Why I Love Help-U-Sell

It’s simple: this is a real estate company that puts the consumer first.

I know that sounds like a slogan; and it is something any real estate company would probably say. But in this case it is a powerful truth.

Ordinary real estate companies put the agent first. It is a tradition that goes back to the 1970s, when brokers realized that every time they added an agent, they added that agent’s sphere of influence, his or her client base. Suddenly brokers decided the way to grow and be profitable was to add more and more agents. They got out of the real estate business and into the recruiting business.

Today, there is not one whit of difference in the basic consumer offering of any ordinary real estate company. What distinguishes one from another is what they have to offer agents. Keller-Williams’ competitive edge has nothing to do with what they do for consumers. It’s all about what they do for their agents. Same is true for Re/Max, Coldwel Banker, Century 21 and every large local independent in the country.

I love Help-U-Sell for NOT playing that game. As the rest of the industry decided that the key to success was recruit anyone who had a license, Help-U-Sell focused on selling real estate. It developed a logical and fair method of pricing services that was far less costly to consumers than what ordinary brokers charged. It focused marketing on getting its message out and on getting its listings sold – not on attracting more and more agents.

Here, look at this:

Stupid Century 21 Ad

Not only is this ad just plain stupid on its face, it has nothing to do with the consumer side of selling real estate. And this is how Century 21 spends the massive national advertising war chest funded by its members! Just like every other ordinary real estate company, they have defined their bullseye: it’s all about the agent. It has nothing to do with consumers or selling real estate.

Of course, the reason it has nothing to do with consumers and selling real estate is that Century 21, like Re/Max, Keller, et. al – none of them have a unique consumer proposition! They all do exactly the same thing for (or to, depending on your perspective) consumers. Their consumer operating systems are interchangeable. And it is the same operating system that was in place 50 years ago.

I love Help-U-Sell because they took a long, cold, scientific look at the ordinary real estate business and redesigned it from inside out with logic, fairness and a razor focus on giving consumers what they wanted. They wanted to buy and sell quickly, with a minimum of hassle, inconvenience and drama, and they didn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it. They wanted professional guidance for a reasonable fee. They wanted to look at the commission line on the HUD-1 closing statement and NOT feel used, abused and taken advantage of. They wanted their real estate professionals to make a living . . . not a killing.

And that’s what Help-U-Sell is all about.

Uncluttering Your Electronic Life (Part II)

It’s simple: this is a real estate company that puts the consumer first.

I know that sounds like a slogan; and it is something any real estate company would probably say. But in this case it is a powerful truth.

Ordinary real estate companies put the agent first. It is a tradition that goes back to the 1970s, when brokers realized that every time they added an agent, they added that agent’s sphere of influence, his or her client base. Suddenly brokers decided the way to grow and be profitable was to add more and more agents. They got out of the real estate business and into the recruiting business.

Today, there is not one whit of difference in the basic consumer offering of any ordinary real estate company. What distinguishes one from another is what they have to offer agents. A couple of posts ago I talked about making a conscious effort to ‘Unsubscribe’ from junk mail feeds you receive. You know what I’m talking about: all of that mail you get every week (sometimes every day) from some cause or vendor to whom you inadvertently did (or didn’t) give your email address. Now you get their messages so regularly that you recognize them in your mail box and instantly hit ‘delete.’ I suggested it’s time to make all of that disappear for good and urged you to spend a few minutes each day in all of your mailboxes (including spam and trash), unsubscribing.

I’ve actually been at it for about 3 weeks and my inbox is soo much cleaner. Almost everything I receive has relevance and I’m spending very little time skipping and deleting. It feels much lighter!

Now I’m going to suggest you do the same thing with your Facebook Newsfeed. If you are like me you have dozens of ’Friends’ you’ve never met, many more you know only casually. Some of them may be HUGE Facebook users, posting ten to twenty things a day, all in your Newsfeed, making it very difficult to find the posts about which you really care. You don’t want to ‘Unfriend’ these people – that would be rude; and it’s not that you dislike them . . . you just don’t care much about the things they are posting.

