Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Short Sales Revisited

(Originally posted April 13, 2008)

Because of declining home values, many homeowners (especially those that bought between 2004-2006) owe more than their home is worth. This can be for a few reasons, such as: they put zero down, they financed the home and their closing costs (103% loan), they took an interest only loan, a 3/1 ARM or a pay-option ARM. Any of these choices will have made them "upside down" from the day they closed. Now when they want to sell, in order to walk away, they would have to bring money to the closing (not possible in 99.99% of the cases).

There is an alternative where the bank will "forgive" the amount you owe that's over the sale price. It is called a short sale (you are selling for less than the loan owed to the bank.) Due to all the foreclosures in Las Vegas and the country, the only way to compete for a buyer is a short sale. Many inexperienced real estate agents (and those not trained to do short sales) will list a home as a short sale, pick a price that is: a) reasonable for what the same homes are selling for as foreclosures or b) pick a lowball price, hoping the bank will take it and it will attract buyers to their listing.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy. You, the homeowner, have to qualify to sell your home short. Here's the general qualification list:

1 - You have to be at least 45 days behind in your mortgage payment (receiving a "Notice of Default" from your lender)
2 - You have little or no equity in your home
3 - You have no assets that you can sell (other homes, money in the bank, extra cars, boat, etc.) to payoff the shortfall
4 - You must have suffered a financial hardship (job loss, death of spouse, major health issue, rate adjusting loan)

If you qualify with all of the above, you can submit a short sale application to the bank, with your paystubs, your bank statements (from all accounts) along with a hardship letter - and the bank will review this to see if you qualify.

It's the last step that most agents are not doing. The majority of short sale listings are putting the home up for sale and then submitting the application once they receive an offer. The big problem is that this is entirely backwards, and if you're the buyer, you can potentially wait 4 to 6 weeks, even 3 months (personal experience) before the bank will even consider your offer. Once they consider the offer, they usually counter it with a higher number, rather than accepting it. Even worse, many buyers are putting in lowball offers plus closing costs (which is okay, it's a buyer's market), and the banks don't even bother to respond - EVER.

This is why I counsel most of my buyers that short sales are make believe listings and I will not show them, UNLESS, the listing says "Short Sale Approved." I do call the listing agents and ask them where they are in the process, and I've yet to have a listing be approved.

Those three magic words are the key to a successful short sale. Unfortunately, one out of 100 listings are approved.

Just for clarity, for the person selling, if this is not your primary residence, you will most likely be responsible to pay the taxes (to the IRS) for the amount "forgiven" by the lender. In some cases, the bank makes you pay them back for the money you're short - in the form of a long-term installment loan.

I am trained to get approvals on Short Sale listings, but there's a short timeline before foreclosure, and many sellers don't contact me (or any agent) before it's too late. If you feel that you do qualify for a short sale, or will in the very near future - it is time to call me now to explore your options.

How to see all the Las Vegas shows (for free)

(Originally posted on March 16, 2008)

My little secret

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I've reviewed a few shows that I've seen over the recent months. Real Estate has been so busy that I haven't been writing on anything except work. I wanted to share with you how I get to see so many shows.

If you drive anywhere around Vegas, you see the billboards for all the shows. You see them at the airport, in the airport, on the Strip, in the hotels, on TV, on the radio -- they're everywhere. It's really fantastic that we have every major entertainer at our fingertips. The hard part is affording the tickets to see all of them. So here's my little secret on how to see almost every show on the Strip, for FREE.

There's a service here, for locals, that offers free seats to shows for the same day. In other words, you'll get an email that says tickets are available, you log on to the website, choose how many tickets you want and go to the show. That's it.

Okay, I hear you saying, "Yeah, it's for junk nobody wants to pay for, I bet." Well, I'll let you judge for yourself. I joined the service in January (I paid a small fee for the year) and you can go to unlimited shows. Here's what we've seen in the last three months:

Blue Man Group, Bobby Slayton (comedian), Defending the Caveman, Larry G. Jones (the Man of 1002 Voices), 3 Redneck Tenors, Boz Scaggs, Sarah Silverman, Roseanne Barr (opening night), Las Vegas Tenors, Carrot Top, Barry Manilow and Ronn Lucas. The last 4 shows were all this week!

Because I wasn't near my computer at the time the email went out, I've missed tickets for Bette Midler, Zumanity and so much more. In these last three months, we have seen thousands of dollars of entertainment, in excellent seats. So what's the catch? There is none.

Before I tell you the name of the service, I have a favor to ask, because there's no reason you shouldn't join. When you sign up, they will ask who referred you. Please say MARK KARTEN. I get an extra month's subscription when you use my name, and once you're a member, you can do the same.

Alright, the service is and here's how it works. There are three membership levels. The first cost $39 and you get two tickets to all shows offered for 60 days (I don't suggest this level.) The second cost $89 and gets you two tickets to all shows for an entire year. This is unbelievable - because if you go to one show, you've already earned your entire membership fee (read the list above again to see what I've seen in the last three months). The last option is $169 and gets you 4 tickets to each show.

I've seen a dozen shows already, and could see a show every night. It's difficult, though, when you have to work in the morning. I can't say enough about the service, the seats and the choices. If you enjoy live entertainment and really want to appreciate Las Vegas for the entertainment town that it is, I guarantee you this is the best $89 you'll ever spend. Enjoy, and drop me a note if you've become a member!

Las Vegas Real Estate Auctions

(Originally posted on March 16, 2008)

Are they too good to be true?

If you've seen the commercials on TV, heard them on the radio, visited the websites or picked up the booklets -- you know that "The Lender foreclosed home auction is coming" and "265+ homes MUST BE SOLD!" Rather than exploring the hype, I want to show you the reality of what's being offered.

Caveat Emptor

You may have heard this Latin term before which means "Let the buyer beware," but more specifically it is a property law doctrine that controls the sale of real property (real estate) after the date of closing. When you buy a foreclosure, it's simply stated as an "As-Is" purchase.

Regardless of whether you buy a foreclosure at auction or as an MLS listing, it will always be sold as-is. To protect yourself, you need to perform your due diligence, which is gaining access to the home and having structural and mechanical inspections completed before you agree to purchase.

Why buy at Auction?

This is the question posed on page 3 of the auction brochure. In my personal opinion, this section is pure marketing, and I'd like to counter some of these claims:

Here's their pitch: "There are many reasons to buy foreclosed homes at auction. First and foremost is that you set your OWN price. You are not at the mercy of a seller's unrealistic "asking price." Other benefits include:

* No long negotiation period with offers going back and forth
* Huge selection of homes at rock-bottom auction prices
* Our Sellers are the lenders who own these homes. They are VERY motivated to sell these homes and sell them now!

Sounds exciting and great, right? Well, let's read the small print.

The process of buying at auction

First you need to register to participate in the auction - that's free. You go to Then you need to get pre-qualified (no cost or obligation). So far, so good.

Now you look through the catalog or review the homes on the website and pick your favorites. Then you visit these homes during the open houses held the weeks prior to the auction. The company advises you to "visit every property you would consider bidding on. Make an informed buying decision, go out and thoroughly inspect each property you are interested in."

Okay, let's start right here. Unless you are a home inspector by trade, you will need to schedule the home inspector to be at your potential new home during the open house. The utilities will have to be on (many times they're not and there's nobody to ask in advance to turn them on), so that all systems can be tested. This inspection will cost you, depending on the size of the home, anywhere from $200-$500. For argument's sake, let's say you do that, and the report comes back to your satisfaction.

Day of the Auction

To participate in the auction, there is no admission charge and no registration fee. Excellent! You need to bring a cashier's check for $5,000 (payable to yourself) or cash, and your checkbook. When your new home comes up for bid, you are asked to bid up to your maximum amount.

If you are the winning bidder, this is what will happen next. First a 5% premium is added to the price of the home, which becomes part of the total purchase price. You will then sign documentation confirming you are the winning bidder. Since you've been pre-qualified for a loan already, your financing and documentation will be done right then and there.

Then you sign over your $5,000 cashier's check, which gets deposited into a Trust account with a national title company (all is still good.) You also need to write a check for the balance of what equals 5% of the Total Purchase Price. After that, you will be required to close within 30 days.

Let's take a look at their example:

Your winning bid - $200,000
5% Buyer's Premium + $10,000
Total Purchase Price $210,000

5% Earnest Money Deposit $10,500
$5,000 Cashier's check - $5,000
Remainder - Personal Check $5,500

I think most readers might stop right here. Why? Right now you can buy a house up to $400,000 (including almost every foreclosure), get FHA financing with only 3% down, and the seller can contribute to that or pay that downpayment for you. You are also not rushed into spending money on an inspection for a house you may not "win" at auction.

Let's dig deeper...

Everything about the auction is on the up and up. I don't want you to think that it's anything less than that. What I'm trying to point out is that purchasing a home conventionally (using a Realtor) is almost always a smoother, saner and safer way to go. (And I can almost certainly guarantee that you will pay less than at auction.) Why? Because the banks can only lose so much money on the house! The ads may say "MUST BE SOLD" but it's not true, and the auction tells you so.

