Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 8: Displaying Bad House Models or Architectural Plans

Bad House Model 0

In my ongoing crusade to rid the world of bad marketing photos of land, I have noticed that some of the worst are bad images of architectural plans and models.  Here are some posted by other agents.

 

Actual architectural model complete with monster flower landscaping in backyard:

Bad House Model 1

 

Illegible fine print image actually posted in the MLS:

Bad House Model 2

 

Wrinkled architectural drawing spread out on top of front car window and held down by a windshield wiper:

Bad House Model 3

 

The message of this image is clear:  Buy this land and you can build a mundane single story ranch-style house here.  Plans included!

Bad House Model 5

 

Blobs are probably trees.  I like trees.  Trees are good.  Other than that I don’t know what’s going on in this drawing:

Bad House Model 4

 

Fanciful house on a knoll with basement “hobbit doors”.  Not a bad drawing for a story book.  But perhaps a “specific taste” as Realtor’s like to say when they don’t want to seem catty:

Bad House Model 6

 

Four variations on the same boring theme:

Bad House Model 7

 

Plans that only a community college Architectural Drawing 101 course instructor could love:

Bad House Model 8

 

Advice to Buyers:

The most important thing about seeing architectural plans in the MLS is not actually the plans themselves.  What’s important is that when you see plans it’s like a big flashing neon sign that someone has investigated the land and decided that the parcel for sale is at least buildable.  Because if it wasn’t buildable, why would the seller have invested so much time and money in plans?  Since not every parcel is buildable this signal is pretty important.

You don’t need to pay too much attention to whether you like the architectural style of the house depicted.  Just note how the house shown in the plans or model is situated on the terrain.  Any house you build might relate to the land in the same way, particularly if the land is sloped.  Beyond that, you can change the plans or lose them entirely.

 

Advice to Sellers:

Yes I know you paid thousands of dollars for those plans.  And there they sit rolled up and standing in the corner of your closet, smirking at you.  Every time you look at them they remind you of the grand house you were planning to build (and the amazing life you were going to have in that house).  And now, for whatever reason, you have decided you don’t want to build.  You want to sell the land and you’re depressed that the plans are totally useless.

I’m sorry to tell you this but you will not get that money you invested in architectural drawings and models back.  It’s what your economics professor referred to as a “sunk cost”.  I do hope you were paying attention in class because that cost is really sunk baby.

This means that making architectural plans available to the buyer is not likely to increase the price you can get for your land.  There are two reasons for this:  1) Most buyers in the current economy are investors, not folks with plans to build.  Investors usually don’t care about plans as much as you might hope they would.  2) Buyers who do want to build their dream home will likely want to have their own unique plans drawn up.  The upshot is that most buyers will not use your plans and they certainly won’t pay for them.

I have never once in my career as a Broker had a buyer contact me and say they are looking for land to build a house and especially wanted land where architectural plans were already in place.  I have also never heard a buyer express enthusiasm that a seller was offering plans with their land.  Also, none of the buyers that I have sold land+plans to have ever built a house using the seller’s plans.  I conclude:  Demand for plans equals approximately zero.

Now, sellers, get ready to really be annoyed with this kicker… even if buyers don’t intend to build using your plans, buyers will still want a copy of them.  But this does not mean they will pay for them.  So my advice to you as a seller is to just include the drawings in the deal.  Don’t mention that you’re charging for them.  Just be sure you get a good price for your land.  It’s not worth the effort and conflict will that will be created by trying to negotiate a separate price for plans.  As I explain above, your plans do have value but their value lies primarily in their worth as a signal that your land is buildable.  Get a good price for your real estate because it is buildable, not because you’re selling paper with it.

 

Advice to Agents:

Always remember that real estate agents are licensed to sell real estate (i.e., real property).  Houses are real estate.  Land is real estate.  Architectural plans and models depict real estate but they are not real estate.  They are personal property, paper, not real property.  So as a Realtor, think of plans and models as simply an aid to help you sell what you’re licensed and contracted to sell:  the land.

I find that the only time the availability of plans is likely help to sell land is in urban areas such as Los Angeles when the lot for sale is very sloped.  For lots like this, if buyers view the land in its natural state, they may be uncertain about how to orient a house on a steeply sloped lot, how to grade it, where the driveway will go, how many stories it might be, or whether it’s even possible to build there.  By displaying in the MLS a model showing the house on the terrain you are conveying a clear message to potential buyers: “hey gang: an architect looked at this sloped site and deemed it buildable; see here are the house plans as evidence!”

A second situation in which you will want to show one or more images of plans or models in the MLS is when the seller himself is an architect, architectural engineer, or contractor and the seller is keenly interested in marketing his services in combination with the land.  For example, the seller may be advertising that he will “build to suit”.  You can help your client out by displaying his wares – the architectural drawing and models – in the MLS.  Post one or two images of plans and models, no more.   The rest of the images should be of the land itself and helpful maps.

If you do show plans in the MLS, do not show images of black and white floor plans.  Those are far too bland to be visually appealing in the colorful MLS where your listing is competing with other listings for attention.  If you must show architectural drawings, then show one or two colorful views of the exterior of the house.  Be sure to choose at least one drawing that shows not only the house, but how the house sits in context on the land.  This is important, because you are selling land, not an existing house.

In the other 98% of cases, there is little reason to display plans in the MLS and on other sites.  For example, if you’re selling 5 flat acres in a rural area and the seller happens to have plans for a ranch style house, note there are many house sizes and configurations that would work well on that kind of accommodating terrain.  Further, stock plans for ranch style houses are widely available.  So in cases like this it’s not that helpful to show plans.  Just mention in the text that you have plans and say they’re available, but don’t show them in place of a photo.

Don’t ask buyers to drive to your office to view plans.  That’s old fashion and time-consuming for you and for buyers.  Rather, distribute them via a PDF file to buyers who want them.  Go to Office Max, Office Depot, Staples, Kinko’s or a similar office supply/photocopy store and get the plans scanned into a PDF file.  Post the PDF file on your website or advertise that you can e-mail plans as a PDF attachment to interested buyers upon request.  This is also a good way to get buyers to contact you so that you can establish a dialogue and sell them that land.

Remember, don’t try to negotiate a separate price for plans.  It’s too time consuming and not worth it.  If you have permission from the seller, just give them away via a PDF file as a courtesy in your effort to sell the parcel.  Remember, selling the land is the goal.

So to summarize all of this:  Include plans and models in the MLS only when they provide a needed signal that the land is actually buildable or when the seller an architect, contractor and wants to market his services.  Plans should be in color and show the exterior of the home in the context of the land.  Include no more than two images of plans/models in the MLS.  Consider giving plans away by e-mail or on your website.  And remember what you’re selling – land, not paper!

 

This blog post is part 8 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 7: Photos are Blurry

Blurry MLS Photos

In an effort to sell land, one of the most curious photographic sins is blurriness.  When I see fuzzy photos of land for sale, I always think “what the heck?”

Here is a collection of blurry photos posted by other agents in the MLS, supposedly in an effort to sell their land listings.   What could these agents be thinking?

Blurry photo 14

 

Blurry photo 12

 

Blurry photo 11

 

Blurry photo 10

 

Blurry photo 9

 

Blurry photo 8

 

Blurry photo 7

 

Blurry photo 6

 

Blurry photo 5

 

Blurry photo 4

 

Blurry photo 3

 

Blurry photo 2

 

Blurry photo 1

 

Advice to Buyers:

If the photo is blurry then ignore the photo and go see the land in person.  Oh, never mind, just ignore that land.  It’s probably not worth it.

 

Advice to Sellers:

If your agent is posting photos like these on the internet, get another agent.