An example would be the Title Rep I met at a party a few years ago. I’m sure she’s a great Title Rep and she’s doing a bang-up job keeping her name in front of the people she’d to refer business to her. But I don’t sell real estate (at the moment), don’t need a Title Rep, and rarely see anything in her postings that causes me to click for more information. In addition, I don’t think she has ever ‘Commented’ on or even ‘Liked’ anything I’ve ever posted. I don’t want to ‘Unfriend’ her – I might need a Title Rep some day. But I don’t want all of her junk cluttering up my Newsfeed.

Here’s the solution. Find one of her posts in the Newfeed. Click the little down arrow in the upper right of the post. Scroll down and select ‘Unfollow Suzie Title Rep.’ Her stuff will no longer appear in your Newsfeed, but she will sty on your ‘Friends’ list. She will still be able to message you and to post directly on your Timeline (with your permission), and vice versa, it’s just that now her routine postings will not appear in your Newsfeed.

The Ongoing Scooter Drama

I am finally out of my cast. The best part of that is the ability to wash my foot and leg; they hadn’t been touched in 5 weeks!

When your cast is removed, what is underneath is gross. The outer layer of skin on my foot died and came off in limp white sheets. After a couple of days moisturizing with Aquafor, the new skin is delightful, but at first? Yecch!

Now I will be wearing a knee-high ‘boot’ for about six weeks. It’s a kinder, gentler cast that comes off for bathing.

I ran into a friend shortly after the accident who strongly advised me to get an attorney. Seems dealing with insurance companies in these kinds of situations is always easier when one has a scary advocate. She referred me to the biggest, baddest, most frightening personal injury lawyer in San Diego: King Aminpour. I pictured a Klingon in a suit.

The office went to work, getting a copy of the accident report and attempting to discover whether the guy who hit me actually was insured.

Understand this: when you engage a personal injury attorney after an accident you are really nothing more than a revenue opportunity. The quality of the opportunity is not determined by you, but by the person who caused the accident. If he or she has good insurance with high levels OR significant assets, you represent a good revenue opportunity. If not . . . well, the law office probably can’t help you much.

The first thing the lawyers did was to put their private investigator on the case. You’d think a PI would be snooping around looking for evidence, but that’s not the case. His job was to first determine whether the guy who hit me HAD insurance (he said he did), and then to determine how much insurance was in place. I know: you’d think you could just call the insurance company and ask . . . but I guess it doesn’t work that way.

Meanwhile my out of pocket expenses have been adding up: my co-pays and deductibles are running about $1,500 so far – and I have pretty good insurance!

A week ago, I learned that the guy who hit me has only minimal insurance: the barely legal kind. If that proves true, MY insurance companies will probably recover what this accident cost them, but there will be little if anything left for me. But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday, his insurance company called my lawyer to say they were not sure this man’s policy was in effect at the time of the accident. They would have to investigate! Maybe the missing payment is at the agent’s office or something! In all likelyhood, there is no insurance. It’s almost as likely that there are few assets. In other words: I’m the loser here.

This man was not cited by the police. They noted that he made an illegal left turn from the center lane, but did not cite him. A policeman explained to me that it is rare that they issue a citation in an accident situation because they didn’t actually witness the event. In addition, it appears that the driver claimed to have insurance when he did not: a clear violation of California law.

So here I am with a broken foot. I will lose 3 months of normal activity and, if the doctors are correct, will likely experience ongoing pain and compromised functionality in the future. My trashed scooter and bad foot have cost me $1,500 so far and the end is not in sight. That’s what I got out of this. The driver? What did he get? A bad day. He was an hour late getting home from work. That’s all. I get a life sentence for his error and he gets inconvenienced.

Can you tell I’m a little angry? No: I’m a lot angry. I hate the fact that we live in a litigious society. I hate that for some, a minor accident is an income opportunity. I hate that this is our reality. But it is. If all this guy owns in the world is the truck he hit me with . . . then I want the truck. There have to be consequences.