I'm going to use one of the homes listed for auction as an example. The home is located in Silverado Ranch with a starting bid of $109,000. It says "Previously valued to $290,026." This home was just removed from the MLS yesterday, I presume, in preparation for the auction. It was listed as a foreclosure sale with a price of $239,900. According to the County Assessor's office, the bank paid $290,296 (ah, there's the origin for the previously valued amount.)

My question to you is this, "Do you think if the bank only gets one bid on this house for $109,000 - that they will sell it to the winning bidder?" I highly doubt it. Here's why:

The disclosure that safeguards the auction house and lender is located under the "Terms and Conditions" section of their materials. It is in #3, Bidding and Buying at the Auction, and is labeled, "Reserve Price: All Properties have a Reserve Price, meaning the Seller of each Property has established an unpublished, minimum selling price. The starting bid is not the Reserve Price." In other words, the buyers bidding must meet or exceed this secret reserve price, have the highest bid AND the bid must be accepted by the Seller "subject to confirmation."

Are you still with me?

Gee, I admire your fortitude. Let's cover "subject to confirmation" for a moment. According to the auction company, "if your bid is not immediately accepted by the Seller, the Auctioneer will inform the Winning Bidder that their winning bid is subject to confirmation. You agree that your purchase is contingent upon the Seller approving the purchase, which is at their sole and absolute discretion within 15 days of executing the Purchase Agreement. If the Seller chooses not to sell, you will get your $5,000 plus the check you wrote back. Hmmm. Wait, I'm not done yet.

Financing your purchase

So you got pre-approved to buy your new home. Now the lender has to do an appraisal of the property. Due to the physical condition of the property, your lender may not provide financing to you. If you pre-qualified through the auction's designated lender but cannot get financing for the home, you will get your earnest money back. The terms only mention the designated lender, not any other lender.

Well, there's gotta be an escape clause for you, the buyer, right?

Uh, no. Only if you use the designated lender and you don't get approved, then you'll get your money back. If you use your own lender and you don't get approved, you lose. If you find something wrong with the home after you win the bid, you lose. Read the "Due Diligence" portion of the Terms and Conditions carefully before even considering purchasing one of these homes. If the words don't make sense, consult an attorney or someone knowledgable that you trust.

A saner alternative

While the prospect of saving tens of thousands of dollars is enticing, the reality might be somewhat different when purchasing through an auction. As an experienced Realtor, using my services (for free) allows you to be protected every step of the way through the purchase, to have safeguards from buying blindly and to have control of much of the process.

Here's the difference in the process, and the peace of mind that I can offer:

1 - You get pre-qualified with a lender.
2 - We discuss the details of the type of home you want and possible locations.
3 - I show you homes meeting your criteria, and continue to inform you of new listings as they are posted for sale.
4 - I physically preview homes you are interested in, if you wish, to reduce unnecessary running around.
5 - When we find the home you desire, we submit an offer, on your terms, to the listing agent.
6 - I negotiate on your behalf and I work towards getting your offer accepted.
7 - The offer will be contingent upon inspections done to your satisfaction and final approval of your loan. If you are unhappy with the condition of the home, or don't get loan approved, you will receive your earnest money back (usually a much smaller amount than 5% of the purchase price - normally $2,000, depending on the price of the home.)
8 - You are not operating in the dark, have representation from a Real Estate professional, have a source for any answers you seek and total peace of mind.
9 - I accompany you to your closing at title, explaining any uncertainties and I am your agent for life, after you've moved into your home and for years to come.

I hope this has been helpful as an insight into the auction process, and buying a foreclosure home in general. If you need any specific questions answered, feel free to contact me anytime.

Is now really the time to buy?

(Originally posted on March 9, 2008)

Making the jump

For most folks who are renting, buying a home is definitely on their wish list. No matter where you turn, the TV and newspaper headlines cry gloom and doom. Personally, if I see one more picture of a "FORECLOSURE" sign, I'll scream. Yet there are two sides to every story, and if you read between the lines, the message is "BUY NOW."

Time magazine really did a great job in a recent article on showing why it makes more sense to buy now than to wait. Click HERE to read the article.

Auctions, New homes, For Sale by Owner - Where to start?

Every street you drive down, you see the signs. OPEN HOUSE, FORECLOSURE, MUST SELL, NO REASONABLE OFFER REFUSED - how appealing is that!? The signs are meant to lure you in, but beware, buying a house is no easy feat. Unless you're buying from a new home builder, almost every "bargain" is being sold as-is. That means you've got some due diligence (investigation) to do, before you want to make that house your home. Don't do it alone.

Proper representation

I can't stress strongly enough how important it is to work with a Realtor. Having a Realtor represent you costs you NOTHING. We get paid by the seller. I can't speak for other real estate agents, but I am trained to protect your rights and make sure you know all the facts so you can make an informed decision, and get the best price AND incentives, no matter whether you're buying from a builder, homeowner or bank.

Most folks think they're "Just looking" when they drive through neighborhoods or go to see new home models. As soon as you walk in, unrepresented (without an agent WITH YOU), you are now going it alone. It doesn't matter if you didn't sign in, a real estate agent can't represent you.

New home sales, too

What's especially confusing for buyers is that they think when they go to see new homes, that the sales agent on-site is there to represent them. Unfortunately, that's not true. That agent represents the seller ONLY. They cannot represent you, and no matter what "bargain price" they tell you they're offering, you can do better with a Realtor. Again, you must walk in with the Realtor on the first visit.

I know what you're thinking, "But we want to narrow down which homes we like, and don't want to drag someone along with us," or "We were just driving home and saw the signs and went in." Remember, the minute you walk through the door, you're now going it alone.

This may all sound self-serving for you to use a Realtor, but talk to someone who had a bad experience with a home purchase, and you'll see I have your best interests at heart. Do you have a friend or relative who has their real estate license? That's great. Make sure they are experienced, have closed on sales recently, understand the market, the area you're buying in, and the true values of the homes being sold.

Rent versus Buy

The bottom line is this, with the new loan qualifications just released by the government and the pending rate cuts by the Fed, it is truly cheaper to buy than rent now. Why keep throwing your money away when you can start earning equity on a home of your own? Give me a call and let's get started today.

Perception versus Reality

(Originally posted on February 10, 2008)

A view from the trenches

I meet new people every day, and when they ask what I do and I enthusiastically respond that I'm a Realtor, their next question is always the same. "Aw. How's business?" Yet they think they already know the answer, since it's a pretty well-known fact. Here's the funny part, I haven't been this busy since 2005.

More than ripples

Where 2007 was a lake that had no movement on it, this year we started with some ripples, which was encouraging, and now we've got little waves going. Now a ripple might not catch someone's eye, but waves certainly do. The problem is if you're looking down at the ground and not at the water, you'll most likely miss the motion.

More specifics

I am currently working with over a dozen buyers - ready, willing and able buyers. Having been pre-qualified with a lender, they all have a clear understanding of what they can afford, and are shopping accordingly. There are so many homes for sale, that you feel like a kid in a candy shop. It's not true, but it feels that way.

Many of the homes are foreclosures, and they're a mixed bag. They can be move-in perfect, or there can be an evident past water leak or something that we're just not willing to deal with. Finding a home to buy has not been a problem. It's actually trying to buy the place that's frustrating.


The process of buying real estate is a pretty formal one, especially in this day and age of litigation. There's a lot of papers to fill out, all covering everyone's best interests. Legally, once you submit an offer to a seller, they have X amount of days to respond to the offer. In fact, if they don't respond, it's a felony (and the statute is clearly printed underneath the required response date.) Unfortunately, in foreclosures and short sales, while we're dealing with an agent for the "seller," the ultimate seller/approver is a bank, and they hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

In a nutshell, no response. No response in a week, or two weeks, or six weeks. This is not a secret - Realtors know this is the process and we tell our clients to have patience. But put yourself in their position, and it's hard to sit around knowing whether or not your home was sold to someone else, or if you're still in the running, or if you have to put in an entirely new bid.

Multiple offers

It's rare that I preview a home for a client, and there aren't already 30 agents who have been there before me (we leave our business cards on the counter as evidence.) So when I find a great home and we submit an offer, we're certainly not the only ones in the pool. When the offers are too close to one another, or none meet the bank's minimum, I'll get a call from the listing agent - "The bank wants your highest and best offer, and you have until noon tomorrow to submit it." Wow, that's great. Now the ball is rolling and we should know one way or the other if we have the home. Uh, not really. I'm still waiting on results from highest and best offers that were submitted weeks ago.

Owner occupied vs. Investment

As everyone predicted, the investors have been waiting for this buyer's market and they are out in force. Equally, though, are buyers who want their first home, or a move-up home, and are emotionally attached when they find a home they really like. It's those owner occupied folks who get really frustrated by this process. On a normal sale, you'll know in two days whether your offer was accepted, but to wait six weeks or more just for a response is heart-breaking. And that's just for a response - then you have to counter back and forth for a few more weeks.

There are alternatives

Of course, we could skip the entire foreclosure market (loyal readers know I disregard short sales - and in fact, the Las Vegas short sale numbers have dropped by 500 this week alone.)