 

Advice to Agents:

I have been racking my brain trying to figure out why a real estate agent would post blurry photos.  Like, um, how come?  You are trying to sell the land, right?  I don’t get it.

If you find yourself in a position where you have only fuzzy photos of the land, don’t just go ahead and post them to the MLS.  There are better alternatives.  The best solution is to go take better photos.  If that’s impossible (e.g., you’re getting on a plane for your 3 week overseas vacation when you check your camera) then the second best solution is to pay someone else to go take better photos.

If new land photos are logistically impossible for the moment then you could post one or more colorful images of maps.  Try an aerial map, zoning map, location map, or topographical map of the land.  Clean clear crisp versions of maps are available on the internet, just save them as a JPG file and upload them to the MLS in place of a photo.  Or you might post an image related to the land that is not a photo of the land itself.   For example, when I was selling a gold mine I posted a stock image of a nugget of gold – this conveys the idea of “gold mine” to buyers in an instant.  When selling a lot in an attractive guard gated community, you could post an image of the landscaped front gate.  When selling a riverfront parcel, post an image of the river.  These photos are likely available on the internet (but pay attention to copyright).   Choose a photo that is helpful, conveys a message such as “gold”, “gated”, or “river”, and is not misleading.  You get the idea.

A good clear photo of the land is usually best.  However almost any clear alternate image is better than a blurry image of the land.

 

This blog post is part 7 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 6: Featuring Real Estate Signs in Photos

John Doe, Agent To The Stars!

When I search for vacant land parcels for sale in real estate websites such as Zillow.com, Trulia.com, and the MLS  I often see photos of real estate SIGNS instead of photos of real estate.

It is one thing to install a “for sale” sign on the land so that someone driving by will know the land is available for sale. That’s cool.  But it’s quite another thing to then take a photograph of the sign (often in lieu of taking a photo of the land itself) and post the photo of the real estate sign on the internet.

The sign contains the broker’s name, company and phone number.  The photo of the sign contains the broker’s name, company and phone number.  And that photo is often posted next to a paragraph that contains the broker’s name, company and phone number.  What’s the point of the redundancy?

Sometimes other agents post no photos of the land itself, just a photo of the real estate sign.  Other times there are photos of the land, but the photo of the real estate sign is featured prominently as the primary photo, the first in the sequence.  This first photo is often the only one that buyers see as they breeze through multiple land listings on their iPad, click, click, click…

When I see photos of real estate signs I can’t help but wonder:  Is the broker advertising the land or is the broker advertising the broker?

Here is a collection of photos of signs I found on the internet.  They were posted by other agents in marketing their land listings.

 

Sometimes it’s one sign

Signs photo 2

 

Signs photo 1

 

Signs photo 3

 

Signs photo 6

 

Signs photo 11

 

Signs photo 12

 

Signs photo 14

 

Signs photo 20

 

Signs photo 22

 

Signs photo 24

 

Signs photo 23

 

Sometimes it’s two signs

Signs photo 10

 

Signs photo 13

 

Signs photo 15

 

Signs photo 16B

 

Signs photo 81

 

And sometime it’s three or more signs

Signs 25

 

Signs photo 5

 

Perhaps it’s a sign with shadow

Signs 25

 

Signs photo 8

 

Or a sign on ground

Signs photo 2

 

Maybe a sign with car

Signs photo 7

 

A sign with dogs

Signs photo 80 

For variety, a sideways sign

Signs photo 3

 

Then there is the non-real estate sign

GetMedia

 

Signs photo 4

 

And my personal favorite, a blank sign

Signs photo 1

 

Why Do Brokers Post Photos of Real Estate Signs?

There are at least four reasons why Realtors post photographs of signs.

 

Reason #1:  To Get Buyers to Call the Seller’s Broker Instead of the Buyer’s Broker

Say Broker A gets a listing on some land and represents the seller.  Broker A installs sign on the land with his name and phone number.  Broker A takes a photo of the sign (and sometimes the land) and posts the photo of the sign in the MLS.

Now let’s assume Broker B represents a buyer.  Broker B has been working with his buyer for a month now showing him multiple pieces of land listed by other Realtors.  Broker B wants to show this piece of land to his buyer to see if he wants to buy it.  If the buyer is interested in buying the land, naturally Broker B wants to represent his buyer in submitting an offer.  That way Broker B will earn half the commission.  Broker B does not want the buyer to turn around and call Broker A and ask Broker A to assist him in submitting an offer because then Broker A will earn the entire commission and Broker B will earn nothing.  This is why Broker B does not want his buyer to have ready access to Broker A’s name and telephone number.

However, Broker A has cleverly embedded his contact information in a photo.  There’s no simple way for Broker B to omit select photos when showing the listing to his buyer.  If the photo is there, the listing broker, Broker A, has effectively put his name and phone number into the buyer’s hands.  Broker A is trying to thwart Broker B’s ability to earn half of the commission so that Broker A can earn the entire commission

This is one reason many MLS systems prohibit posting photos of real estate signs in the MLS.  This policy is to create a playing field where agents can easily represent buyers and show other Realtor’s properties to their buyers without fear of losing their buyer to the listing agent.

 

Reason #2:  Syndication

Nowadays, when a broker enters a listing into the MLS, those listings are generally syndicated to national websites such as Zillow and Trulia.  After that, brokers lose much of the control of where their listings go and what they look like on the web.

For example, Zillow is famous for displaying Broker A’s land listing alongside contact information for random Broker C from another office!  Yikes, talk about loss of broker-control!  This is one reason why Realtors like to slip their contact information into the images they post by taking photos of their own real estate sign.  That way when their listing is syndicated from the MLS to sites such as Zillow, buyers will still know whose listing it is.

 

Reason #3:  To Help the Buyer Identify the Land

Vacant land with no house on it can be tricky to find.  Often there is no address.  One reason to post a photo of a real estate sign is so that when a buyer drives out to the property and sees the sign, they can compare the sign they see on the land to the sign in the photo.  The idea is that they’ll think “Oh, there‘s the orange sign, just like in the orange sign in the photo!”  Then they’ll know they’re in the right spot.

 

Reason #4:  Because the Broker Finds the Real Estate Sign to be the Most Interesting Thing About the Land

Most Realtors who sell land are not land brokers.  They are more interested in selling houses and condos, not land.  So the house broker drives out to the land and finds, predictably, that there is no kitchen with granite countertops to photograph, no great room with fireplace, and no master bath with dual sinks.  She is bored with all the dirt and trees.  She does not own hiking boots and certainly does not want to get her Manolo Blahniks dusty just to get a good shot of the land she’s selling.  So she’s limited to taking a couple shots from the sidewalk with her smart phone.

But wait!  There’s her real estate sign poking up out of the ground!  It’s happy and colorful and, hey, it even has her name on it.  She thinks: I’ll take a photo of that!

That’s kind of how it goes.  Like most people, Realtors are naturally inclined to photograph things they find interesting.  And there’s nothing more interesting to the Realtor than the Realtor.

Are you familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus?   Narcissus was surrounded by a beautiful garden, and even accompanied by Echo a mountain nymph, yet it was his own reflection in the pond that he fell in love with….  Now you understand why Realtors love to photograph their own signs!

Echoandnarcissus

 

Advice to Buyers:

There are a couple of good things about seeing photos of real estate signs on the internet.  First, if you see a photo of a sign you’ll be pretty sure there is a sign on the land.  So when you get to the land you’re likely to recognize it so you’ll know you’re in the right place.

Second, even if you’re working with a buyer’s agent, if there’s a photo of the Realtor’s sign you’ll know who the listing agent is.  If you want to know the real inside deal on the land, or if you want to feel out whether the seller is flexible on price, their motivation for selling etc. call the listing agent.

