Caveat Venditor

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Our for-sale backyard comes with built-in guests. Come for a meal, stay for a nap.

Once, several years ago, a college student (before they all became members of a university) came into my shop. She asked if it was owned locally, and if I was the owner. She then asked if I would come speak to her intro to business class.

Her teacher had offered students extra credit if they would line up a local business person to speak. It turned out her class was taught by Cathie Elliott, a local business person herself. While Cathie taught business classes for many years at Western, her day job was owning the Clarke Agency, a real estate company conveniently across Main Street from Pat’s Screen Printing.

The local newspaper derives a fair amount of its advertising income from real estate companies, and my reading has always included those ads. The Clarke Agency has occupied the bottom of page 2 for as long as I can remember, and over all these years of reading, I have determined that the broker offering the fairest prices in town is Cathie. And I’d always thought, not that I was planning to sell, that if I was ever going to sell my house, I would use Cathie’s agency.

Cathie’s approach to real estate always struck me as rather low-key. The local ReMax doesn’t offer flyers on any of its properties — you have to text, thus giving them your phone number. If you go on their website, you have to provide your e-mail. But anyone can travel all through the Clarke Agency’s website without giving up any personal information.

Before Lynn and I settled on building a house, we had looked at a couple of properties listed with Cathie, and she was almost too low-key. Even though we had shown up at an open house and gone through another house with her, she made no attempt to sell us anything else or point us toward anything.

But this approach worked for an entire career for Cathie, and she outlasted a lot of other realtors, and survived all the busts that go with the booms. She retired last December, turning her agency over to her daughter Audrie and son-in-law Josh.

Audrie had worked for her mom for a number of years, initially part-time and eventually full-time. Josh juggled a job at the hospital and real estate until the market got too busy, and then he left the hospital. So far, they seem to be carrying on Cathie’s policies and practices, and I’m still feeling good about our choice of listing agent.

But I think the Gunnison market has softened while no one’s been looking.

The common wisdom, espoused by Cathie several times to me the last few years, is that Gunnison seems to run about a year/year-and-a-half behind Denver. And Denver’s market has definitely softened. The Denver Post’s analysis awhile back showed that last year’s “hot” ZIP codes, which were primarily expensive neighborhoods, had slowed way down, while the areas heating up this year are the ones where houses are still affordable, or at least more so.

To me, without a lot of hard evidence to back it up, that seems to be where Gunnison is right now too, rather than a year from now.

People often seem surprised to learn that the price of their house is public information. I suppose it’s because most municipalities and counties generate income from property taxes, which are based on the value of property, which is based on sale prices. So anyone can go to our county’s website and search properties in a variety of ways. In theory, you can search for sales by month, but our assessor’s office has been slow and getting slower about updating. To wit, there is almost no sales information for this year, which is six months old already.

So all I have to go by is what I see and hear. What Josh told me last week is the owner of a title company said the properties that are moving are those where the owners are willing to take a steep discount from their asking price. He also said he has two listings, one at $310,000 and one at 359, that as of last week hadn’t had a single showing.

Then yesterday we got a postcard mailer from Kiley Flint of Sotheby’s, who sold us our lot in Riverwalk (with some very helpful input from Cathie Elliott). The family trust that bought all the available lots in late 2016 must be having more trouble moving them than they were before they raised prices by about $10,000. Rather than scaling back on the price, they’re trying this: interest-free financing for up to two years, plus a $500 donation to a local non-profit.

[And we learned we’re an exclusive (or exlclusive, depending on which side of the card you’re on) development nestled along the winding stretches of the Gunnison River, a pristine retreat for the discerning homeowner. You didn’t know that about us, did you? We’re discerning.]

All of which is a way of softening it when I confess to you all that we are still negotiating with the young couple that made an insultingly low offer on our house.

One of my friends named Nancy posted a very nice comment after I discussed their initial offer, and it turns out she was correct: it appears to have been their broker’s tactic, rather than their idea. We received an abject apology very early the day after we sent a letter to them detailing what about their offer and its justification was so offensive.

I wouldn’t have bothered to send the letter except I know and like this couple (and so does everyone who knows them, it turns out). I wasn’t actually expecting to get anything out of it, so a heartfelt apology was pleasing to receive. And accept.

Now, we still can’t come down 20 percent on the price, and we made that clear. They came through our house the other night for a second showing, and the word Audrie got from their realtor is that they are still interested, but don’t want to risk offending us again with a second offer that is too low.

Cynically, I wonder if that’s another real estate trick, to get us to come as low as we will when that might be less than what they could offer, and this game of brinksmanship is nothing I care for. So Lynn and I are meeting with Audrie this afternoon to see what our best approach is.

I don’t care for the house-selling process, and if my long-time home were to be passed to the care of a young family universally described as “very nice” by everyone who knows them, that would make me quite happy. But we’re nowhere near the we’ll-take-any-offer-we-can-get stage yet. In fact, even if their closing isn’t for 60 days (which was in the initial offer), we might not have a home to move to, no matter how discerning we might be.

Property is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay, and I think right now in Gunnison the market is really hot if the house or townhouse is under $300,000. But that does not seem to be the case with properties over 300. Again, I don’t have much evidence other than what I can see, with no help from the assessor’s office.

And now that I am hopelessly late once again, I stopped to see that the young couple’s broker has provided feedback that is not helping their case any. She reports they are “somewhat” interested in our over-priced house that is only “fair” (the second-worst rating of the app). Lynn is suddenly far less inclined to try to help this couple out, and I don’t understand why their team keeps playing hardball when we are trying to lob them softballs.

If we do make a deal, which seems far less likely than when I set out with this post, it will be in spite of their broker and not because of her. Maybe she should have been a student of Cathie Elliott’s — it would get her career a lot farther.


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