Buying a home directly from the owner is the preferred way of owning real estate. First and foremost, the seller is required to disclose the condition of the property (better known as the SRPD - Seller's Real Property Disclosure.) If the seller fails to disclose any material fact about the home, they are liable to the new owner. In a foreclosure, you waive your right to the SRPD because the bank never lived in the house and can't fill one out for you.

The negotiation process is much smoother and quicker, and you can close in about 30 days. The problem is that sellers are still pricing their homes above market price, and buyers aren't even seeing those homes as viable options.

If sellers would price their homes realistically, show their math (meaning - this is why the home is worth this much in today's market based on comparable solds of the last three months), and stick to their true low price - we'd really be rockin' and rollin'.

Negotiation is human nature

In a normal sale, everyone wants to negotiate. It sends shudders down a buyer's spine to put in a full price offer. However, on a foreclosure, we're now in a feeding frenzy and the bank is getting offers ABOVE the list price. It's the ultimate eBay auction where people want to win after becoming attached to the item up for bid. And I predict this is just the tip of the iceberg. Wait until the weather gets really nice - EVERYBODY will be out - looking and bidding, inching those prices up. Just what the banks want!

It's only a suggestion

I try and counsel my buyers so that they actually write an offer that gets accepted. Banks are not pricing the homes with extra padding in the price. They have a software program that gives them their bottom line based on the market (ours is declining), comps, condition of the home, length of time on the market, etc.

If you just can't stand to put in an offer at 100% list, then put in a 97% offer and be willing to pay your own closing costs. That should make you the new homeowner. Once you deviate from that simple formula, you'll just be noise in the system. If you're bidding on a listing all alone, you may have a shot at a counter offer from the bank, but you're rarely alone on a bid.

The press is waking up

There is such a thing as old news, and folks everywhere are getting tired of hearing about sub-prime loans, falling house values, etc. Now the new buzzword is "Recession." You'll read it here first, there will not be a recession. For as many articles I read pointing to the "R" word, there are more articles showing why we won't get there. Here's one that really breaks down the numbers (if you're a numbers person): The 2008 Economic and Housing Report.

The most interesting part of the above-referenced report is "Pent-Up Demand." We are definitely seeing this in Las Vegas, and the word will reach the press soon. There's no way I can say this is good news for sellers, it isn't. Home values are not going to go up any time soon. But it's the buyer's turn now, and those in the game are most likely to walk away winners.

Bottom line - it is a great time to buy. Las Vegas is back in the news in a good way, here's one example - Best and Worst Places to Buy a House. Do your own research and investigation, but it's time to get off the couch and in the car - it's time to move. Happy Hunting!

A night to remember

(Originally posted on January 23rd, 2008)

The Palazzo has arrived

Finally, after watching construction 24/7 for the last 2 years on the corner of Spring Mountain and the Strip, the Venetian's sister hotel/casino/mega-mall, The Palazzo, opened during a weekend of celebration and festivities.

This addition makes the Venetian/Palazzo/Sands Convention Center the largest hotel and convention center in the US, with over 7,000 rooms and more than 2 million square feet of convention space.

Although there have been plenty of opportunities to watch the casinos get imploded, attending a grand opening is a rare occasion. So when "The Palazzo Grand Opening Celebration" offered tickets to the public, I couldn't resist.

High expectations

The evening was billed as "Luminaries and Legends" with host Wayne Brady, performances by "The Jersey Boys," Andy Garcia and the Cineson All-Stars, Seal and Diana Ross. I was also told by the box office agent on the phone that there would be food from Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse and Charlie Trotter. Well, for $129 a ticket, this seems like a pretty good deal.

The masses converge

On a regular Saturday night, the Las Vegas Strip is busy, even in January. Add a grand opening in the mix, and you've got a jam sandwich. Surprisingly, the traffic getting into the hotel was light, although we had to park on the bottom floor (easy in, not so easy out.)

There were thousands of people here to see the show, and it was held in the Convention Center, rather than one of the theaters in the hotel. This is where things started to unravel.

Holding a show in a cavernous room makes it difficult for good acoustics. How do you overcome this? Blast the music. Considering we were going to hear top-rate talent, the volume shouldn't have mattered. What we weren't counting on was the Venetian lounge act that played to fill time throughout the evening.

Something for almost everyone

In an arena this large, it's going to be hard to cater to everyone's taste. The house band played a funky, screechy selection of instumentals that was best summed up by all the folks holding their ears from the pain. Literally - too loud and too, uh, loud. A better choice would have been some pre-recorded music from any decade that had more mass appeal and an easier tone.

The 8pm show started not so promptly at 8:35 and Wayne Brady opened the show with highlights from his show, then plugged his show, then left for his 9pm show, never to return - not really a host.

It took almost a half hour in between acts, as they changed the stage accordingly. It felt much longer. A video montage plugged "The Jersey Boys," who were introduced by Jamie Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano) on "The Sopranos." The "boys" were terrific and the show will certainly be a tremendous hit here in Vegas.

Then actor/singer/musician Andy Garcia performed with his band. They played Cuban songs, which were pleasing and I guess it was cool to see Andy Garcia in person, playing the bongos, rather than in Ocean's 11, 12 or 13. Oh yeah, he was introduced by Miss America 2007.

High-definition performances

The invited guests (free ticketed VIPs) were in the first 62 rows. We were in the first row of paying seats after that, and then there were 100 more rows behind us. Since this room was so huge, the performers looked like tiny ants on the stage. As in any large venue, there are giant TV screens hanging so that you can see these folks close up.

These TV screens were gorgeous. You could see every freckle up close, which was fantastic. Seal, the Grammy award-winning singer, was up next. He performed five songs and knocked it out of the ball park. Crystal clear voice and great stage presence. Your eyes went back and forth from stage to screen, because he's so interesting to see really close up.

Seal wasn't off the stage but two minutes, and the announcer introduced Diana Ross. She came out in a sequin-covered gown that really played off the lights. All eyes went up to the TV screens, and all we saw was the promotional photo of Diana Ross. I guess she saw everyone else's close-ups and at 63, said, "No way."

Rules are made to be broken

Although she sang as good as ever, we really couldn't see her. Instantly, my wife said, "Let's go up to the stage!" What? I said, "Uh, you go. Security is never going to let you up there, it's VIPs only!"

Never underestimate the power of someone who wants to see an icon up close. My wife grabbed my hand, and before I knew it, we were 10 feet away from this legend. I'll tell you what, she looked fantastic. She should have let the cameras stay on to let everyone get a good look.

Most surprisingly, she wasn't lip-synching. When everyone from Britney to Ashlee to Cher do it, I would expect her to as well. Nope, it was all her, talking and singing, making the audience sing parts of the songs. A truly fun, exciting experience.

Would I do it again?

The show ended, there was no encore and it took about a half hour to get to our car. Then it took 45 minutes of inching out of the garage, finally getting on the street at 11:45pm.

Oh yeah, the food. There was no food -- just miscommunication from the ticket agent about what the night was supposed to be, to what it became.

Only because the performances by Seal and Diana Ross were so good and ended on such a positive note, did we ultimately enjoy ourselves. All in all, at these prices, there are many other places we could have had a better time for a lot less. But that's Vegas, baby!

P.S. The hotel is everything you would imagine it to be. Very classy, understated and very high ceilings which give it a great upscale feel. Don't miss the opportunity to stroll through the lobby, the fountains and the stores. Barney's New York is quite an eyeful.

New York's Finest

(Originally posted on January 14th, 2008)

The holy grail of dining

If you've lived in or visited New York, you may have heard of a legendary Italian restaurant called Rao's, which has been around since 1896. I say heard of, because I'm almost certain you've never eaten there. Why? Because it's impossible to get in.

First, it's located in Harlem, a location that isn't on most visitor's maps. Second, they don't take reservations. Third, they're only open weekdays and only have one seating. Finally, the restaurant is very small, only 10 tables. To top it off, the food is supposedly so excellent that celebrities and regulars are the only people to ever eat there, and celebrities have been known to get turned away.

I want in!

After reading reviews and hearing stories, after awhile it becomes a pipe dream that you would ever get to taste the food there. Until now. Last year, January 26th, 2007 -- if I'm not mistaken, Rao's opened at Caesar's Palace. While I can't be labeled a "foodie," I do enjoy my food on a purely spectator level. Let me assure you, this is some of the best Italian food you will ever eat.

Once was good, twice was better

Let me warn you now, Rao's is addicting. Out of all cuisines, Italian is our favorite, and we're pretty tough critics. Las Vegas has some very good Italian restaurants, and I can't name them all here, but they don't elicit rave reviews or the desire to visit on a regular basis. Rao's is different. We first went two weeks ago and the food was outstanding. Then you leave, but the thought of returning seeps into your brain, and just gnaws at you. Scary, huh?

So we went back again this weekend, keeping our fingers crossed that the experience could be recreated. It was, and then some. The portions are perfect, if you don't fill up on bread early on. My wife was unable to finish the last bites of her entree, and has regretted (and talked about it) since we left the table.

Not a restaurant reviewer

As I said earlier, I'm not a foodie, so I couldn't tell you what spices were used in any of the dishes. What I can tell you is that the meatballs ($12 for 2 - a great appetizer to share) are pure meat with a tomato sauce that you will sop up every drop with their bread. They are famous for their Lemon Chicken, which is a 1/2 roasted chicken, on the bone, that is very lemony, incredibly moist and quickly gone.