 

Advice to Sellers:

Review your broker’s on-line marketing materials to make sure your agent is advertising your land more than he is advertising himself.  In particular, make sure that any photo of the agent’s sign is not the first photo in a sequence of any marketing materials.

 

Advice to Agents:

Weighing all the pros and cons, my feeling is that it is almost never a good idea to include a photograph of your sign in the MLS.

Think about it from the perspective of the buyer:  The buyer is sitting in their living room looking at photos on the internet and is keen on seeing photos of vacant land.  Then they see a photo of a big piece of wood with some lettering on it.  It’s jarring and weird to the buyer who wants to see trees and grass.  It’s like a big red flag that you’re selling yourself and not the land.

I mean, imagine if you’re online looking to buy a book, consumer electronics or athletic apparel.  You’re looking at photos of the items you’re considering purchasing, comparing features and prices.  And then, in the middle of a sequence of photos you see a big ad for of AMAZON! or BEST BUY!  or SPORTS AUTHORITY!   You’d be a little annoyed, right?

Sellers are hiring you to sell their dirt.  Buyers want to buy dirt.  If you want to sell yourself, then do a good job of selling the dirt and people will remember you.  You don’t need to get all in their face about it.

If you must include a photograph of your sign, always be sure it is not the first photo in the sequence.  You might consider letting the sign sneak into the corner of one photo with 90% of the photo still displaying the landscape.

If you’re concerned about what happens to your contact information after syndication, did you know you can go directly to sites such as Zillow and Trulia, create an account, and enter your listings from scratch?  That way you can upload whatever photos you want there regardless of what the MLS rules are.  Buyers are probably looking at national websites such as Zillow and Trulia, and may not be looking in your local MLS like you are as an agent.  So it’s the national websites, not the MLS, where you want to make sure that your contact information is up front and center.  You can even enter a link to your own website directly into Zillow and forget about that low tech (and annoying) photo-of-real-estate-sign.

 

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? 

–1990, Five Man Electrical Band

This blog post is part 6 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 5: Debris, Overhead Wires and Other Unsightly Items Featured in Photos

It is fascinating how many photos used to market vacant land feature debris, garbage cans, overhead wires and other unsightly items.  Here are some photographs posted by other Realtors and sellers in their effort to sell land on the Internet:

Debris

It’ll be fun negotiating whether buyer or seller pays for the debris cleanup…Wait, never mind, there probably won’t be any buyers with photos like these.

Lot #3 listed for $499,000. Top of the private street

 

Debris photo 2

 

Debris photo 13

 

Debris photo 9

 

Debris photo 10

 

Garbage Cans

A dancing chorus line of garbage cans.

Debris photo 4

 

Utility Poles

Would you like the blue one, the black one, the red one, or the white one?

Debris photo 6

 

Powerlines

For sale:  power lines against gray smoggy sky.  Land not depicted here but included at no extra charge.

Debris photo 7

My eye is drawn right to the pattern in the blue sky below, away from the land for sale.

Debris photo 19

Debris photo 12

 

Toilet

A toilet in the MLS to advertise a vacant land parcel?  I’m confused.  But hey if I drink a lot of ice tea on my way to see the land at least I’ll be covered!

Debris photo 8

 

Shopping Cart

One lonely contemplative grocery cart surveys the land, pondering whether to buy it.

Highland & Palm Corner

 

Tractor and Lawn Mower

Debris photo 14

 

Debris photo 16

 

Fences

Nothing says “safe neighborhood” like a close up of barbed wire!

Debris photo 17

 

Debris photo 21

 

Fence

 

Debris photo 18

 

Advice to Buyers:

If you’re interested in buying a parcel that has a lot of weird debris on it, take a moment to consider who will clean it up?  If you want the seller to clean it up before closing escrow, make sure that’s in black and white in your offer.  The California Association of Realtors standard land purchase agreement includes a box you can check in paragraph 12 that says (if checked) “All debris and personal property not included in the sale shall be removed by Seller by Close of Escrow”.

Or, if you are willing to accept the debris, you can leave that contractual box unchecked in your offer and use that as a negotiating point to get the price down.  For example, you might say to the seller’s Realtor:  “Gee, there sure is a lot of debris on this land.  I will clean it up myself but it will take a lot of time, and I will have to rent a truck and pay some people to help, and so with all that debris I obviously can’t offer full price….”

Regardless of which option you choose, to ask the seller to clean it up or to clean it up yourself, indicate in the contract who’s going to deal with the junk so that there’s no dispute later.

When you visit the land, also look for evidence of hazardous waste.   An example of hazardous waste would be an old oil drum that’s leaking.  If you find something like that, talk to the City or County about their rules for proper cleanup.  Ask the seller’s agent to make sure the seller discloses any hazardous waste that he may be aware of.  After all, you can’t see under all the debris or under the ground.  Again, if you discover hazardous waste, and if you still want the parcel, use it to negotiate a lower price.

Remember not all items left on a parcel are “garbage”.  Items left behind could include things that have value.  These include things like antique farm equipment or an old silver bullet air stream trailer carcass that might be sold to a collector on e-bay.  If the item is something that both buyer and seller want, such as a portable storage shed, remember to indicate in your offer what the disposition of that item will be.  Is it included with the land?  Or will the seller remove it?  If so, when?  Put it in writing at the outset.

 

Advice to Sellers:

Clean up your land before putting it on the market.  If you don’t, it won’t photograph well and so may not attract an offer.  Or, the buyer may ask for a low price to compensate for the debris.  It’s a better idea to clean it up before your agent takes photos.

 

Advice to Agents:

As a broker, don’t offer to haul away debris yourself.  That is so not your job.  You don’t do windows and you’re not the garbage man.  It is, however, within the scope of your services to refer the seller to one or more people you may know who will clean up the debris for a fee.

Advise your sellers to arrange to clean up their land just as they would clean up their house before putting it on the market.  Wait until the debris has been removed before taking marketing photos. If the items cannot be removed, and you still need to take marketing photos, it’s usually best to point your camera away from things that are not considered “real estate” such as shopping carts, lumber, garbage etc.

If you walk around to all corners of the parcel, you’ll surely find some angle that will allow you to omit unsightly stuff from the picture frame.  Also, before leaving the parcel to drive back to the office, check your photos in your digital camera to make sure that ugly items that are not “real estate” have not crept into the photo frames.

Strangely enough, there are times when you will want to include things that are not so pretty in your photos.  For example, a good way to depict visually that there is water available to the land is to photograph a fire hydrant or a water meter or a well.  To make it clear that electricity is at the property you might show an electric pole in the corner of one shot.  To demonstrate that the property is fully fenced, you might want to capture a glimpse of the wire fence along the side of one photo.  I have even been known to photograph large overhead power lines that obstructed the view as part of a “truth in advertising” effort because I did not want a bunch of buyers driving out to the parcel I was selling and the buyers getting all disappointed at the view when they got there after driving all that way.  I tend to do that when the negative issue is such a “debbie downer” that there is no way that any buyer could overlook the problem so I might as well photograph it and “get it out there” upfront.  Of course you will not want to feature unattractive photos like these as your primary marketing photo, just as the 5th or 10th or 15th photo in a sequence, something like that.  However, while you might strategically take photos of things that are not super cute or scenic, such as utilities, I can think of no good reason to photograph actual garbage, a broken down piece of equipment, or an old shopping cart.  Just get rid of it!

Just as you might advise a client to “stage” their house, also advise your sellers to “stage” their land and clean it up!