National Unsubscribe Week: Sept. 28 – Oct. 5

The air is a little cleaner, a little lighter in my house this week. I’ve been taking an extra minute or two when I hit my inbox to unsubscribe from the dozens of email lists I seem to be populating.

Like you, I am flooded each day with mail I don’t read, don’t often care about, and don’t want. The reasons are varied. Sometimes I actually DID sign up for this incessant advertising. Sometimes I didn’t realize I was signing up. Sometimes I signed up for one thing, not realizing I was also signing up for dozens of other things. You are probably in the same pickle.

So this week, each time I open my inbox, I”m taking an extra minute to open any message I might normally skip. I consider the source for a moment and, if I decide I don’t need this, I scroll all the way to the bottom of the message and search for the unsubscribe link. I’m doing the same thing for messages in my spam folder and in my trash folder.

I am enjoying this lighter, freer feeling so much that I have decided to declare next week, Sept. 28 – Oct. 5, 2014, as National Unsubscribe Week. I’m inviting everyone to take an extra minute or two each time you visit your inbox during the week to scroll to the bottom of any message you would normally skip, and click the unsubscribe link. Your inbox will be smaller, happier, easier to get through and your email address will become less of a commodity to those who distribute your information for a fee.

Scootered Out

I will begin this post with a piece I wrote about a month ago, but never posted.

I sold my Mercedes.

I loved that car. It was a SLK320 – a two-seater, hard-top, convertible. It was older – a 2004 model – but it had less than 60,000 miles on it and was the deluxe, ‘Designo’ model. Beautiful! Drove like a dream and turned heads, it did.

But then there was that brake job. Oh, it was a major brake job, master cylinder and all . . . $3,000. Much as I loved the car I drove in fear of the next failed system, the next breakdown. I’ve read enough about families devastated by catastrophic medical bills; I didn’t want to be one devastated by catastrophic Mercedes Benz repair bills!

So I put it in autotrader.com and it ran for months. I priced it fairly . . well, it was considerably less than I paid 18 months prior . . but still $3,000 over Blue Book. Like a home seller at a listing appointment, I figured it would just be a matter of a few weeks before a drunk buyer would show up having just won some kind of lottery and just dump the cash in my waiting palms! Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

Finally, as my ad neared its anniversary date, I cut the price to near book value and suddenly there was a buyer from Utah, flying in with a cashier’s check!

And then, I was a one vehicle guy.

My only transportation was my 1997 Jeep Cherokee Country (the majorly upgraded model), also a gem with less than 100,000 miles on it. I love the Jeep, too, but it gets, like, 15 miles to a gallon, which can warp your perspective when gas prices top $4 a gallon! I decided I needed something else.

So . . . I bought a scooter. Really! A Honda PCX 150. It’s red and beautiful! I looked at Vespa and there’s no denying the chic appeal there, but this little bike makes sense. It’s powerful, gets up any hill quickly, maneuvers like a figure skater, and has gotten no less than 90 miles per gallon in its first 1,000 miles! It’s perfect for zipping around town, running errands, even shopping. It has this nice deep trunk that is roomy enough to accommodate a lot of purchases. I also carry a big back-bag for times when I exceed the storage capabilities. Since I bought it 2 months ago, I have barely used the Jeep.

My scooter is freeway legal, but I’m not. What I mean is: no way I’m gonna take this little thing out there with all of those maniacs! I’ve become a master at finding the way between point A and point B on surface streets. This past weekend I traveled more than 100 miles out to Ramona and then Santa Ysabel and back, mostly on twisty two lane roads through the hills and mountains. It was a delight!

Ok: that was the month old part. This is today.

Last Thursday – September 11 2014 – I was out for a late afternoon joy ride. I rode through the Park and then downtown. I turned up 5th Avenue for a quick look at the Gaslamp District. I crossed Broadway in the left lane of that three lane one way street, headed North. There was a black Toyota Tundra, King-Cab next to me. We were going about 30 miles per hour.