My favorite is a pasta dish with sweet sausage and the best broccoli rabe I have ever eaten. Ever. Their meat and seafood dishes are excellent. My wife had a black linguine (the black is derived from the ink of a squid), with the freshest seafood you'll find in Vegas. Then there's dessert. It doesn't matter how I describe their lemon cheesecake or their Tiramisu, you have to try it for yourself.

You again?

While we may not be celebrities, we are certainly heading toward "regular" status. We already have our next reservation placed, and my wife is thinking up reasons to go sooner than that. There will be no argument from me.

Rao's is located in Caesar's Palace and you can make reservations directly at the restaurant after 5pm by calling 702-731-7267. Buon appetito!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Experiencing Fremont Street

(Originally posted on January 13, 2008)

The Vegas Vibe

Having lived in Las Vegas for more than 8 years, I've managed to visit downtown infrequently. We ate at Binion's Chinese restaurant a few years ago, and the folks who were in the casino and general area were not the type of people we usually "hang out" with.

A new attitude

The Golden Nugget has a show playing in their showroom called "Defending the Caveman" and based on the fact this show has some really good buzz, we decided to attend. I must admit we had a terrific time and downtown Las Vegas was a lot of fun.

A carnival atmosphere

OK, if you're going to be on Fremont Street at night, make sure to get there before the "hour." The overhead canopy is four blocks long, 90 feet wide and has 12.5 million LED bulbs. They have 7 shows a night (a different one each hour) from 6pm to midnight. Timing is everything and we got there at 8:10 and left at 10:30 and didn't get to see any of the shows, but we'll be back.

At first, it's hard to pin down what you're feeling as you walk through this open, yet covered mall. Then it hits you, it's a carnival. Music blaring, people drinking, kids running around, lots of street vendors, a jazz saxophone player who is incredible, mini-bike riders defying gravity and collisions in a giant, hollow sphere, and tons and tons of people. Honestly, it's a great, fun place to be. If nothing else, people watching is terrific.

The Nugget

Going to see this show gave us the opportunity to see The Golden Nugget Hotel up close and personal. I'd rate this place a 10. It is immaculately clean, minimally smoky and very classy with an Old Vegas feel, rather than the Strip Disneyland version of what Las Vegas has become.

One of the most impressive features of the hotel is the pool area. The hotel is built around the pool, and even though you can't swim past 5pm (the heated pool is open year-round), the bar at the pool is busy (even at 10:30 on a chilly night) and the sights are awesome.

The center of the pool is "The Tank", a 200,000 gallon shark tank, with a three-story water slide that goes THROUGH the tank. Tons of chaises, oversized sofas, loveseats, underwater chaises, outside table games to gamble on during the day, this place has it all.

Inside, the hotel is elegant with marble, dark woods, crystal chandeliers, fresh flowers. Really, they have not missed one detail. But I digress, because we only came to see the show (or so we thought).

A one-man show (and a ghost, too)

If you're in a relationship that is beyond a year or more, I think you'll relate to "Defending the Caveman". Whether you're a man or woman, this is a very funny, insightful show into relationships that has a great point of view. Performed by Kevin Burke, you are invited to participate in the show, rather than just listen to a monologue.

I give Kevin high marks for performing a "scripted" show while asking folks for input that turns the show into semi-improv. We had a heckler in our audience who was handled perfectly, and without demeaning or insulting him (not an easy thing to do).

For a 75 minute show, there are plenty of laughs and you walk out with a greater appreciation of your better half. The show has been playing since 1991 around the country and is the longest running solo play in Broadway history. However, it's totally up-to-date as far as cultural references, so it never felt dated.

The showroom itself is state-of-the-art, the set is great and the sound system is also top-notch. However, the lighting had ideas of its own. In fact, at one point, the lights totally went out except for Kevin's spotlight. He broke character, started laughing and told the audience a story that his dressing room was built for Frank Sinatra and is exactly the same as when Frank used it.

As Kevin tells it, Sinatra is haunting the place as he has personally experienced some unexplained antics in the dressing room. Even that part of the show was entertaining, and makes you appreciate a live show versus two hours of acrobats and new age music.

Overall, I highly recommend this show, The Golden Nugget and the entire Fremont Street experience. Not your typical Saturday night in Las Vegas. We'll definitely be back (maybe to see Rich Little, who's also performing at the same hotel) and see some of the light shows outside.

A good news headline!

(Originally posted on January 13, 2008)

Numbers don't lie

What a pleasure to open the newspaper and see in big, bold print -- "Affordable housing is easier to find" -- yippee! I didn't need the paper to tell me that, I see it every day. Yet after being bombarded with bad news week after week, month after month, this is a ray of beautiful light.

The article, which you can read here:

speaks specifically about new homes sales around the valley, and shows that 25 neighborhoods across Las Vegas offer brand-new homes for under $200,000. Isn't that exciting? They're not even talking about existing homes for sale.

New versus pre-owned

Let's be honest, we can't focus on sellers at this time, because they're in a bad way, no matter how you look at it. Buyers, however, are incredibly lucky right now. It's like being a kid in a candy shop. Sure, you can own a brand-new home, but it may not be exactly in the neighborhood you wanted to be in. So the drive should compensate for the new home smell and exact upgrades you choose.

Compare, though, an existing home that already has every upgrade already chosen (and installed and paid for) plus custom paint, plus a finished backyard (maybe a pool, too) -- in just the part of town you've always dreamed of living in. Tough decision, right?

It all comes down to choices, and buyers have lots to choose from. Again, very exciting. Here's a shameless plug, but something not all buyers realize. It costs you nothing to work with a Realtor. Personally, I listen to exactly what you're looking for and narrow down everything available to homes you'd really be interested in.

Why do it on your own?

With gas at $3.00 a gallon and many homes being hard to contact the owners/Realtors, let me make your biggest lifetime purchase the most pleasurable. I'll also show you how your prospective new home stacks up in value to its competition. By clicking on "Raving Fans" on the menu bar of, you can read just how helpful working with a Realtor can be. And at an unbeatable price, too.

Battle of the Girlie shows

(Originally posted on January 12, 2008)

Ooh La La versus Crazy Horse

Now you may be thinking, "It's a win-win proposition, pitting one topless revue against another" (but you'd be wrong, grasshopper.) I think a natural expectation of going to high-priced shows like these, you would be greatly entertained. It just depends what your definition of entertainment is.

Can naked not be sexy?

Unfortunately, the sad answer is yes. Having watched "Crazy Horse" at the MGM Grand last night in $60 seats, while these gals show much more flesh than the "Ooh La La" girls, it's all about art here, and neither I nor the rest of my party (two guys and two gals) were entertained. I won't ruin it for you, except to say, "Save your money."

Sometimes less is more

The production values in "Crazy Horse" are top-notch. You're in a real theater and the lighting, effects and props are all first-rate. In "Ooh La La" at the Paris, the setting is a lounge, with a simple stage and basic props. The differences beyond that are major. The "Ooh La La" girls are having fun, and you feel that energy throughout the show. It's silly, sexy, sultry and for the most part, very entertaining.

I'll take an aisle seat, please

In "Ooh La La" the girls even do a runway-type skit, where they parade just inches away from you (if you know to sit on the aisle). They do a true variety show (for better or worse), with singing, magic, comedy and acrobatics. Tickets are also $58 each (but ask at the box office if there are any specials - we got a 2-for-1 special the night we were there).

"Crazy Horse" is directly from France and these very beautiful, fit women are obviously ballet-trained dancers. However, the show is so highly choreographed and entirely lip-synched, that it leaves you cold. There is one brief comedy skit, which you will chuckle at, but not long enough to justify an hour and fifteen minutes. If you don't think you can get bored of gorgeous naked women, think again.

Who sees these shows?

Looking around the audience, the demographic are mostly older couples, seemingly from the heartland of America. I don't know, maybe this is great entertainment for most folks, but judging from the talking and fidgeting during the show, I seem to doubt it. Were these folks comped? 2-for-1 specials? I can't say for sure, but I didn't have to pay the $120 to get in, and I still wanted my money back.

Not for everyone

Mind you, this is not like going to a strip club. There is nothing lewd about either of these shows, but "Ooh La La" definitely has some heat to it. In fact, the couple in front of us actually walked out midway through the show, and I honestly can't imagine why. No matter what, if someone has gone through the trouble to take off their clothes, the least I can do is be polite and stay 'til the end.

It's a heartache

(Originally posted on January 9, 2008)

How to spot real buying opportunities

Here I am, back on my favorite soapbox, short sale listings. I update the number of short sale and foreclosure listings on my website every day, which you can see at

Most of the buyers I work with are internet-savvy and come to me after beginning their own search. Invariably, their list of homes to see include short sale and foreclosure listings. I have no problem showing foreclosures. In fact, I'm surprised more and more by how presentable the majority of them are.

Although there is added paperwork and a slight delay in getting an answer from the bank, all in all, the process runs smoothly. Not so with short sales.

It's a fool's game

The last time I quoted statistics for short sales and foreclosure listings in my blog was back on June 30th, 2007. At that time, there were 2,170 short sales. Today, there are 4,237 short sales listed in the Las Vegas MLS. This is sheer lunacy, and I'll tell you why.

