Our First Baby Steps (Finally)

Feeling like an eternity and three extra lifetimes have passed, The Experimental Expats have finally taken the first baby step towards retirement in Malaysia. Exactly 487 days after being rudely “downsized” from my crappy but reasonably well-paying job, we met with our real estate agent last night to discuss the pricing of our home. Probably one of the most exciting feelings, it’s actually not as easy as it sounds. Using comparably similar houses that sold in the last year (comps) as well as a series of minor mathematical calculations about price per square foot, our agent gave us a recommendation that was within what we’d be hoping to receive. With 41 days to go until we can file our MM2H Visa, the anxiousness is getting intense.

Our spruced up home ready for sale

Our spruced up home ready for sale

Those of you following our story for the last five months know that the boss (Diane) has laid down the rules about not posting our personal finances and I’m contractually bound to respect this request (Basically, this means our marriage contract may as well be void if I violated these rules). Understanding curiosity and a wish to identify with the story, I offer this link as a general guideline to the Overpriced Land of The Sellers Market otherwise known as The San Francisco Bay Area. I have no idea why this magical land of Utopia trounces the national average for home prices by at least five-fold other than the claim that “we have the jobs”. While statistically true, the “affordability index” is also dead last for all 50 states which means 95% of all buyers are simply living the typical American dream that requires working to the grave and two-hour commutes. And that’s just fine by me.

As previously noted in my earlier post, our real estate agent severely underestimated the dollar figure for how much it costs a seller to make minor landscaping and home repairs. Never mind that our inspections noted thousands of dollars of “work that should probably be done” due to age. We’re going into this market “For Sale As-Is”, baby! Putting aside the extra expenses, our agent did suggest listing in mid-March which allows the first wave of spring sellers to come on the market first. Attracting potential buyers to the area, this becomes a huge advantage since almost every home gets multiple offers after two days of showings .

pendingSure enough, two houses went up for sale this past weekend and today the sign says “Sale pending”. Strategically speaking, the idea is to price the house very close to the highest average price paid per square foot and receive multiple offers after only one “broker’s tour” (a weekday open house where all the buyer’s real estate agents with interested clients come by) and a weekend “open house” where the public gets a crack at it. Hoping to sit down on Monday, March 23rd and review offers, we’re told the process usually involves a “counter-offer” where the seller gets to jack up the price even more under the premise that there’s a “bidding war”.

listingArriving ten minutes early to our house as we were finishing dinner, our agent sat down on one of the few pieces of furniture we’re allowed to keep as part of the staging. Jumping right in, we reviewed the mounds of paperwork we needed to sign in the country’s most litigious state. Having enacted dozens of new rules since the housing debacle that almost ruined the entire world’s economy, California enacted more laws than any state, mostly designed to protect the real estate agent. After the boring stuff, she told us her suggested pricing range. As expected, Diane opted for a number in the high-end of and I voted for a more conservative number. Chinese versus Jewish values at work. In the end, we compromised and settled for an even number halfway in the range.

Unfortunately, the vendors are still coming in droves and the checkbook keeps getting lighter so the pricing meeting was a ray of sunshine in a field of debits. Seller’s commissions and fees from the title company and the county rip into the actual settlement figure so much it makes you wonder why everyone wouldn’t choose real estate agent as a career. (Personally, I like steady paychecks better than commissions). After the window washers finish today, the carpet cleaners come next followed by the house cleaner and the grout guy. On Tuesday, the stager kicks me out for a day and does whatever she does for her ridiculous fee. Returning to what looks like a new house, the photographer comes next Thursday and the property officially gets listed.

hard to live in a staged house

hard to live in a staged house

Living on pins and needles is almost impossible and you can’t so much as pee in your own house without wiping down the toilet seat and floor to make sure it’s in “show condition” so we’re hoping one broker’s tour and a weekend of open house showings gets us enough offers to begin contract talks. Hopefully, we can close escrow by the end of April. As you probably know, we can’t file for our MM2H visa until late April after my 50th birthday and in this crazy land of too much money and credit, our home should be sold by that point.

waitingLeaving the fun part for the end, we have not yet determined when or where we intend to actually leave for Malaysia. Having met our new friends who have already filed, we’re hoping to negotiate an extra month in the house and then drive the car to Diane’s relatives with all our possessions in two suitcases. Attempting to wait as long as possible so the visa application has time to pass it’s “selected stage”, we have no future address and no ties other than our new friends. But with cash in the bank from the sale of our beautiful old house, we won’t have to backpack and stay at youth hostels,

Please bear with us through the next two or there months as we find our way through the final stages and eventually turn the expat blog into a blog about real expats. Stay tuned for pictures of what you get from “house staging” and thanks to everyone for supporting the blog.