As we got to B Street, I caught a glimpse of movement in my peripheral vision. I saw the driver yank his steering wheel to the left and then, first his headlight and then the grill of the truck were bearing down on me. He had decided to turn left from the center lane . . . and I just happened to be in the way.

I remember grabbing both brakes as hard as I could . . . I heard a woman scream. Someone shouted h My God!’ And then I was in the street, the bike on top of me and two men were anxiously looking down at me.

‘Brilliant Move!’ I bellowed, ‘Making a turn from the center lane!’

They moved to help, taking the bike off me and walking it over to the curb. I hobbled behind. I knew something was wrong with my foot, but the after-accident adrenaline was powerful enough to mask any pain.

By the time I had gotten to the curb, I surmised that the two men were passengers in the Tundra. ’Who was driving?’I asked. They looked nervous and didn’t answer. I tried again. ‘Who was driving the truck?’

t is over there,’one man said with a choppy accent, pointing to the truck now parked at the curb. A man sat inside, behind the wheel.

‘Quien! Quien estaba manejando?” I shouted. Neither answered.

Feeling my foot begin to ache, I took a seat on the curb. A woman came over and offered me her card. She’s seen the whole thing and was offering to help as a witness if it became necessary. I asked her to please write down the license plate of the truck on the back of her card. She did.

There was a policeman in my face asking what happened and if I was ok. I tried to stand, but couldn’t. An ambulance was on the way. Soon I was on a gurney and loaded in the back of the red vehicle.

The policeman was in and out with a question here and there and then we headed to the hospital: Scripps Mercy.

The ER was overflowing there, so when my friend arrived, we left and went to Kaiser, where I have my health insurance. I figured, why create another layer of billing and potential haggling about who pays for what? But if Scripps was overflowing, Kaiser was flooding. People everywhere.

It took 6 hours to get in and out. My foot was broken in at least 3 places. I was put in a temporary cast and set up with and Orthopedist today.

Turns out three breaks was an understatement. My mid food – the bit between the ankle and the toes – was shattered. I have lots of breaks and lots of little pieces floating around in there. It’s the kind of break they usually correct with surgery, stitching all of the pieces back together. However, my pieces are too small for that. Fortunately, they are lined up pretty good so I am now in a hard cast for 4 – 6 weeks.

So, back to that scooter I love so much. No promises yet . . . but I think, when it gets out of the shop . . . I’m selling it.

I was incredibly lucky in this accident. And I haven’t been able to get the image of that truck heading for me out of my mind. I keep playing it over and over. I think I was getting a message from the beyond and I believe I will pay attention to it.

Motorized two wheelers are fun, efficient and in many ways superior. But car drivers are crazy. They really are. It’s not safe out there without a few thousand pounds of metal around you.

Tax Everybody!

I hate taxes, don’t you?  Every year we pay them and pay them.  We pay real estate taxes and sales taxes and income taxes.  What was it George Harrison sang?

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet

We pay taxes to support our Nation, our State and our Local Governments.  We pay taxes because without them we would not have the ability to maintain order and provide for the general well-being of the citizenry.

(Of course, the whole notion that THAT”S what our government is all about is up for debate . . . but not here, in this post)

The biggest problem I have with taxes is not that I have to pay them, it’s that so many others DON’T!  Here, look at this – here are 43 major corporations who paid NO taxes in 2012 (and many of them paid none the year before or the year before and on and on):



Disgusting, isn’t it?  But this is just the tip of the iceberg!  This is just a sampling!

Did you know that Verizon, General Electric, Kraft Foods, Exxon Mobil, and Boeing paid no taxes?

There are dozens of ways these guys – who, by the way, have absolutely NO Loyalty to America – avoid paying their fair share.  My favorite has to do with companies who manufacture and sell ‘stuff.’  They set up a plant to make a component in a tax friendly nation, pay the workers starvation wages (because there, they can), sell the components to themselves for a hugely inflated price which causes a loss on the balance sheet in the US.  In the tax friendly country, the company makes a huge profit on the components and pays no taxes.