A short sale figure has little or no basis in reality. In many cases, the listing agent has never had communication with the lender, and so they simply pick a low number that will attract offers from buyers. From my personal experience, the agent is inundated with offers and those usually get turned down from the lender because they're unreasonable.

Gumming up the system

Lenders are so overwhelmed by the volume of short sales and foreclosures, that the review process has gone from weeks to months. Now many loss mitigation departments will not answer their phones at all, only taking written correspondence. So what does this mean to a potential buyer? Lost time and opportunity. How long do you wait for a response on an offer of your dream home, only to have to start from scratch, letting other "real" homes go to other buyers?

Not fun for the sellers, either

On the other side of the coin, if you're the homeowner and you've listed your house as a short sale, you did this hoping and praying that you can make your way out of the current housing mess unscathed. What's been happening, though, is that there is no communication from the lender, and in turn, you are stuck in financial limbo. Personally, I think that short sales had some viability at the beginning of this cycle, but that window of opportunity has passed.

Look for the real deals

The good news is that many homeowners are becoming more realistic, and setting their prices where they should be. In addition, foreclosures within neighborhoods are good values, and may direct you to a subdivision you wouldn't have considered otherwise. As long as you're buying for the long-term, you should be okay. You can't eat your heart out if you buy and the prices continue to decline a little. The overall difference from what you paid won't matter, if you got the home you wanted.

Is it safe to sell my home now?

(Originally posted on January 7, 2008)

The $64,000 Question

I think many sellers are asking this question, wanting to know when their home values are going to increase. The question is being posed by people who haven't listed their home yet, or whose listing has expired.

What I find interesting is that I think the answer is yes, we have hit bottom, but if you're asking that question, you're not ready to sell.

The "M" word

The only folks who should be selling, or considering selling, are motivated sellers. You see, as a Realtor, I can't tell you what price your home is going to sell at. The market itself can do that, and I'm ony the messenger. Looking at what other folks have priced their homes to sell for means nothing. What your neighbor's home sold for is the number we're looking for. Then we take in a few considerations so that we can compare apples to apples, and price the home within that range. So being motivated doesn't mean giving your house away, it means that you understand its value in today's market.

Pricing with a cushion

Sellers who want to add $10-$15,000 to their price because they know there will be negotiations are only hurting themselves. The message this conveys is that your home is overpriced even before someone looks in person. I've had those listings, and they always start with a call from the buyer's Realtor asking to negotiate before they've seen the home. Call me crazy, but I still like to show my client the house and see if they like it, before I start asking for price reductions.

A needle in a haystack

Personally, I do think we've hit bottom and are slowly climbing our way out of this deep hole. Although the number of homes on the MLS are still very high (23,852 at this moment), the actual competition to the sale of your home is relatively small. Once you pinpoint your area of town, price range, style of home and amenities, there are only so many homes competing. What confuses the issue are foreclosures and short sales. Once we remove those from the equation, your home has a much better chance of standing out in the crowd, if you're reasonable and motivated.

No more short sales!

I am not a fan of short sales. I think they're a fantasy number pulled from thin air, and a frustrating process for buyers and sellers alike. I don't even show short sale listings to my clients anymore because I don't believe they're real from my personal experience. If you want more detail why, feel free to contact me directly. So let's take the 4,180 short sales out of the MLS, and now we have 19,672 homes for sale. Now we're talking!

The most home for the value

By having the nicest home in your category at a great price, your home will sell, and in a reasonable amount of time. I get calls from Realtors almost every day inquiring about my listings. Most buyers don't want to submit an offer and go through the "hassle" of being turned down, because they feel their offer is so much lower than the asking price. Let's help these buyers out. By listing the home at your lowest acceptable offer, you will start to get offers. And getting an offer is the first step to getting out of your house, and into your next home.

In the words of the Bee Gees...

"It's nothing but emotion, taking me over" - once you detach yourself from your house and just see it as a means to an end, you are that much closer to selling. All the dollars you spent to make your home beautiful only mean something to you, not the next buyer. If you enjoyed all the bells and whistles you put in, that's the point. They were there for your enjoyment, don't expect to recoup the money you paid for them, it will never happen.

Know your competition

If you're considering selling your home, let's get together and find the homes for sale that directly compete against yours. I think once you see them inside and out, you'll see what I'm saying is true, and we can market and sell you home in the best way possible.

The Pitbull of Comedy

(Originally posted on January 3, 2008)

If you're easily offended, this is not the show for you

Hooters (the hotel) is featuring the comedian, Bobby Slayton, in their Nite Owl Showroom. I can't share any of his act here because to say it's politically incorrect doesn't begin to describe the show.

At the box office there's a sign warning you that the show is vulgar and offensive -- take heed. That being said, the show is hilarious. Maybe being from New York helps, as Slayton talks verrrrrrry fast.

Equal opportunity offender

No one escapes unscathed during his routine. When we walked in, the hostess asked if we'd like to sit in the first row (was she crazy, or did we just look like tourists?) We sat in a nice, dark part of the room -- laughing without fear of repercussions. He is brutal. BRUTAL. Very crude, saying things you might think in your head or say to your guy friends (if you're a guy). To hear them outloud, as he proudly attests to his thoughts and actions, is shocking at first, and in turn, pretty hysterical.

Not quite a show, more of a rant

He readily admits that he gauges his show based on the audience reactions, and we were a challenge since we were a Sunday night room. Presumably, Saturday night crowds are the best. So we were a tougher crowd, where some people (the women) gasped at his ethnic remarks that are really base. Folks, this is Don Rickles without remorse. You have to just roll with the punches and be prepared for anything.

No need to be caught up on current events

Many comedians rely on what's going on in the world to skewer the absurdity of politics and daily events. Not at this show. Most of the observations take place in Slayton's pants or on different parts of women's bodies. Enough said. A lot of the comedy is based on marriage, and if you've been married for awhile, the show is even funnier, because so much is true.

A familiar face

As we waited for the show to start, my wife thought she knew the guy standing behind us talking to a gal in the audience. She did -- it was Bobby Slayton. He's very down-to-earth and you've most likely seen him in movies (Dreamgirls, The Rat Pack) or doing standup on TV. If you're looking for a funny, casual night out - this is the ticket.

Until tomorrow...

Waiting for a sign

(Originally posted on January 2, 2008)

The economy is the key

It's confusing, no doubt, to read the newspapers or watch TV and see all the gloom and doom about real estate and what a terrible time everyone is having. The truth is, it's not everyone. It's a very small percentage of people who mainly bought between 2004-2006.

Out of that group of people, it's the folks who paid little or no money down AND took out a sub-prime loan which had an interest rate that ticked like a time bomb. It was a variable interest loan that was incredibly attractive due to the fact that rates were so low. Nobody imagined the economy turning, and in turn, those rates going through the roof. That made the mortgage payments, in some cases, double or almost triple. No wonder there are so many foreclosures!

It's the bank's fault, not mine

Unfortunately, many folks don't want to take responsibility for their decisions and blame their lender. Is this unfounded? Not necessarily. There were many lenders who were, shall we say, sneaky - and the buyer was duped. That's very sad, considering how devastating it is to lose your home, especially with a family.

Another scenario

For the homeowners who owned their homes before 2004, some of them also fell into an easy trap. Tapping their home equity. With the "values" of homes skyrocketing, a lot of folks were sitting on a giant piggy bank. With every ad on TV talking about no cost/no fee home equity loans (Countrywide Home Loans ring a bell?), people started tapping into their equity until it was gone.

Once the "values" returned to normal, they owed more than the house was worth. Who these folks blame for that, I don't know. I'm not pointing fingers, I'm just stating facts. With 20/20 hindsight, it's not a surprise Countrywide ended up in the financial condition it did.

A diamond in the rough

Because of these two events, the turmoil that real estate is in now is not surprising. The goal is to see things for yourself, not for the country. Las Vegas is an anomaly - and you have to look at the economic indicators to see where things are going. Last week's New York Times had an excellent article entitled "Las Vegas Wins Big" - talk about eye-catching! You can read the article in its entirety here:

The best quote in the article is, "And then there is Las Vegas, which just goes to show how much it continues to defy its prophets of doom." If you tie the information presented here, along with all the construction underway on the Strip, this is your sign!

There are going to be 39,000 plus jobs being added to the Las Vegas economy over the next year and a half. These people have to live somewhere, and they've already started to arrive. The glut of homes we have now will not last forever. In fact, I'm betting that come Spring, we are going to start seeing the changes begin.

We're number one

Yet another major, positive headline is that Nevada is again the number one growing state in the nation. We lost that honor last year to Arizona for the first time in 19 years, but we've got it back again. The crazy thing is, our growth has slowed down due to the lack of any casino/hotels opening. Folks, next year we have a ton of new openings, and they continue for years to come. Consider that another sign. Here's the link to the article:

A small voice in your head

While I don't have the circulation of major newspapers or CNN, I'm in the trenches every day. If you're in the market to buy a home, start looking now. That window of opportunity is getting ready for movement, and when it's gone, you'll kick yourself. Waiting for the big headlines will be too late. At the very least, we can watch the indicators together. Just remember, Vegas is not the country at large, so local news and events bear more weight than national news.