 

This blog post is part 5 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 4: Close-ups of Vegetation or Dirt

When there is no house on the land, it appears that some residential brokers don’t have a clue what to photograph.  From some of the photos I see, it seems that there are brokers who don’t appreciate the beauty of the land and don’t take enough time with their vacant land photo shoot.  It’s almost like they get out of their car, see dirt, vegetation and trees and say to themselves “Nope, nothing here worthy of interest…no granite counters, no crown molding, no great room with fireplace….so I’ll just point my I-phone at the nearest clump of weeds, push the button, and be on my way.”

With all the close-ups of soil, grass and trees in marketing materials intended to sell land, it’s clear that some agents don’t even have the insight to walk across the street from the land for sale and take a shot from a distance so as to capture the panorama.  It’s painful to look some of the close up photos of vegetation and dirt posted on the internet.  What were these agents thinking?   Do they care whether the land sells or not?

Here are a few cringe-worthy photos posted by other Realtors in the MLS and syndicated to publically available websites such as Trulia and Zillow:

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 1

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 2

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 3

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 4

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 5

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 6

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 7

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 8

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 9

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 10

Vegetation or Trees Close Up 11

 

Advice to Buyers

If the agent does not include any photos taken at a distance, and shows only close-ups of dirt and trees in their on-line marketing, you really have to wonder why that is?  Could it be that there’s a lot of debris on the land or an old rusty broken-down single-wide mobile home that the Realtor is trying to exclude from the photo frame?  If all the photos are close-ups of trees, is it because there is no clearing in the trees to build a house?  Be suspicious.  Think about it.

More than likely, however, there’s nothing wrong with the land at all and it’s just that the photos are bad.   If you’re interested in a piece of land where the marketing photos are terrible, be aware that no other buyer will be interested in this parcel.  So use this to your advantage and give the seller a low ball offer.  Your offer is likely to be the only one she has received!

 

Advice to Sellers

If your agent is posting photos like the ones shown here, you should get another Realtor.  Your land won’t sell if the photos look like these.

 

Advice to Agents

Step away from the tree!  Don’t point your camera down at the grass!  What I do is step back a distance and take a couple of photos.  Then I step back away from the land farther and take more photos.  Then I walk back even farther and take still more photos.  Afterward, I return to the office and look at all of them and pick the best.

A mistake a lot of agents make is that they think they need to be standing on the actual parcel for sale when they take a photograph of the parcel for sale.  This tendency leads to a lot of bad close-ups.  Instead, stand across the street and shoot toward the land.   Stand half way down the block. Stand at the top of a nearby hill.  Get creative.

When photographing a tree, try moving away far enough that you can capture the whole tree from the roots to the top branch.  Also try taking a photo with the tree along the left of the frame.  Take another photo with the tree on the right.  Finally take a photo of the land with the tree branch curving around the inside edge of the photo to frame the view.  Later, see what looks best and shows the land in its best light.

If the terrain allows, walk the entire parcel, to the back, to the left, to the right.  Take a large number of photos in many directions, from various angles.  The more pictures you take, the more likely you’ll find a few gems when reviewing them later.

Include some photos that are not all about dirt and vegetation.  For example, photograph the fence, the gate, the well house, the street in front of the land, the city-scape view from the land, the ritzy house next door, the sign at the entrance to the private community, etc.

Follow these tips and sell that land!

 

This blog post is part 4 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

 

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 3: Unreadable maps

OK so maps are not technically “photos”.  But they are images used to market land in the MLS and on other web sites.  Good maps are crucial in selling land.  They can 1) help buyers and agents locate the parcel; 2) show the zoning of the parcel in the context of the zoning of surrounding parcels; 3) reveal the terrain, for example in the case of an aerial map; or 4) show the shape and dimensions of the parcel.

The problem is that some folks post truly bad maps on the internet to market their land.  Here are some really goofy maps posted by other Realtors and sellers:

 

Parcel is helpfully marked in red, major arteries shown in yellow, but map is blurry and does not show street names

Bad map 1

 

 

The red check marks the spot but could you use this ambiguous map to locate the parcel?

Bad map 2

 

The tax identification number (APN) ends in -03 (in the circle) and the official lot number is 16 (sideways).  So far so good, but why confuse buyers with the extra handwritten 213?

Bad map 3

 

I presume they’re selling the one marked in red in the middle but what are those blue blobs, where are the parcel boundaries, and what street is this land on?

Bad map 4

 

Other agent thought bubble: “Who needs computers?  I’ll just lay this here paper map down on the kitchen table and take me a picture.  Oh dang it’s a little blurry and crooked, oh well….”

Bad map 5

 

Other agent thought bubble:  “So call me a rebel.  I mean who says north has to be at the top and handwriting has to be right-side-up?  I live by my own rules.”

Bad map 6

 

Other agent thought bubble:  Who needs a computer or scanner to create a map when I have a yellow highlighter and a camera?

Bad map 7

 

OK so I see the map of the city.  But where is the land you’re selling?

Bad map 8

 

Aerial maps can be helpful, but this one is too much of a close up view to allow buyers and agents to get a sense of the slope of the terrain

Bad map 9

 

Advice to Buyers

If the on-line maps are terrible, ignore them and go find your own maps on the internet.  Before you start surfing, first get all location information you can from the listing broker.  This includes address, parcel number (APN), and/or longitude/latitude.  Ask the agent to at least e-mail you a black and white plat map.  Armed with this information, you can then:

1)   Search Google or the Land22 site for a Geographic Information System (GIS) that covers the City/County where the parcel is located.  Enter the address or APN in the GIS system to locate the parcel.

2)  Enter the address or longitude/latitude into Google Maps, Bing Maps, Mapquest or ITouchMap to see the a location map, aerial map, birds-eye view map, parcel corners or to get driving directions.

3)  Print out the maps you find most useful and have a hardcopy in your hand when you go visit the land.  It is especially important to have a paper aerial map so that you can get a feel for the corners when you’re on the ground.

 

Advice to Sellers

After your listing broker posts maps on-line, review them to make sure they’re clear and helpful.  If they’re not, have a conversation with your Broker.

 

Advice to Agents

It just doesn’t look professional to lay a paper map down on a table and take a photograph of it.  The wrinkles in the paper will show and it will be obvious.  Try to find the same map on-line in a computer generated unwrinkled form.  If you must capture an image from a paper map, use a computer scanner to create a professional looking file that you can post on the internet.  Don’t just take a photo of it, the quality isn’t high enough.

Coloring a map with colored highlighter or a crayon is amateur.  It will appear to viewers that you don’t know how to use a computer.  Since the use of computers is critical to selling land that’s not the impression you will want to create if you hope to get listings and sell land successfully.

Every map you post should include a clear indication of where the parcel is located in the map.  Don’t post general maps of a neighborhood or city where the parcel is not even marked.  You can mark parcels with a boundary, X, check mark, circle or arrow.  If the parcel is unmarked, what’s the point of the map?

If street names are faint or missing, use your computer to edit the map image file and add text to show street names.

Clear maps of all kinds are readily available on the Internet.  There is no reason for a map posted in MLS marketing to be blurry.

Transforming an on-line map into an image that you can post in marketing materials requires some professional and technical skills.  The professional skills needed include things like a good design sense, the wisdom and experience to know what kind of map would be most helpful to buyers, and having a kind of empathy for the person reading the map.  Also essential are technical skills such as computer screen capture, cropping, and editing.  If you’re an agent who is great at selling land but these particular skills are not in your arsenal, get someone else to create your maps for you!  Convince your techno-wizard nephew to put down his video games long enough to help.  Or pay your teenage grand daughter to do it – you know, the one who wants to be a graphic artist?  Creating maps for marketing purposes is not rocket-science but you have to have the patience and skill to do it right.