Bear in mind that many of these free loaders are also getting U.S. Government incentives and credits – corporate welfare.  We’re paying them for not paying taxes!

What’s interesting is when you look at which politicians receive donations from these jokers.  Here’s a link.  While the list is littered with Republicans (the party of business, you know), it is interesting that President Obama got more than $50,000 from Verizon and $30,000 from GE.

Put it all in blender and shake it up and what do you get?  A government owned and controlled by big business sucking the financial life out of the general population.  If you think ours is a government by and for the people . . . you’re just not paying attention.

Guess who else doesn’t pay taxes?  Non-Profits, of course.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  Benign, helpful organizations, doing good for the public and making NO MONEY – they shouldn’t have to pay taxes, right?  Sounds good in theory, but in practice, the non-profit designation is often just a tax category (or a no-tax category) loosely applied so that millions can be made while paying nothing.  For example, did you that the National Football League – who had enough cash laying around to pay Roger Goodell $44.2 million in 2012 – is  a NON-PROFIT?  The league has more than $1 billion in assets!  The PGA and NHL are similarly classified as non-profits.  Major League Baseball used to be, but ‘came out of the closet’ so to speak because they didn’t want to have to report the salaries of their top executives.

In my home town of San Diego, the Mission Valley YMCA is a non-profit.  Somehow they managed to pay their top exec more than $500,000 last year, but they didn’t make any money.  I always remember his compensation package when I get the phone call for a donation.

While we’re at it, let’s add another group to the list of tax dodgers.  How about churches?  I know churches are the most sacred of cows and of course we don’t want to burden them with taxes!  I totally agree with that.  I think religious organizations probably ought to be exempt . . . if they are primarily religious organizations.  But over the past 30 years, many have become so political, that I can’t help but wonder why we give them a tax break.  I’m a religious guy (kinda), and I have to pay taxes.  Why not the church who sends protesters to picket the funerals of Marines?

This became very apparent to me a few years ago in the fight over California’s Prop 8.  Regardless what you think about gay marriage, that issue provided a wonderful view of how churches step out of their non-tax paying religious bailey-wicks into politics.   Prop 8 passed largely for two reasons:  it was worded so poorly that, unless you were very careful you would likely vote for it no matter what you really believed, and the donations of churches created a huge war chest of cash in support of the measure.  One of the largest contributors was the Mormon Church.

In America we have the principal of separation of Church and State.  We give churches preferential tax treatment because our religious life is important to us.  It is my opinion that when churches use their funds to influence public opinion and political battles, they should lose their tax-exempt status.

Call me a crazy radical.  I just think everyone should pay their taxes.  Can you imagine how much less we’d all have to pay if everyone paid?  Can you imagine how much good we could do, how much better off we’d all be if we all paid our fair share.

A Beautiful Cataclysm!

I remember when I burned the woods down.  My friend and I were playing in the large, unused cow pasture that stretched out across the street from my family’s home in the country south of Jacksonville, Florida.  We we 1o-ish, I think and were playing cowboys or pioneers or something like that.  We decided we needed a campfire and, of course, had a match.  I remember seeing the flames leap to an ever widening circle, my friend and I stamping and swatting and doing everything we could think of to slow them down, then finally turning and running across the field toward the safety of home.  By the time we climbed the fence by the road our little campfire was roaring through the woods and across the long meadow we’d just come through, shooting flames a dozen feet in the air.

I ran into the house, grabbed the phone and called the fire department.  “I just looked out the window and the woods across the street is ON FIRE!’ I said.  They were there in a matter of minutes.

The firemen did little to stop the fire.  Their efforts were aimed more at containing it, keeping it from jumping the street, and the gawkers from getting too close.  Mostly, they just let it burn itself out, leaving a charred, smoking mess where once tall grass grew.  As they repacked their trucks, questions were asked and soon my friend and I were isolated apart from one another and asked what happened.  I burst into tears and confessed the whole thing and I think my friend did too.  Our stories matched because we told the truth.

I was sure we were going to jail or court or worse . . . but instead we were scolded and turned over to the sternest force in our universe, our parents.  I was on restrictions for three months.