The Lost Art of Customer Service

(Originally posted on November 22, 2007)

Missing in Action

Maybe it's just me, but I really appreciate customer service. The term is an intangible in my mind, as it can take on many different forms. It's not a concrete checklist where I know someone accomplished their job to satisfy my experience in their establishment. It is, however, a feeling, and I know when I have been gypped out of a good experience.

Overall, Las Vegas rates about a 9 for good customer service - on and off the Strip. On the Strip, I think you expect it more because we're a tourist-driven economy. However, I don't spend that much time there, and I suppose most folks take it for granted.

Having been in sales and customer service for the last 23 years, I have been trained so many times by so many companies, that good customer service is part of my very being. My goal is to WOW you from start to finish, and I always check with my clients afterwards to see if I met that level of satisfaction.

Although I work very hard to create the best experience available, I know that not everyone thinks that way. That's okay, as it makes folks like me shine even brighter. I'm not trying to blow my horn, I'm just laying the foundation for my expectations of others.

We're all in Customer Service

Every person who has a job has a component of customer service, whether it's for internal or external customers. Some folks only deal with other people inside their company, not the general public. They still give customer service to those people. From their demeanor to how quickly they do their job.

The normal expectation of customer service is going into a store to buy something, but let me start with the unexpected - garbagemen. The guys who pick up my recycling had a conversation with my wife one morning. Nothing more than hello, nice weather, etc. She went into the house, and they brought up our recycling bins to the house after they were emptied. Now, every two weeks our bins are up at the house. That's customer service. They took an interaction, personalized it and have gone above and beyond our expectation (with no thought of getting a tip, etc.)

When I go into a Starbucks, I expect my experience to be at a certain standard, minimally. Starbucks has trained us well, as it's a cookie-cutter operation. It should include a hello, what would you like this morning, what's your name (to put on the cup), and how much the bill is. Am I right?

So imagine my surprise when my friend and I went into a Starbucks, not busy at that moment, we walk up to the register and the gal says, "Uh, yeah, I'll be right with you." She walks away, comes back a minute later and says "What can I get you?" My friend says "And good morning to you" (in a very sweet voice). Our gal totally ignores this clue, no response back, takes our order and we pay. It so happens we both ordered drip coffee, black. It doesn't get easier than that at Starbucks. She fills one cup first and you can hear the sploosh-sploosh of the bottom of the canister, and she hands me my drink. She then turns to my friend and says, "I'll make you a fresh cup, it'll just be a few minutes."

Huh? If she's getting a fresh cup, then what did you just pour me? If we have to wait for her cup, why shouldn't I get a fresh one, too? Needless to say, this Starbucks location is off my list, as this was not my first bad experience there. The good news is that there's Starbucks on the other 3 corners of that intersection, so I don't have to go far!

Reward superior service

I could go on with endless stories, both good and bad, with the service I have received. Where you go up to a counter and the person is so busy talking to a co-worker that they never acknowledge your existence through the entire purchase, for instance. (Home Depot.)

I almost always take the time to tell a manager about an exceptionally good or bad experience. Why? First, I don't want it to happen again to me or anyone else, if it was very bad. My goal isn't to get the person in trouble, it's a direct reflection on their training, and it's an opportunity to help them in the long run.

When I have a good experience (of which I have so many, it's ridiculous), I tell the person immediately what an excellent job they did, how they made me feel, and then I ask if there's a comment card or a manager I can speak to. I make calls all the time to managers, as this is positive reinforcement for this person's actions, and I think it is better than a monetary reward - although I tend to tip too generously, according to my wife).

Take the time

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm writing this on Thanksgiving. While it's important to give thanks for what you have - your health, family, wealth and wisdom - I think it's also equally important to reach out and make your daily experience better with everyone you encounter.

I also think you get what you give. I always say hello to whoever is helping me. We have a little conversation, a laugh, and connect. We're all people - we want to be acknowledged and appreciated. It just takes a moment to be different. So the next time you have a good experience, tell that person. Watch their face light up. In fact, if you see them regularly, you'll never have a bad experience with them, and you might even make a friend.

It's all about the emotion

(Originally posted on August 16, 2007)

A box with walls

What is a house? I think I've been watching too much Jeopardy, since the answer was the heading, "A box with walls." When I work with buyers, I listen very carefully to the answers they give about what kind of home they want. The answers can only vary so much. One story or two, X number of bedrooms, bathrooms... you know the drill. Anyone can do a search to match their criteria, but that doesn't mean you're going to find a home they want to live in. The real answer is elusive, because it's a "feeling."

This is it!

As Luther Vandross sang, "A house is not a home, when there's no one there to hold tight, and no one there to kiss goodnight." The last thing you want a seller to hear (or overhear) is that your buyer loves the house they're looking at. There goes any chance of negotiation, as they've got you by your emotion. That being said, buyers know when they've found the right house - they feel it. Personally, I like to work smart (although I work hard, too.) When I go on listing appointments, I turn myself into a buyer. "Do I want this house? How does it make me feel?" If I can't get excited, it will just be another listing, and will it sell?

How do you see an emotion?

I've learned a lot from my wife (she'll never believe I wrote that!). Over the years we've seen hundreds, if not thousands of homes together. I listen very carefully to her comments (she's gonna think I have a ghost writer for this blog now, for sure!) Every house elicits different comments, and I'll admit, a guy's mind just doesn't think the same way.

Here's just some of the comments I've heard:
"Look where the garage entrance is? You have to walk through the entire house to get to the kitchen!"
"Ugh, the kitchen is a box! There's hardly any cabinet space, and the sink is too far away from the dishwasher."
"This is a master bedroom? What a waste of space. Who needs a retreat, just more space for junk to pile up."

You get the idea, right? It's logical, because it's based on her personal experience and likes and dislikes. The interesting thing is, these are comments about model homes. When we go into resale homes (my wife is a real estate agent, too), there are two different types of comments. One set are for vacant homes (first about the layout, then features and benefits, then the challenges), and then occupied homes ("What a warm home", or "They did a great job here. Look how nicely everything flows. Or worse, "It stinks in here.") She's my unvarnished "truth-o-meter." Whether I agree or disagree, she's usually right on the nose, and that determines how long it takes for the home to sell (along with the price, location, etc.)

Getting in touch with my feminine side

Now when I go on a listing presentation, I tune into the feeling of the house. What's crazier? That I do this, or that I'm admitting to it? A lot of people talk about staging and de-cluttering homes to help them sell. I agree with the de-cluttering. Piles of "stuff" don't give anyone the warm and fuzzies. Staging to me, though, is fake. It's a model home again, and that's not real.

When you can go into a house and see how someone set up a home, put a lot of furniture in, yet there's still ample room to walk around. Or they did some beautiful paint effects, this is a great selling point. It makes the home unique. Seeing the home through a woman's eyes are the key (in my humble opinion) to taking a great listing.

Who's the boss?

Unless it's a single man buying a home, the woman is the decision maker. Going out with couples house-hunting is fascinating. The first time we go, I'm still an outsider, and everyone watches their tongues. By the second time (sometimes the second hour), there's nothing left unsaid. Here's my impression of the goal of shopping for a resale home - get it all NOW. When you buy a new home, you still have to pay for the upgrades (although the sellers are making lots of concessions now), finish the backyard, put in a pool -- well you get the idea. You also don't know how the neighborhood will look in a few years. Will there be any greenery? Why do all the trees look like twigs? In a resale home, what you see is what you get, AND it all gets wrapped up in the mortgage! To top it off, there's so much competition in the resale market, that it's a buyer's dream come true to find the "almost perfect" finished home. I say "almost" because you'll never find a home with 100% of the things you desire, but 90% is fantastic.

The opposite end of the spectrum

It's no secret that Las Vegas, and the country, is overrun with short sales and foreclosures. Every day I requests to see foreclosures in X area for X price. Not to be sexist, but every request is from a guy. You see, it's a guy's dream come true. The ultimate fixer-upper. The problem is, most folks haven't seen a short sale or foreclosure in person.

You've been warned

Before we go into one of these "great bargains," I try to prepare my clients as to what they're about to see. This isn't going to be a home where they couldn't afford the payments and quietly left in the middle of the night. We are about to enter a battle zone.

If you've seen one...

Basically, every home I've seen is identical, it's just a matter of degrees. For instance, how many holes will be punched in the drywall? How much did the owners salvage out of the home? Most homes are missing the appliances - sold for whatever the owner could get. I've seen homes without light fixtures, hardware, DOORS, water heaters, FAUCETS!, CARPETING, CABINETS! If someone offered them 50 cents, they took it. And for everything they've taken, it's what they've left behind that's heart-breaking. Pencil mark measurements of the kids on the walls as they grew up. Deflated Sponge Bob Square Pants, race cars, dolls -- all strewn about. Clothes, garbage -- just a mess.

I haven't even started with the damage to the homes. Water damage, endless sheetrock repairs, plumbing disconnects, plus who knows what's been done up in the attic. Here's my big problem with these homes...


