreement. Is there room to sell at market value? After looking at one property for a client, I made a mental list of the loans, back taxes and deferred maintenance. The loan alone, showing a liz pendens from a lender, may already exceed the list price, but tax certificates had been sold…amounting to around $20,000.00. The loan at around $350,000, with potential for attorney’s fees and back payments alone, might easily reach the mid $400’s…before considering the cost to repair the neglected property. Market value for the property, if fully restored, is around $400,000, in my opinion. This is a very unlikely sale, but I’ll add up the financial obstacles. From a buyer’s perspective, $350,000 is stretching the comfort level. The property doesn’t justify the $350,000 offering price, but the location has potential. Looking at the seller’s side, I see a minimum $141,000 shortage. Unless the lender takes a reduced payoff or the seller can bring a lot of cash to close, this sale would have almost no chance to close.

Tax Certificate Sale: Beginning on or before June 1st each year, the Tax Collector is required by law to hold a tax certificate sale. The Tax Certificate Sale is conducted online at:  www.bidnassau.comThe sale offers certificates for the amount of tax debt including applicable interest and fees. The sale is conducted in an auction style with participants bidding downward on interest rates starting at 18%. The certificate is awarded to the lowest bidder.  A tax certificate earns a minimum of 5% interest to the investor until the interest has accrued to greater than 5%, with the exception of “zero” interest bids, which always earn “zero” interest.The tax certificate, when purchased, becomes an enforceable first lien against the real estate. The certificate holder is actually paying the taxes for a property owner in exchange for a competitive bid rate of return on his or her investment. In order to remove the lien, the property owner must pay the Tax Collector all delinquent taxes plus accrued interest, costs, and other charges. The Tax Collector then issues a check to the certificate holder.A tax certificate is valid for seven years from the date of issuance. The certificate holder may apply for a tax deed when two or more years have elapsed since the date of delinquency. If the property owner fails to pay the tax debt, the property is sold at a public auction. The highest bidder will receive a tax deed for the property. Source: http://www.nassautaxes.com/PropertyTaxes.aspx 1/14/2017

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Research, Accurate Listings, Expectations…and Never Boring

I don’t know everything. You don’t know everything. Everyone is missing a gap in knowledge somewhere and being honest with a client is much more important than pretending to be a walking encyclopedia. Knowing where to find information and having the sense let a client know it might take a little time to verify, makes a huge difference. I’m thinking about the day and a specific conversation with a new agent, but I also just mailed in a check for Errors and Omission Insurance. I hope to avoid using the policy, but carrying a policy, even after so many years in the industry, is more important than you might think.

Several months ago, I met a client interested in an opinion of value. As a broker, I frequently spend time looking at properties…often unpaid, but the goodwill is a kind of profit. The property was worth quite a bit more than the owner originally assumed. Anyway, during the visit, I realized the boundary had a problem and he probably had an issue with two easements. One looked like an easement by prescription and one was worded in an odd way. Since I’m not an attorney and avoid going beyond the limit of my license, I referred him to an attorney and a surveyor. Knowing what a prescriptive easement might be and might look like made a difference, but I found more than one reason to send him to an attorney. Warning flags for me included multiple quit claim deeds without preparation by an attorney, the owner’s original purchase without title insurance or a survey, buildings I thought might be unpermitted, a neighbor expanding a very narrow unrecorded easement…and, if that weren’t enough, what looked like an error on an earlier deed. As a broker, I could only advise a visit with an attorney and explain why I felt he might need the added advice, but this owner needed professional help before selling. I spent a few hours doing some homework, but saved serious time and money by being thorough.

How much detail goes into each listing? It all depends, but the more I know, the less time I waste. I’d much rather spend the time before meeting a client and before listing a property….and would think the chance of liability drops if I take the time to prepare. I’ve lost a few listings over the years, oddly enough. One property had been a dry cleaner and disposed of waste on-site. I couldn’t, technically, prove the disposal, but I lost the listing to an agent unfamiliar with the history of the property. I can only hope the property sold with an environmental audit. An elderly woman wanted to sell, but an “out of state” relative decided to list at a price significantly below my opinion of market price. To this day, I don’t know why I lost the listing, but feel the property sold at 20 to 30% below market. Real Estate can be an odd adventure. We’re expected to know a little about everything….just enough to recommend the right professional, but knowing too much occasionally loses the client. I wouldn’t change a thing!

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Downtown Fernandina Rumor Mill

In discussing some of the changes downtown with a client, I’m becoming aware of the partial information everyone seems to hear, when change is discussed. After an introduction by the current City Manager in the January 10, 2017 Special Meeting video, we hear input from a number of locals and interested parties. The summary around minute 31 by Mayor Lentz and the initial summary at the beginning of the video, by the City Manager Dale Martin, are worth hearing and particularly valuable.