It’s funny what happened next, though.  As the days and weeks went by, as a little rain fell on that blackened pasture, new life sprouted.  Soon the whole meadow was covered with the lushest green grass anyone had ever seen.  It was beautiful!  And no trees had been permanently harmed.  It was as if our unused cow pasture became a little Garden of Eden, a joy to behold in the wake of our wickedness!

And that’s the point.  Sometimes the aftermath of cataclysm is new life and great beauty.

There’s been lots of gnashing of teeth this week about the joining of Trulia and Zillow and what it means for the real estate industry.  Most see it as devastating.  “GodZillow” they call the new company.  But that is a rather naive reaction.  Truth is, this event is just one more step in a process that began in the mid-80s: the elimination of real estate agents and brokers as we know them.

As the real estate industry gradually lost its strangle-hold on listing and sales information, as that information became more and more available to consumers via an explosion in consumer technology, as real estate practice and procedure became more and more standardized, Realtors – who used to rule that roost – have become increasingly irrelevant.

40 years ago, if you wanted to find a home you called a real estate agent who did deep research with proprietary tools only Realtors could access, put you in the car and drove you from home to home until you bought.  It was almost impossible to make a move without an agent.  Today, consumers have access to the same information, do their own research, drive by listings that look interesting on paper and call the agent with a list of homes they’d like the agent to open for them.  The agent’s most important role in the home search process is to open the door.

Real estate purchase agreements although still State specific, have become so standard that typical home transactions involve merely filling in the blanks and getting the signatures on the right lines.  Financing continues to be complex, but few real estate agents today even bother with it.  They usually just turn the qualifying and decision making around the mortgage over to their favorite lender.

What I’m getting at is on the buyer’s side, the agent’s job has gotten far easier and less involved.  But commissions? They’ve stayed the same.

This is true on the seller’s side as well, where the agent’s primary job at time of listing is to help the seller make good decisions about price and staging.  With the maturation of the Internet as a vehicle for exposure, the marketing playing field has leveled between competitors.  Your recently listed property is plugged into the MLS where it is syndicated out to dozens of online real estate portals.  Easy.  Again, your agent is very important helping negotiate a deal, estimating your net proceeds and solving problems as they arise between contract and closing. Still, it is a much smaller job than it used to be . . . but the commissions have stayed the same.

You might end up paying, say, $18,000 to sell your $300,000 house.  Think about that for a moment!  How long does it take you to earn $18,000?  Forget the commission % – what % of your EQUITY is that $18,000?  Is there any fair value for value exchange in this transaction?  Are you getting $18,000 of value for the commission you are paying?  Or are you paying it because you haven’t yet seen the better alternative?  And won’t you be jumping ship as soon as one appears?

And Realtors, the answer to that last question is:  YES!  No matter how much they love you, no matter how great a job they think you did, no matter what a nice review they gave you on Zillow, if they could find a way to do it without paying you $18,000, they would.  And every year we get closer to a world in which they can.  Real estate agents and brokers as we know them are rapidly becoming irrelevant.  In five years they will be extinct.

That’s the cataclysm, the fire storm.  Here’s the new life, the beauty, the Garden of Eden on the other side:

Right now the new way to sell your home is blossoming as the old model crumbles.  It is based on the bizarre notion that it costs no more to sell a $500,000 home than it does a $300,000 home . . . so everybody pays pretty much the same thing (and we’re talking a dollar amount here, not a %).  It’s rooted in the reality that selling real estate is not rocket science and Super Star agents who do 20 deals a year (whoopie) are not intrinsically necessary for the business to function.  It’s focused on creation and refinement of systems that get most of the work in a home transaction done, logically, efficiently, with a minimum of surprise and drama.

That’s the green grass on the other side of the cataclysm.  It is called Help-U-Sell.  And if you’re are serious about not just being in business, but thriving in the new world, you’d be wise to take a look.  I don’t even work for them anymore – but if you’d like an overview, I’d be happy to share one.