 

This blog post is part 3 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 2: Photo Is Too Dark

Why do agents and sellers post dark photos on the internet to market their land?  Here are two examples of photos that I found posted by other Realtors:

Land In The Dark Photo 1

Land In The Dark Photo 2

Dark photo 3

 

Advice to Buyers

Before submitting an offer, it’s best to go see the land in person.  You will especially want to do that if the marketing photos were taken in the dark!

As an alternative, you can go for a virtual walk in the daylight from the comfort of your couch using Google Street View.

 

Advice to Sellers

After your agent posts the listing of your land on-line, review the photos.  Check to make sure they are not too dark or have other problems.

 

Advice to Agents

I doubt that the agents who posted these dark photos of their land listings set out to take photos in the dark.  Sometimes this happens due to bad planning.  For example, the land may be a long driving distance from the Realtor’s office or home…the Realtor leaves late and does not plan enough driving time…they get lost along the way or have trouble locating a rural parcel with no address…and end up motoring up to the parcel just as the sun is going down!  I have done this myself!  If this happens to you, the only solution is to congratulate yourself that at least you now know how to find the land (maybe after a few wrong turns) so now you can at least draft good driving directions.  But do come back another day to take photos in the light.

If you want to make absolutely sure that you only have to make one pre-marketing trip out to the land then you will want to allow 2-3 times the amount of time you think you’ll need and factor in extra time to get lost, get gas, pull over and answer your cell phone, etc.  Leave early so that you’re sure to arrive at the parcel when there’s still plenty of light regardless of how far it is from your office.

And while I’m on the subject of light, when planning the best time of day to take photographs, you might sit down and give it some real thought before you head on out there.  Stare at maps and contemplate which direction the sun rises and sets relative to the land and imagine in your mind which shot is likely to be the “money shot”.  What direction will you be facing when you take that shot?  Consider that direction when planning the ideal time to arrive at the land to take marketing photos.   For example, if the money shot will be facing west, you won’t want to take the photo facing a setting sun because that creates glare  - you might want the sun at your back – so go take the photo in the morning not the late afternoon.

Let’s face it, some land is boring.  If the land you’re listing is not super pretty e.g., flat desert sand, it might be best to take photos when the sun is not directly overhead.  This is because a rising or setting sun will create neat shadows on, say rocks and tumbleweed, and if the land is not all that interesting then the light and shadows will make it look more arresting.  Taking photos when the sunlight is at an angle will make the land look better.  As one example, during this time of year (October) you might prefer to take photos at 3 pm rather than, say, high noon.

If you do go out to take photos and find that you have arrived at the land in the dark, just go back to the land another day.  Don’t post dark photos on the internet thinking “it’ll be fine…buyers can sort of kind of make out the grass and trees and fence in the dark ….”   If you actually want to sell the land it won’t be fine.  Trust me.

 

This blog post is part 2 in a 10 part series of bad MLS photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more photographic sins!

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Top 10 Sins in Photos Used to Market Land. Sin 1: Cars Featured in Photos

Strange, blurry, dark photos of vacant land parcels are surprisingly common on marketing web sites.  Also common are photos of land that feature non-land objects such as cars, signs, and debris.  Some of these marketing photos are posted by real estate agents in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  From there, they are automatically syndicated to sites such as to Zillow, Realtor, Yahoo, and Redfin.  Others are posted outside the MLS on sites such as Craigslist, LandAndFarm or LandsOfAmerica.  Once posted on the internet, these bad photos are viewed by potential buyers all over California, the United States, and the world.

So a girl has to ask:  If the purpose of these photos is to sell a piece of land, what were these agents and sellers thinking when they featured cars in their photos?

One of my favorite laugh-out-loud websites is www.badmlsphotos.com.  This site manages to walk the line between showing cringe-worthy photographic moments and educating Realtors and sellers on what not to do when taking pictures of real estate listings.  This site has mostly bad photos of houses so I thought I’d show you a collection of bad marketing photos that other Realtors or sellers have posted to sell vacant land.

This post is the first in a series of 10 posts on 10 sins in photos used to market land.  Check this blog in the coming weeks for more photographic sins!

 

Are You a Land Broker or a Used Car Salesperson?

It’s hard to tell from some of these marketing photos that I found posted by other Realtors.

Car lot A

Car lot B

Car lot C

Car lot D

 

Taking the Photo Out the Window of Your Car

C’mon, is it really so hard to park your car and step out to take the photo?  Did you think we wouldn’t notice that rear view mirror in the corner of the shot?

From Car A

From Car B

From Car C

From Car D

 

Featuring Cars and Car Parts in Photos

You got out of your car (!), good for you, that’s a start, but you still couldn’t manage to avoid including cars or parts of cars in the photo frame?

Cars B

Cars A

Cars E

Cars I

Cars G

Cars C

Cars D

Cars J

 

Taking the Photo Through the Glass of the Car Window

Ok so your front car window is cleaner than mine, I’ll admit it.  Nevertheless, taking a photo through glass will always be blurrier than taking it through fresh air.

Through Window

 

Advice to Buyers

If an MLS photo of vacant land is really bad, featuring cars for example, that doesn’t necessarily mean the land itself is also bad.  Remember, the cars will likely disappear after you buy the land and if they’re still there you can have them removed.

Also bear in mind that since no one else will be attracted to this land listing because of all the dumb cars featured in the photos, and the agent is probably getting zero calls on it because of their bad photos, you might be able to pick it up for a bargain price!

 

Advice to Sellers

If there are cars parked on the land you want to sell, move them off before your agent takes photos.  In fact, park the cars elsewhere the entire time your land is on the market for sale.  Just as you would clean up and “stage” a house for sale you should also clean up and “stage” land.  Put the cars somewhere else so that the land will look pretty.

After your agent posts the listing of your land on-line, review the photos.  Check to make sure there are no cars, rear view mirrors, fenders, or other unwanted objects appearing in the photos.

Some sellers have their own quality digital photos that they have taken of their vacant land.  If you happen to have an awesome photo, maybe taken on a beautiful sunny day before the cars were parked on the land, e-mail it to your broker for possible use in marketing materials.

 

Advice to Agents

Avoid including cars, or parts of cars, in your photos of vacant land!

Get out of your dang car to take the freakin’ photo!   This will allow you to avoid getting that pesky side mirror in the shot as you sit in the driver’s seat taking the photos out your rolled-down window.  Walk around and take multiple photos of the land from various angles.  Review your digital photos in your camera to make sure you got one or more good shots before you drive all the way back to the office.

If cars are parked on the land, walk around to the other side of the cars and take photos in a direction away from any cars so as to avoid including them in the frame.  Get creative with your angles so as to exclude the car(s) while still including the land itself.

I realize some agents and sellers might have mobility issues.  My dad was disabled my whole life, so I have sensitivity to this issue.  I understand that if you’re temporarily or permanently disabled, e.g., on crutches or in a wheelchair, it can be hard to walk from a parked car to the land, or walk around on the land you’re trying to photograph.  In this case you might get someone else to take your vacant land  photos.  And remind them to omit the cars from the shots!

Some caveats:  Oddly enough, there are actually some situations in which it does make sense to include cars in your photos.  They are:  1) When you’re trying to convey visually that there is a high volume of traffic in the street, e.g., for a commercial parcel where volume highway traffic increases the value of the land.  In a situation like this you might deliberately photograph the stream of cars in the street.  2) When you’re trying to show the location of a driveway in a rural photo and it can be hard for viewers of the photo to distinguish between the dirt land and the dirt driveway.  Use a car to mark the spot!   3) When the highest and best use of the land is actually as a parking lot or auto sales lot and it’s being sold for that purpose.   4) When it would be dangerous for you to walk around and take a photo that excludes cars, e.g., because the neighbors make you uncomfortable, or because the land is adjacent to a busy interstate with cars speeding by and there’s nowhere to park.