In my opinion, there are “MANY” issues involved in changes to downtown. The damage by Matthew brought attention to the marina. Silting and issues with cost to run and maintain the marina is a concern. Have safety issues changed whether we can fit industrial, commercial, tourism and pedestrian traffic in the same areas?  The discussion of this concept, by the way,  originated with FDOT and FCRR after repeated extensions of a permit to open Alachua over a period of years.

Growth in Fernandina is continual and we are seeing a great deal of interest in redeveloping or repurposing properties. As a broker, I see several benefits to planning in a unified way. We will continue to grow and there are blighted properties in Historic Fernandina, ripe for redevelopment. Allowing easier use of buildings for mixed use, makes sense and planning for future development impact is good government. I think we tend to forget the commissioners may work with unpopular, but unavoidable issues. Traffic, growth, economic vitality and safety are all important. Looking for the best path to preserve a better outcome for Fernandina is important and public input is important.

  • How do we obtain a best outcome for Fernandina, if the traffic pattern is inevitable and is it inevitable?
  • Will FDOT require Centre Street changes, whether or not Alachua is open?
  • Are we considering future growth?
  • Are we looking at all issues, including damage to the marina, ramp, front street traffic, safety, funding possible and, always, the best outcome for Fernandina?

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Looking Backward and Thoughts

Looking at the history of residential sales in Nassau County, FL, I can see several trends and feel comfortable in the continued strength in the local market. If you notice the drop in sales under $100,000, I think this indicates an increase in price and fewer available properties in lower price ranges. Almost every price range increased in number of sales and inventory is low. Builders should look at days on market and demand in the $300,000 to $500,000 price range and sales volumes over $600,000 would tell me to be cautious as the price range increases.

Compare to the chart and number of sales for Amelia Island….

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Sunshine and Uncommon Information

In my job, I’m very pleased to know a little about how to request records and information.  I thought the following training session saved as a public record, might be well worth considering.  From the public official’s perspective, they tend to worry about maintaining records and avoiding improper meetings or communicating without notice. 

As a broker, knowing which records might help with a sale can make a huge difference.  The following video is actually public official’s training, but it gives you a feel for records you might expect to be able to retrieve with a simple request.  Examples of records I’ve used include a site plan for a distillery in another town, original plans with detail for two restaurants, surveys, bids, inspections, permit records and even records of code violations.   A huge amount of information, like this video,  is public, if you know where to look, but knowing who and how to ask, makes a big difference.  

 

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Centre Street Crossing “Might” Close…from Front to 2nd

There is always another side to the story. I’m re-reading a recent editorial in the local paper and am a little saddened. Over a period of years, there have been safety concerns surrounding the Centre Street rail crossing in the Historic District. DOT and First Coast Railroad were eventually involved as the City of Fernandina Beach looked for a solution to safety, quiet zones, crossings, opening a street and improving the waterfront, while preserving parking. During this period, cars parking near the track illegally, were hit by trains. By the way, in collisions with trains, the train is never at fault. In my opinion, we are where we are today, because the railroad was gradually forced to acknowledge and address safety issues with the crossings in Downtown Fernandina. Safety can be difficult. Once public and a matter of record, can a problem simply be ignored? Consider First Coast Railroad. If 1, 2 or 3 collisions with cars occurred over the last few years, would this change insurance rates or liability? How about substandard tracks or crossings? Add pedestrians crossing while DOT or FCR employees are in Fernandina to discuss options. Pictures of people walking down the tracks for engagements may or may not be a part of the position, but the crossing does have a lot of pedestrian traffic and the liability, from the perspective of the railroad or DOT, is probably unacceptable. What happens when a safety issue becomes very public?

In my opinion, the closure of the rail crossing at Centre Street could be a “sooner or later” eventuality. The crossing is too close to the Ash Street crossing, has below standard crossing arms, a record of accidents and daily parking violations near the crossing. Is it more reasonable to do nothing or to try to make lemonade out of a lemon? Fernandina has more traffic and different traffic than it did 30 years ago. The waterfront isn’t such a working waterfront today. Charter fishing isn’t quite the same as commercial shrimping or fishing. Adapting to change is a part of remaining a successful town and, as a native, I’ve had a lifetime of watching change. Change can be negative or you can turn change into profit. Our CRA’s goal is to encourage development in an area considered either a target for redevelopment and underutilized or a “blighted area”….take your pick. No commissioner would willingly choose to close Centre Street. It is ridiculous, disingenuous, malicious and an outright “LIE” to try to saddle commissioners with this bit of disinformation. Fernandina’s City Commission and any elected official will try to minimize damage and make a profit of some kind, given a difficult and unavoidable change. If the closure of Centre Street became unavoidable, it would be irresponsible to turn away assistance in improving the resulting problem. Consider Centre Street closed without an opening of Alachua Street. I agree, Alachua’s opening and the years of discussion might have drawn added attention to Centre, but the safety issues were, literally, an accident waiting to happen. Any planning or change in or near the waterfront would eventually risk being undermined if the Centre Street crossing drew attention. What about Ash Street? Well, normally, the railroad will not allow improvement or even permit crossings so close. Moving a crossing might be a best alternative….so does Alachua become the “lemonade” to an potential eventuality of closure at Centre?