How can you get warm and fuzzy with what I've described above? No matter what price is being asked for the home, it's too much. What's worse, is we're negotiating with a bank, not a person. Talk about no emotion. Is there a sense of urgency? Do you ever hear "Ewww, honey, I HAVE to have this house!!" Never. Why? There are no women present. Women want to picture themselves living in the house. When they see this disgusting, sad aftermath of someone's mistakes, it's the last place they want to be.

The Money Pit

Let's just say, for argument's sake, that there is a couple out there who can see past all I've described. There are still more things to overcome. Let's say you get the home for a reasonable price. Where are you getting the extra money to make this home livable? The number one reason folks can't buy a home is -- no down payment! Well, actually there are about five #1 reasons -- Less than 2 years on the job, not enough income, too much debt, no down payment, low FICO scores. Sticking with the no down payment for now, where is this endless barrel of money coming from to fix the seen and unseen problems with the home?

My advice

The point of my long-winded blog is this (thankfully I don't pay by the word!) -- do yourself a favor and unless you're an investor with deep pockets and EXPERIENCE rehabbing homes, leave it to the professionals. There are so many beautiful homes waiting for you to rescue them, why take on the challenge of all challenges? If you are looking to purchase your primary residence, foreclosures and short sales are not for you.

I know, I know

You just want to see a couple of them, right? No problem. After we get you pre-qualified for a monthly payment you're comfortable with, I'll show you a few of these "gems." Who knows, maybe someone DID just sneak away quietly, right?

Keeping Sellers in the dark

(Originally posted on August 8, 2007)

Walking the walk

In the world of Real Estate, there are two views - the buyers' and the sellers'. As a Realtor, I have to shift my way of thinking depending on who I'm representing. Here we are in the early days of August, and the media is going crazy with all the woes surrounding us. We've got mortgage lenders going belly up, housing sales plummeting nationwide and new home builders under investigation for questionable lending practices in the heyday of 2004 and 2005.

My focus today is how difficult it is to be a seller. As I've said, professionally I represent both, but personally, I am in the hot seat as a seller. My home has been on the market since the end of May. Like every other seller, if you don't absolutely have to sell, your price will reflect your lack of determination. Yes, our price was padded, but hey, we were in no rush.

Give us 10 minutes to get ready

The less access you give to show your home, the longer it will stay on the market. Since we have two dogs that have free run of the house, we need to be here for any showings. That's a problem. Why? Because the Realtor has to make an appointment with you, which means getting a hold of you, or playing phone tag, and if it's complicated for them, it ain't gonna work.

We try to make it easy. Our house is always ready to show. I mean always. Beds made, tables clean, floors vacuumed or mopped, dishes away, laundry done -- it's a lot of work. If someone calls, we can show the home in 10 minutes, and I always answer my phone. Always. The problem is, even though the listing says that, Realtors don't believe it. Hey, this is an issue we can't overcome. If someone wants to see our house, they will make arrangements.

Price, price, price

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, you realize all by yourself, this is a price-driven market. So our price has come down. Once, twice, three times. We are now $50,000 less than when we began. Not only that, we increased the Realtor commission to 5%, and guess what? The phone is ringing, ringing, ringing. We have showings, we have appointments, but still no buyer.

Insider information

The beauty of selling my own home (as a Realtor, not as a "For Sale by Owner - FSBO") is that I keep in constant communication with my seller. You're laughing, but it's true. I know exactly what I'm doing to sell the home at all times. The good news for MY listings, is that I do the exact same thing. I can only imagine how crazy someone would go, if they were left in the dark. You know, your mind starts to play tricks on you when you don't hear from someone. "Are they dead? Are they cheating on me? Don't they love me anymore? My neighbor's house sold and mine didn't! What's wrong with my house? Why am I being rejected? What are these buyers saying about my house to their Realtor?" Makes sense, doesn't it?

FSBOs, Expireds and Withdrawns

I completely understand the frustration that sellers go through, and know why they pull their listings or refuse to re-list or think they can do better. If their Realtor doesn't communicate, then everyone loses. When I meet with an expired listing or a "For Sale by Owner", it usually starts out the same - with anger. The message is clear, too. It's not about the money (price) - it's about time. Everyone wants to sell their home NOW. If I meet them as an expired or FSBO, at least six months has gone by. Time is not on their side, and now we're playing catch up. The good news for me, is that they've experienced the pain, and they're more willing to listen to me and follow my counsel. I'm almost positive their first Realtor told them the same thing, but that was six months ago and time was on their side.

Better, friendlier, faster

It is because of this frustration that I'm so passionate about keeping sellers informed. Is it difficult? No. Is it time-consuming? Yes. Does it cost a few bucks? You betcha. Here's what I do, in a nutshell. I didn't reinvent the wheel, I just practice what I preach.

First of all, I email my sellers every Sunday. I inform them of all the things I've done in the past week for their home, and who has seen the home. Twice a month, I give a breakdown of the Las Vegas market and with third party information, show exactly what has been selling, in each price category and area of town. If I feel the price needs to be adjusted, I will ask for a reduction, and why I feel it's necessary.

I market my listings in so many different ways, it's important to show my sellers exactly what I have in place to promote their home. Most importantly, I utilize a feedback service. When a Realtor shows your home, I send an email questionnaire to them. They answer six simple questions regarding the price of the home, its condition, whether their buyer was interested in seeing it again or making an offer. There is also an open space to enter any comments they wish. This email is then sent back to me AND the seller. How powerful is that? Instant gratification!

This is a tremendous service, and I don't understand why every Realtor doesn't offer it to their sellers. There are multiple benefits - if the home is overpriced, has a challenging condition or there is some hidden objection - the Realtor tells you quickly and painlessly. Best of all, no one is in the dark, and it helps make the sale of the home quicker.

Internet versus Telephone

I'll be the first to admit, I prefer email over telephone. Why? 1 - Accessible 24 hours a day, I can always write to you. 2 - You've got a written record of our communication. 3 - No phone tag. 4 - More privacy - less chances of me calling at a bad time. 5 - Easier to convey complex details.

This isn't to say I don't call my sellers, on the contrary. Anything that requires immediate attention, good or bad, I'm right on the phone. Bottom line, if we need to talk, we will.

Only the best for you

Using myself as a guinea pig, I know what it's like to have a home that isn't selling. Believe me, there's no good reason, I've done it all. Does that mean I'm not a good Realtor - absolutely not. But it is a challenging market, and it's a great opportunity to see just what works. I continue to test new marketing techniques on my listing, so that I can get yours sold quicker, too. I'll keep you posted on when we're moving!

I am an addict

(Originally posted on July 16, 2007)

12 steps to recovery acceptance

Hi, my name is Mark, and I'm a technoholic. Wow, it feels good just writing it down. You see, I MUST have the latest and greatest technology. I can justify (to myself, at least) the necessity of membership in high-tech websites to provide extraordinary service to my clients. Once you start to work with me, you'll see the ways this benefits you. Immediacy is the key. Getting notified of price reductions is certainly right at the top of the list, when I'm working with buyers.
Hardware, too

I have had a PDA with email service way before it was the "in" thing to do. I pride myself in having a response rate in under an hour (sometimes within 5 minutes!) of getting an email.

I knew the Internet was the future many years ago (having a degree in Computer Programming since 1983), so I've probably appreciated every little advance more than the average Joe or Jane.

Now with Web 2.0, we truly have a worldwide presence, and who can appreciate that reach more than a Las Vegas homeowner? People travel from all over the world to own a piece of Las Vegas, so we know they're starting to shop before they ever get here.

As seen on TV

The newest service I offer is a national TV commercial of my new listings. Not only does it play on DISH Network, DirecTV and cable TV, but it's on every video outlet from YouTube to Google to Yahoo and AOL. Is it cheap? I should say not, but must I have it? Yes! Why? For YOU! It's all about YOU! Worldwide coverage of YOUR home. Tremendous. In a few years, this will be the norm, but by then I'll have added many more value-added features.

Is technology the answer?

There's lots to be said for bells and whistles. It's a more efficient way to do business, but it cannot stand on its own. I would never be so smug as to think, or say, that automation sells homes. It doesn't by a long shot, and certainly not in this market. So what sells homes? Hard work. Hitting the pavement, talking to the neighbors, going to local businesses and seeing if they have employees who need to live close to work, in YOUR home for sale. That's SELLING real estate. Getting out there in 110 degrees and being eye-to-eye with potential buyers of my listings.


It's all about balance. I love every aspect of my marketing, and I add to it all the time, but it doesn't take away from the human touch. As a Realtor -- compassion, listening skills and understanding can never be mechanized, and that is what will keep us in business, far after we turn into a "Jetsons" society.

So when you go to and get an "appraisal value" that is $60,000 over what your Realtor proves to you, with statistics for your neighborhood, what your home is worth -- put it all in perspective. Trust the human!

Alright, I've got to go, something's vibrating, and I've got to figure which gadget it is!


(Originally posted on June 30, 2007)

How can one word be so powerful?

Ever try to argue with a three-year-old child? First they ask for something simple. Maybe a piece of candy. Your response is equally simple, "No." And the comeback is, "Why?" You know the rest. The question "Why?" can drill down to the root of the issue every time, and we learn that at an early age.

As adults and Realtors, in particular, we know it's impolite to ask why more than once. Whatever response we're given, we usually accept. I'm here to say, "Stop the madness!"