Calling all expats: We are still looking for ideas on what to do during our homeless period. Would you just go before the visa is approved or would you impose on relatives as long as possible?

Coming next week:
Our house is staged and ready for listing 

 

11 thoughts on “Our First Baby Steps (Finally)

  1. Stacey

    Just found your blog and I’m on the peninsula too (born and raised and being pushed out!). I’m going international this summer and will likely never return to the Bay Area unless the next bubble burst is worst than the last and I can come back and buy your house for 5xs less than what the future buyer pays 😉
    It is nuts what is happening here between traffic, housing prices, building up of Downtowns and the swift push of the last of the middle class OUT of the area. The worst part to me is the money hungry and rate face attitudes people have adopted on the on the peninsula. It just doesn’t feel like home anymore.
    As a teacher I can’t make ends meet at all. I live where I do to have my short commute and job, I work where I do to be able to afford my modest apartment. If rent went up I couldn’t even afford a studio!
    Congrats to you both for taking advantage of the market and getting to retire early!

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi Stacey
      Thanks for sharing. Prices here are hopelessly out of line with wages for 90% of the population and the “jobs” they talk about rarely allow an affordability index that would make purchasing our house reasonable. (and we only live in The East Bay which is much lower than Silicon Valley). Good luck to whoever spends a small fortune on our house and then finds out retirement is a fantasy.

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  2. Property JBay

    I am not 100% sure of all the real estate laws in California but as a real estate agency in South Africa it would be a wise to not spend a lot of money on the house before the sale but rather lower the price a bit and allow buyers to make their changes. Selling a house can be a big pain. Shop around for different real estate agents that might be more accommodating.

    Good luck with the change.

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    1. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

      Hi and thanks for the informative comment
      That is not the way it works in the SF Bay Area. 90% of the houses are 50 years old or older and almost all require some upkeep and repairs before going to market. Only the wealthiest would be able to spend the cash required to allow a house to be in perfect show condition and that’s certainly not us. This place is like no other in the USA: Our real estate agent put out an initial picture on one website and magazine and we have not even staged yet and she already has interest from a cash buyer before they even know the price or have seen the house. They pay for the school district and ours is among the suburbs. You can sell a hose without spending any cash (hypothetically) but I don’t think any reliable agent would choose to represent sellers unwilling to make the house marketable. They live on reputation and image here and would therefore only want nicely presented properties attached to their name.

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      1. Property JBay

        This is very interesting and i truly understand the image of the agent connected to his/her stock and it is important.

        ”Make sure everyone who works with you or for you, feels the need to tell others about the incredible experience.” – Chris Murray

        but i feel that our reputation as agents are rather affected by the service we provide and the fact that we go the extra mile, not to just make a sale but to make the process of selling or buying a house less complicated and stressful. Thus making a living by changing lives, it is surprising how small things like helping with accommodation while your house is being sold or having inspections included in the commission received from sale (which also gives the seller confidence that the agent is 100% committed to the marketing of the house) means to clients.
        Isn’t this why we became agents?

        Best of luck.

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      2. rodi (Rob and Diane) Post author

        I’m glad that things are different where you are and don’t misunderstand me. I love our agent; she is warm, attentive, personable and very helpful. However, the bottom line is cash. This is America’s most expensive place to live coming in at almost 5 times the national average just for a small house. To buy a house in the city of San Francisco would be a minimum of just about $1 million. With this much cash at stake you need to understand the mindset of what it means to be an agent here. Having an agent pay for inspections would never happen in this market; people have too much money, pay way too much for everything and nobody questions anything. It’s the primary reason we chose to attempt retirement much earlier than planned. Leaving here already makes anyone wealthier.

        We will absolutely recommend of agent to others and speak nothing but praise for her services. But I would not expect her to sacrifice her pay any more than I would expect a buyer to think they can get a house here without bidding higher than asking price. Diane’s co-worker just bid $70K over asking on a house closer to San Francisco than ours and was way off from getting the deal. That’s what it is in a greedy overpriced environment and that’s why we are taking while the taking is good. We overpaid and will make a very small profit which in itself is amazing since the value went down 40% from our purchase price only 5 short years ago. Where else on earth could property values plummet 40% and then rise back higher than they were in a six year period?

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