However, note that these situations are rare.  Cars and auto parts should almost always be omitted from photos of vacant land used for marketing purposes!

 

This blog post discusses sin 1 in a 10 part series of the top 10 sins in photos used to market land.  Check back in the future for more bad MLS photos!

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The Seller Is A Big Ol’ Meanie! He Won’t Accept My Full Price Offer! Can He Do That?

Pouting Bratty GirlRecently I received a full price offer from a Realtor representing a buyer.  I was representing the seller.  My client declined the full price offer and gave the buyer a counteroffer that was higher than his asking price.

The reasons the seller made this decision are several:  1) He knew he owed substantial back taxes, but after receiving the offer he discovered the amount; 2) Land22 Real Estate had received considerable interest in the parcel and he felt he might have under-priced it in light of the response we received from our marketing; 3) After submitting the offer, the buyer’s agent called repeatedly and even said that the buyer might be willing to pay more, if we had a competing offer, for example.  The buyer’s agent had essentially “shown her hand” to me, the seller’s fiduciary.

So the seller countered over the asking price.

The Realtor representing the buyer went absolutely ballistic!  She threw a tantrum, sent me several flaming e-mails, and was generally very rude.  She implied there was some conspiracy afoot.

So while that Realtor is over there pouting, taking a time-out in the naughty girl corner, let’s talk, just you and I.  From this experience, it became clear to me that not all buyers, and perhaps not all agents, understand that it’s acceptable for sellers to decline full price offers.  Buyers and their agents may not grasp the reasons why a seller might do that.  Further, sellers may not realize the drama that they create when they counter over the asking price.  Time to Blog!

 

Does a seller have to accept a full price offer?

The short answer is “No.”

Real estate is not like shopping at the supermarket.  When you go to the grocery store and the item is marked $1.29 you can be confident that when you take it up to the cash register you will be allowed to purchase it for $1.29.  Even if the computer register makes a mistake and shows it at $1.50, for example, you can still talk to a manager and he will likely give it to you for $1.29 because that’s the price marked on the item.

Real estate doesn’t work that way.

 

So why does the price appear in the MLS if the seller won’t accept that price?

MLS systems were originally created by agents for agents.  They were not created by sellers to advertise their prices.  The listing is placed in the MLS by the listing agent, not by the seller.  So the MLS listing is not an offer to sell made by a seller.  The primary purpose of the MLS listing is to publish an offer of compensation by a listing broker, directed to other broker participants in that MLS.  By entering the listing in the MLS the listing agent is effectively saying to other agents “Hey, I have this listing.  If you bring me an offer from a buyer and my client accepts it I’ll give you part of my commission”.  The listing agent enters the price that the seller listed the property for into the MLS.  However, while the listing agent is holding a signed listing (service) agreement with the seller, the listing agent is not the ultimate decision maker on the price that the seller will actually accept from a buyer.  The seller is the “principal”.  The listing agent is not the “principal”.  The seller is the one who makes the final decision on the price he will sell for.

 

If a seller declines a full price offer, does he have to explain the reason why to the buyer?

No, the seller does not have to explain their reasoning to the buyer.  In fact, the seller does not even have to reply to the buyer’s offer at all, even a full price offer  The seller can remain entirely silent.

If the Realtor represents the seller alone, and does not represent the buyer, that Realtor is solely the seller’s fiduciary.  The listing agent does not have to explain to the buyer’s agent the reason the seller declined the buyer’s full price offer.  Of course the listing agent may well do this if she feels it is in her client’s best interest.  For example, if the seller wants the buyer to re-submit a revised offer the listing agent might explain to the buyer’s agent how the buyer might improve their offer.  However, there are times when the listing agent, acting as the seller’s fiduciary, will find it to be in the seller’s best interest to say nothing.  In that event, she will remain silent.

 

What are some of the reasons why a seller might decline a full price offer?

First, rest assured that the vast majority of sellers will gladly accept a full price offer.  Or, they may give a buyer a counteroffer on a couple of details in the terms but accept the full price.  However, there are reasons why some sellers may not accept full price.  Here are a few of those reasons:

1.   The seller may have received another written offer

Two OffersIn fact, the seller may have not just one additional offer but several.  The other offer(s) may be higher than your offer, lower than your offer, or the same as your offer.  Regardless, the seller is free to accept one offer, counter one offer, counter multiple offers, or decline all offers.  The seller can respond however he wishes.  There is no “first come first served” in real estate.  In practice, the way it usually works is that when a seller receives two or more offers, the seller will either accept the best offer or the seller will counter two or more offers creating a “bidding war”.  In the event of a bidding war, the parcel is likely to sell for over the asking price.

 2.  The seller may have received another verbal offer

Even if the seller does not have another written offer, his seller may have received a verbal offer from another potential buyer via the listing agent.  It could be that when the seller heard about this other buyer the seller decided not to respond to your written full price offer.   He may be hoping to get more from this other buyer who has floated a verbal offer.  It could be that the other buyer has not gotten around to putting that offer in writing yet.  The seller may also be planning to increase the listing price based on another verbal offer that he has received.

3.  The seller may be unhappy with the terms in the buyer’s offer

Offers are not all about price.  Offers consist of price and terms.  Sure you may have offered full price, but did you ask for a 120 day escrow period so that you would have time to come up with the money?  Is your offer contingent on selling your house in Bosnia?  Did you ask the seller to pay for all of the closing costs including your portion?  Did you say you were going to get a bank loan on vacant land with 10% down when the seller knows that virtually no such loans exist?  Did you ask the seller to pay for a perc test for septic, a well inspection, or a survey?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the seller may be saying to himself “Give me a break.  I’m not even going to reply to this frivolous offer” even if it is full price.  Yes, the price is fine.  But the seller doesn’t like the terms.

4.  The buyer’s agent may have “shown her hand” to the listing agent

The agent representing the buyer may have inadvertently or deliberately disclosed to the listing agent the buyer’s extreme motivation to purchase or even the buyer’s willingness to pay more if necessary.  The buyer’s agent may have dropped into conversation that she thinks the parcel is a “good deal” or “very well priced”.  She may have called the listing agent incessantly asking if there are competing offers, or pressuring the listing agent for a response.  This is a “tell” that the buyer is very interested and is pushing her agent to get a response from the listing agent and seller.  When the listing agent represents the seller exclusively, and does not represent the buyer, that listing agent is the seller’s fiduciary and not the buyer’s fiduciary.  So the listing agent may advise her client, the seller, she believes the buyer may be willing to pay more than the asking price.  This advice may cause a seller to decline or counter a full price offer even when the seller has no other offers.

5.  The listing agent’s phone may be ringing off the hookPhone Ringing

If you are a buyer and you think a parcel is so awesome that you are motivated to offer full price, then it stands to reason that you are not the only person likely to be interested in this parcel at that price.  The listing agent may be receiving considerable interest in the parcel in the form of a high volume of phone calls and/or many e-mails.  The listing agent has likely shared this information with the seller.  The seller may take this as a sign that he can get more than his initial asking price for his parcel.

One time back when I was a new agent I had a land listing next to a housing development.  To me, this land looked like undesirable rocky desert up on a hill.  I assisted the sellers in pricing it based on comparable parcels.  However, after I listed it my phone rang every 30 minutes.  I couldn’t believe it!  Apparently, the residents of the adjacent housing development with a private water skiing lake and high end homes did not want anyone buying this parcel, developing it, and marring their serene hill views!  So they all wanted to buy it before a developer got hold of it.  Clearly, based on the volume of phone calls I was receiving, this parcel was under priced!  Yikes!  I contacted my sellers immediately and we increased the price sharply.  After that, the phone then rang about every day or so instead of every 30 minutes, as it should if a parcel is priced properly.  Then it sold at the new higher price.  Luckily we caught it before an offer came in but if an offer had been received at the original price the sellers would surely have countered it over the asking price based on the volume of calls.