Too many homes, too many prices

I can only take accountability for myself, so I vow to you here in my blog, that I will not contribute to the bloated MLS listings in Las Vegas. How do I intend to accomplish this? By asking the question "Why?" Starting today, when I'm on a listing presentation, and the seller wants to price their home $5,000 or $20,000 more than other comparable homes that have just sold, I'll ask that simple question. If the answer is not reasonable and easily justified to potential buyers, I won't take the listing. Crazy, huh? Not really.

What's the point?

My job is easy. I provide my expertise in the Las Vegas market to price your home so that it will sell, preferably within 30 days. Although it's exciting to have a sign in your window and a lockbox on the door, price means everything. If the price isn't right, you're not going anywhere (just ask Bob Barker). In 60 days, you'll have a stale listing that no Realtor will waste their time showing, and who will you blame? Your Realtor.

The numbers tell the whole story

If you're a regular reader of mine, you'll know I give ongoing statistics of how many homes are for sale, how many are short sales, and how many are in foreclosure. Since it will be July 1st in a matter of hours, here's the running tally:

April 29th:
Total MLS Listings - 25,744
Short sales - 1,518
Foreclosures - 880

June 12th:
Total MLS Listings - 26,951
Short sales - 2,015
Foreclosures - 1,205

June 30th:
Total MLS Listings - 28,315
Short sales - 2,170
Foreclosures - 1,323

It's no wonder that home sales are declining. Sales prices are unreasonable, Realtors can't say no, and buyers aren't falling for it. If every Realtor in Las Vegas would approach their listings and ask them to reduce their price to a reasonable selling price (not the seller's wish list price from 2004), this market would rebound in a heartbeat. But you and I know it's not going to happen.

Sellers and Realtors are living in Fantasyland. If I bless the price you want to sell at without asking "Why?" then it must be reasonable! Now we just have to convince a buyer to go for it. It's miserable for everyone once reality sets in.

A peek into the future

Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, especially not me. However, if you read the statistics, not the media hype, you'll see that we have enough inventory today, that it will take 24 months (2 years!) to sell all our current houses. The numbers keep growing, as I've shown you above. Logically this means, as the national press has already told everyone, that Las Vegas is in for two more years of depressed pricing. Bad. Very, very bad (if you're a seller.) So how do you overcome this? Confront your truth. Do you ABSOLUTELY have to sell your home? If you do, price it to sell. If you don't, take it off the market, and talk to a Realtor in the summer of 2009.


I know. Who could have imagined. So the truth is, you're not going to retire off the gains of selling your home. All the promise that you thought your real estate investment had - has almost gone away, if not entirely. It's rough. I'm a homeowner, and I'm in the same position. It was a paper gain in 2004-2005 and nobody wants to let go of that, but you must. Once you know you have to sell your home, work with a professional who will balance your needs with a buyers to get you the highest price in the shortest amount of time.

You get what you pay for

There are so many choices when selling your home, from "For Sale by Owner" better known as a FSBO (pronounced "Fizbo") to assisted realtor services to full-service Realtors. All I ask is that you do your homework. Nothing is more distressing to me than to be the third Realtor in, after the home has been listed twice. A year has gone by, multiple opportunities wasted and the market continues to decline.

When you are selling what is usually the biggest financial investment you have, it's no time to cut corners, and you can actually save money by hiring the best. Hire the Realtor, not just the company name. Ask questions, see what will be done to get your home sold. It's a two-way street - the burden is on you as the seller as well as the Realtor. Realtors can't perform magic when you burden them with unrealistic expectations.

Be prepared

When you meet with a Realtor for the market analysis of your home, and you say you must list for $20,000 more than anyone else, because you owe that much more, get ready for it. Here it comes....

"WHY?" Why should a buyer pay $20,000 more for your home than your neighbors?

YOU: Well, we put in $2,000 in new carpet!
REALTOR: Did you put it in for your enjoyment or for resale value?
YOU: Well, our enjoyment.
REALTOR: Great, because all it does is give you a nicer appearing home and create more value as compared to your neighbors - if the home is price the same.

(Continue this line of justifications by YOU until you see your home is not vastly different than your neighbors.)

The bottom line

Put yourself in the buyer's shoes. Go see your competition and decide which home you would buy first. What's the best bang for your buck? From there, you'll speed the whole process along. The good news is, homes are selling. Be reasonable, be fair and you'll quickly be gone and onto your next adventure.

The "eyes" have it

(Originally posted on June 25, 2007)

Getting the word out

As I've written before, I love what I do. I eat, sleep and drink my job, and it rewards me with the satisfaction of helping someone buy or sell a home in Las Vegas. The funny thing is, I'm a well-kept secret, and that's okay.

You won't see my picture on a bus stop (are people waiting for the bus buying a house, anyway?), nor full page ads about ME. I mean, how many agents can be #1 in Vegas? Isn't anybody number two?

It's not about me, it's about you. My pretty face isn't going to sell your house, my skills are. So you might ask, if you don't see me everywhere along with the big names, what good am I?

It's Vegas, baby

This is a town of neon, marquees, billboards and now airplanes flying over the valley trailing banners. We're an hour away from LA by plane, and that ego marketing has entirely pervaded the real estate industry here, but I refuse to give in. My New York style and sensibility is the essence of who I am, and I am a man of my word. When I say I'll meet you at 10am, I am there. When I give you a list of what I do for you, I do it. Is that so hard? You tell me.

All about the stats

The beautiful thing about computers, the Internet and this website is the ability to keep records and statistics. The title of today's blog refers to "eyes" and that refers to the number of people that visit my website and read this blog every day. I am consistently getting a minimum of 50 people a day, and I sometimes spike towards 100. Pretty good, considering it's all word of mouth.

What does that mean to you? The information I provide is timely and pertinent. Folks are seeing that someone's on top of the market in Vegas, and that unlike the media's word, there are good things going on here. It just depends what side you're on -- buying or selling. If you're a seller, not so good. Buying? This is what you've been waiting for.

Neighborhood searches

The other interesting statistic is what searches bring folks to this website. Based on that information, I change the content daily to better reflect and answer the questions being asked. Remember, it's all about you. I monitor this website every day to make it as accurate as possible. My next project I'm working on is in-depth coverage of each community within Vegas, to give you the real flavor of neighborhoods. Why? All homes are basically the same, aren't they? Bedrooms, bathrooms, living room, kitchen. You need to find the house you want in the right neighborhood. You want to feel that sense of arrival, that you love driving home every night. That you don't regret the house payment when you write that check every month. Your home is more than wood and stucco, it's emotional. That's why you know the right house when you see it.

Time is money

Your time is more valuable than mine, and I respect that. When we email, talk on the phone or meet in person, I listen to what you're asking and delve deeper to find what you're trying to accomplish. We are in a very competitive market, and there are many, many fine Realtors to choose from here. If we don't get a chance to work together, I hope that the information I provide at least helps you with your Las Vegas real estate needs.

I LOVE my job!

(Originally posted on June 20, 2007)

Oh what a beautiful morning!

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I'm an optimist. There is only the bright side for me. In this challenging real estate market, many of my friends in the business are less than chipper these days. I have to admit, I'm in my glory.

Working in Las Vegas, I have the opportunity to show folks the tiny corners they didn't know existed. There are so many homes tucked away and hidden, that it's my pleasure to reveal these to people who thought they've seen it all.

Yesterday I took a woman out who has lived here for years. She described what she was looking for in a neighborhood and has never found it. When we started out, she didn't like the direction I was going. "Too far away from everything," she said. As we got into the neighborhood, her body language totally changed. She was turning her head to take everything in. "Go a little slower, I'm trying to take everything in," she asked. Part one of my job was done.

Trust me

Ah, those two infamous words, "Trust me." However, if you keep an open mind, Las Vegas has so many wonderful areas, you'd be amazed at what is available to you. The worst that will happen is that we've wasted an afternoon. At best, you'll find a whole new world that brings you pleasure every day.

The time is now

This real estate market is "the norm." Buying frenzies never last forever, nor do selling frenzies. If you want to buy a home, start shopping now. I hear a lot of people saying, "I'm waiting for the market to hit bottom." Well, by the time you think it's at the bottom, it will already be on the way up. Who's to say we didn't already hit the lowest prices?

If it's not one thing, it's another

Price shouldn't be your only consideration. Don't forget about interest rates. Last week, rates went up a point. A point (1%) over the course of 30 years is more in interest than someone lowering the price of their home by $10,000. Now is the time to buy that new home. Really.

And now a word from our sponsor

Nothing makes me happier than to help people, and not for financial gain (although it doesn't hurt.) My goal is to make you a "Raving Fan," someone who receives 110% service, and can't stop talking about it. You deserve to be treated like gold, don't you? Whether you're buying, selling or want to rent somewhere -- demand the best for yourself. In this day and age of apathetic folks, know that you don't need to settle. With the purchase or sale of a home as your largest financial investment, choosing someone to work with should not be taken lightly.

I didn't intend to make this a promotional column today, but I encounter so many folks who are obviously unhappy with their chosen career, I just felt like shouting from the rooftops that "I LOVE my job!" Have a great day!