When I was in office, my intention was to do as much as possible for Fernandina. I’m a native and am very aware of the change we all love/hate. Taking changes and making that change into opportunity is part of living on the island and, I hope, a part of local government. We all hope to leave Fernandina a little better than it was when we were elected. As a former Mayor and Commissioner, I would hope we all consider the often partially informed sources of criticisms and good intentions every public servant brings to office.

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Fernandina…Old Town Embraces New Urbanism Ideas

In Downtown Fernandina, we have an unusual opportunity to see an “evolved” kind of chaos in development. We have mixed use, but zoning that doesn’t currently encourage the same mixed uses. Tonight, the first reading of a change to increase density is being considered by the Fernandina Beach City Commission. At first glance, it looks like a huge change to density. In reality, density can only reach a certain point, limited by the size of the lot, setback and off-street parking required by a residential use. A number of older buildings or vacant/blighted properties, would benefit tremendously through redevelopment. To learn more and over the last few years, I thought it made sense to become informed. Does mixed use and manageable higher density work? We can look to Jane Jacobs ideas below, but we can also look to Fernandina’s past. Fernandina once boasted more banks, grocery stores and old-fashioned owner occupied buildings. Over time, fixing zoning into areas designated as commercial or residential can create issues for an existing location. There is a problem with every plan. In Fernandina’s case, the plan left numerous non-conforming properties and often limited the change in highest and best use as the makeup of the Historic District changed.

Jane Jacobs, the activist/journalist who opposed the great urban planner Robert Moses. Jacob’s opposed Moses’ plans for more highways, parking lots and high-rise residential buildings with more walkable streets, greater building density and fewer cars. She wanted to make the city pedestrian friendly because above all else, cities are meant for people. http://postgreenhomes.com/urban-planning-101-mixed-use/ 1/2/17

As a broker, I’m more aware of the change in demand with several commercial, potential mixed use, properties listed. The clear majority of buyers want to live upstairs downtown or would like the ability to build residential uses on second or third floors. Any building with available off-street parking sells at a premium. Considering the benefits of the natural tendency toward mixed use, higher economic impact and the potential for different times for traffic and parking, I hope Fernandina considers the value of offering an easier path for mixed use and the value of the collision of diverse uses. The idea of collision density and mixed use are both in line with New Urbanism principles…. walkability, connectivity, mixed use and diversity, mixed housing, quality design, traditional neighborhood structure, smart density and transportation, sustainability and finally quality of life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Urbanism People think about quality of life, but increasing diversity and density can change productivity as well.

 

Letter in support of Comp Plan Amendment, I feel is a very beneficial direction for Fernandina.

In Support of 8.2 Email from Ed Boner

Subject: 8.2 Thoughts and please do not “reply all”

I want to briefly offer support for the below amendment.   I feel the change will be desirable for Downtown Fernandina and encourage mixed use development.   Since the true effect is only a single added unit per platted lot.   I also feel the benefit of added parking requirement for residential uses will improve long term parking and economic vitality downtown.   The change appears to be consistent with the Main Street approach to strengthening the downtown area.   

You might like the following article on collision density. https://www.fastcoexist.com/3058924/what-makes-a-thriving-and-interesting-city-something-called-collision-density   Basically, encouraging nearby diverse uses increases the economic impact in a small area.   I feel encouraging diversity, encouraging one use requiring off street parking and offering a better path to logical revitalization ….is exactly what you should want as commissioners and taxpayers.  

…..

“8.2. COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AMENDMENT – DOWNTOWN DENSITY COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AMENDMENT – DOWNTOWN DENSITY – ORDINANCE 2017-02 AMENDING THE COMPREHENSIVE PLAN BY STRIKING POLICY 1.04.05 COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AREA DENSITY BONUS INCENTIVE PROGRAM AND AMENDING POLICY 1.07.09 TO INCREASE THE BASE DENSITY WITHIN THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT; PROVIDING FOR SEVERABILITY; AND PROVIDING FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE. Synopsis: Amends the Comprehensive Plan specific to downtown density.”


 

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