6.  The seller may have had a change of heart on price based on reliable or unreliable new information

Unrelated to the actual response the listing agent is getting to her marketing, after signing the listing agreement at a particular price, the seller may discuss the price with his financial advisor Pandeep, his neighbor Mary Sue, or his favorite uncle Herb who used to sell real estate back in 1958.  New advice (reliable or unreliable) may cause him to change his willingness to sell at the price he listed his parcel at originally.  Wisely or unwisely, this may cause him to decline your full price offer.

7.  The seller’s confidence in the economy may have improved since he listed the parcel

It is unlikely that the actual economy for land sales would change in 3-12 months, the time-frame of a typical real estate listing.  However, while the economy itself may not change noticeably, the seller’s psychological confidence in the economy based on news reports could easily change in a period that short.

3d graph arrow blueI get sellers calling me all the time 3-6 months after I give them a price opinion asking me if I can now list their land for more than I told them a few months ago.  “Can I get more now?” they say; and then a few months later, “OK, how about now?”  It reminds me of kids in the back seat of car asking every 5 minutes “Are we there yet?”  “The economy is not improving that fast kids!  (No, we are not there yet!)  Call me in 2-5 years (not 2-5 months) and I’ll give you a higher price”, I say.

But what is relevant here, is not the reality of actual change in prices on land but consumer (seller) confidence in the economy.  If a seller priced his land 2011 in a terrible economic recession, and receives his first offer in 2013 he might think “The economy has improved since I priced my land back in 2011.  I believe I can get a higher price now or in the near future.”

Of course you and I both know that his property was OVER-priced in 2011.  That’s why he has not received an offer for two years.  Finally, the economy has caught up with his high 2011 listing price and he’s received his first offer from one lonely buyer.  But the seller may not see it this way and may decline to accept his first offer, a full price offer, in anticipation of further improvements in the economy.  I’m just saying.

8.  The buyer or the buyer’s agent may be acting like a jerk

Sellers do not want to sell their land to buyers who are acting like jerks or who are represented by agents who are acting like jerks.  An example of a jerky thing to do would be to submit a full price offer and then get angry, improperly threatening litigation if the seller doesn’t immediately accept the offer.   Any mention of the L-word for any reason is naturally a huge turnoff to sellers.  Sellers do not want to do business with buyers who seem litigious or who might create a complicated unhappy escrow experience.  As a pure business decision, reasons like these might prevent a seller from accepting a full price offer from such a buyer.

 

Caveats

It’s illegal to discriminate because of race, sex, religion etc.  So obviously a seller should never decline a full price offer for any discriminatory reason.

Sellers who counter more than one buyer, e.g., over the asking price, must inform those buyers that this is a multiple-counter situation.  While sellers can generally remain silent on what they are thinking, the fact that they are countering multiple buyers is not information they can withhold.  The reason is, even if a buyer accepts the sellers counteroffer, the seller may or may not sell to that buyer because the seller has given counteroffers to more than one buyer.  If two or more buyers accept, the seller still has the opportunity to choose and countersign.  There is a spot to disclose that this is a multiple counter offer on the boilerplate California counteroffer form.

This blog does not pertain to the situation where a seller has already accepted full price offer (or any offer) from a buyer, there is signed written agreement, and then the seller wants to cancel.  That’s a whole different situation.

If you have a thorny problem on your hands and need legal advice don’t get your information from this Blog or any Blog.  Nothing in this Blog should be construed as legal advice.  If you need legal advice, consult an attorney, preferably a real estate attorney!

 

Advice to Sellers:

Yes, you can ask a buyer to pay more than the listing price.  But let’s face it, it’s just plain awkward.  It creates an undesirable drama between the seller, buyer, listing agent and the buyer’s agent.  As a seller, it’s far better to list the property at a price you are actually willing to accept.  If the price you are willing to accept changes, then talk with your Realtor immediately about modifying the advertised listing price.

Further, asking your listing agent to try to get you more than the listing price you originally contracted for is also awkward.  Such a request may create bad feelings between the seller and the listing agent.  Remember, the listing agreement you signed is a service agreement between you as a seller and your Realtor.  This means that the Realtor agreed to perform a service, spending her time and money, to find you a buyer at a particular price. That price appeared in black and white in the service (listing) agreement.   Your agent did not agree to spend her time and money marketing your property at some other price or any random price you might decide on at any random time.  Yes, she may agree to change the price slightly but just remember that was not the original deal!  You wouldn’t be too keen your listing agent contacting you after signing the listing agreement and saying “oh, by the way, I have decided to increase the commission”, now would you?

Also be aware that by countering over the asking price you risk causing the buyer to disappear.  There are some buyers who, upon receiving such a counteroffer, will think you’re an unfair meanie and will walk away just on principle, even if the higher price you are seeking is still fair.

Sellers should choose their listing price wisely to begin with after reviewing the pricing research provided by the Broker.  Make sure there is a meeting of the minds between all co-owners and the Broker before signing the listing agreement!

 

Advice to Buyers:

If you think a parcel is an awesome deal, it is likely you’re not alone in that opinion.  When you find a fabulous real estate opportunity, be aware that multiple offers are always a possibility.  The best way to avoid a bidding war is to write a “clean” offer.  That means you should offer full price and, in addition, offer 50% of all closing costs including title insurance.  To increase the odds of acceptance, write into your offer that the seller can choose the escrow and title company.  But the most important advice I can give you is this:  submit your offer quickly before anyone else sees the listing!

 

Advice to Agents:

If you are a buyer’s agent and you submit a full price offer on behalf of your client and get no response please don’t jump to the conclusion that there’s some conspiracy afoot against your buyer like the agent who inspired this Blog post did.  There are many reasons why a seller would decline a full price offer as I explain here.  Even if you get no reply, remember, a non-reply, while no fun for your buyer, is legal.  Further, note that the listing agent has a fiduciary responsibility to the seller, not to you or to your client and has no responsibility to tell you what the seller is thinking.  A seller could be declining your full price offer for any number of reasons and the listing agent has no duty to tell you the reason.  By flaming the listing agent, you risk creating ill will.  In your effort to be a good fiduciary to your buyer, please remember that being rude to the listing agent is not in your buyer’s best interest.  Just politely contact the listing agent to inquire about the status of your buyer’s offer.  Be careful about seeming too desperate and “showing your hand” because the listing agent may use that to her client’s advantage.  Monitor the MLS listing daily to see if they might have increased the listing price.  If you get the news that your full price offer is declined just ask your buyer if they want to submit a better offer.  Remember, you may see more and more bidding wars, declined full price offers,  and counteroffers over asking price as the economy improves more and more, so just take a deep breath and take it in stride.

If you are the listing agent, make sure your sellers know that they should only list at a price they are actually prepared to accept.  If the price they are willing to accept changes, encourage them to contact you immediately to discuss whether it makes sense to officially change the listing price.

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How to Find the Longitude and Latitude of Parcel Corners

Ocotillo Wells Parcel

Today I will show you how to find the approximate longitude and latitude of the corners of a parcel on the internet.  As an example, we’ll find the corners a remote parcel I’m listing in Ocotillo Wells, Imperial County, near Borrego Springs.  For all of you ATV riders, that’s next to the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Step 1:  Go to the website ITouchMap

Itouchmap logo

 

Step 2:  Locate your parcel on the ITouchMap website

This is the trickiest part.  Suffice to say, you either need to have an address or have a mental-map of where the parcel is located to find it.  ITouchMap will not help you find the corners of a parcel if you don’t already know roughly where it is to begin with!

If you don’t have a clue where it is but you do know the parcel number/tax identification number (APN), try using a city or county Geographic Information System (GIS) to get a sense of the location.  GIS systems will typically not give you coordinates of the corners, however.  So after you get a feel for the location you’ll still have to return from GIS to ITouchMap.  (I’ll cover GIS systems in a future blog post.)

In ITouchMap, if you happen to have an address, just type that in.

If you don’t have an address, try typing in cross streets, city and state, e.g., Main St and Avenue A, Some City, CA.

In the case of my Ocotillo Wells parcel, I do not have an address, but I know this parcel is northeast of Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd.  So here’s what I type in:

Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd, Ocotillo Wells, CA

ITouchMap has apparently never heard of remote “Pole Line Rd” so it just blindly centers the map at beautiful downtown Ocotillo Wells, population approximately 50.

Now it’s up to me to move the map around to locate the intersection of Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd a couple of miles east.  (Like I said, you basically have to know roughly where the parcel is in order to accomplish this.)

To help me locate the precise parcel, I also have a separate copy of the black and white plat map.  The plat map is not on ITouchMap.  (I’ll cover plat maps in a future blog post).  Further, I also know that the parcel number is APN 018-090-018.  Focusing on the last 2 digits of this APN, this means that the parcel I’m looking for is the one with the 18 in a circle on the plat map.

Plat Map

Now what I do is visual “pattern recognition”.   That is, I stare at the pattern of rectangles and squares in the plat map.  And I stare at the pattern of rectangles and squares in ITouchMap northeast of Hwy 78 and Pole Line Rd.   I compare the two patterns.  By doing this I can find the square parcel in ITouchMap that corresponds to my parcel -18 in the plat map.  In my case, I’m looking for a symmetrical square east of 4 long skinny horizontal parcels.

Itouchmap 2

Oh yeah, I’ve found the parcel I’m looking for!  If you’re still with me, the hardest part is over.

Now that I’ve located the parcel visually in ITouchMap, it’s time to find the longitude and latitude of the corners of the parcel…

 

Step 3:  Click on the first corner

To start, I click on the northwest corner of the parcel in ITouchMap.  When I do that, the longitude and latitude numbers pop up in their boxes at the bottom.  Cool!  I’ve found the coordinates of one corner!

 

Itouchmap 7

 

Step 4:  Click on the remaining corners

Now I click on the remaining 3 corners one at a time.  As I click on each one, I see the longitude and latitude pop up in their boxes on ITouchMap.

 

Step 5:  Write it all down

What I do now is change the view in ITouchMap to aerial or hybrid and print out a paper map of the parcel.  Or, if you have a better aerial map from a different source, print that out.  Then I get a big black marker and write the longitude and latitude of each corner by that corner.  I take this notated paper map with me when I’m out looking at the parcel.

But wait.  Which format should you write down?  Shoud you write down degrees, minutes and seconds, e.g.,

  • Latitude 33 degrees, 8 minutes, 35.9478 seconds
  • Longitude -115 degrees, 58 minutes, 25.8492 seconds

Or should you record decimal format, e.g.,

  • Latitude 33.143319
  • Longitude -115.973847

Be sure to check the format on the device you will be using in the field (e.g., the GPS in your car or on your smart phone) first before writing down the coordinates on the paper aerial map because you will want the format you write down to match the format you see “out in the field”.  You’ll be mad if you’re standing out in the heat or cold after driving 2 hours trying to do a mental conversion because you wrote the numbers down in the wrong format!

Another tip:  Remember to write down the negative sign in front of Longitude or you’ll end up somewhere in China …!

 

Step 6:  While you’re at it, get some extra GPS coordinates to help along the way

GPS in dashboardIn the case of the Ocotillo Wells parcel, I haven’t been to the parcel yet.  The closest road is Pole Line Rd.  So I when I’m out in the middle of the desert on Hwy 78, trying to find the turnoff for Pole Line Rd, looking at nothing but sand, it would be really nice to know the longitude and latitude of that corner because there may or may not be a sign for Pole Line Rd.  So I might use ITouchMap to find the GPS coordinates of the intersection of Pole Line Rd and Hwy 78.  I would write those down on my paper map.

I might also find the GPS coordinates of the point on Pole Line Rd directly west of the parcel because this may be the farthest I can drive without going off road.  Then I will know where to park my car to hike from or take photos from at a distance.  I would write those coordinates down on my map too.

Armed with this paper map, the GPS in my car, and a latte (oh wait, I forgot I was trying to be a vegan…let’s say a black coffee) I can now hit the road!

 

Technology

Some smartphones like the I-phone have latitude and longitude on them (but may not work in remote areas) and there are special map Apps you can get.  Hand-held GPS devices can also be used to locate corners.  And you probably have GPS in your car.  First though, you have to know the longitude and latitude of the corners you’re looking for.  Yes, there are Apps for everything and a lot of technology out there, but I don’t know any App or device that will read your mind and tell you what it is you want to find.  You basically have to know that already.

Without knowing that, it’s like going to Google and typing in “I don’t know what I’m looking for but can you help me find it?”  Google is smart but it’s not that smart!

So the purpose of this blog post is to explain how you can use ITouchMap first to find the approximate GPS coordinates of the parcel.  Then, when you’re out there in the wild, you can use your smartphone or handheld GPS device or GPS in your car to assist you in finding the corresponding corners.

 

How Accurate is Itouchmap?

I have no idea how accurate the ITouchMap longitude and latitude estimates are.  Personally, I would use Itouchmap for these purposes:

  • Locating the land so that I can photograph it for marketing purposes
  • Locating approximate corners to decide whether to buy (except in the rare instances where there’s some critical thing right near the property line that makes a difference in my decision to buy or not buy, e.g., a house possibly encroaching)
  • Locating approximate corners so that I can look in the dirt to find an actual survey marker in the ground
  • Minor boundary disputes with a friendly neighbor

I would not use ITouchMap for these purposes:

  • Figuring out where to put up a fence along property boundaries
  • Calculating setbacks to pour a permanent foundation to build a house
  • Major boundary disputes with an unfriendly neighbor

If it’s important, or if there’s a lot of money involved, or if there’s a legal dispute, hire a good surveyor!

 

Advice to Sellers:

Did Uncle Fred leave you a remote parcel in his will and you’ve never seen the land?  Fred may not be around to show you the corners but you can use the information in this blog post to locate them.

Did the title company discover a mechanic’s lien for grading on your parcel but you think it’s actually the adjacent parcel that was accidentally graded by the contractor?  Use ITouchMap to see an aerial map and find the corners.

Do you think the neighbor’s airstream trailer and “medical” marijuana plot are encroaching on your parcel?  Pull up an aerial map and locate the approximate corners and check it out from the safety of your home without encountering the sketchy neighbor in person.

 

Advice to Buyers: 

Do you want to locate the approximate corners of a parcel before submitting an offer?  For example, maybe you want to make sure that a parcel doesn’t fall off into the ravine.  Or that it does include the well house you noticed.  Or maybe you just want to find the darn thing.  You can use the information in this blog post to find approximate corners.

 

Advice to Agents: 

Do you have buyers calling you on your remote land listings asking for the “address” so that they can go see the land?  Ha!  Of course, you’re aware that the parcel is in the middle of freakin’ nowhere and has no address, only a parcel number (APN), but the buyer may not realize this at the time they call.

So now, using the information in this blog post you should be able to at least provide buyers with something a little more helpful:  The longitude and latitude of one point on the parcel or even all corners.  Also send them the link to ITouchMap.  Buyers can then view the aerial map.  This way they can understand why there is no address and it’s not a simple “drive by” parcel.

 

Now get out there.  Have fun finding those parcel corners and take lots of water!

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