Is That House In Orange County Or Durham County?

It’s a question I expect to hear from buyers and their agents as they tour homes we’ve listed in subdivisions that are divided: some streets are in Durham County while other sections of the neighborhood are in Orange County. All too often, when the answer is Durham County, it becomes a deal breaker for a buyer. It’s practically a knee-jerk reaction: “we don’t want Durham County Schools, we want Orange County Schools”.

Durham Public School’s reputation has been dismal at best over the years. Even as Durham continues to add scores of new residents daily, these newcomers have habitually avoided Durham Schools in favor of charter schools or private schools. In fact, over the last eight years, charter schools have experienced a 110% increase in enrollment while public school enrollment had gone up just 3%. A full 30% of Durham County school-aged children don’t even attend Durham Public Schools.

However, with last month’s release of North Carolina’s school test scores, there’s a subtle, almost silent transformation taking place within the Durham Public School System. Compared to last year’s scores, the number of F-graded schools in Durham County has dropped from six to one and the number of B-graded schools have risen from eight to 11.

One school in particular, Lakewood Elementary, jumped two letter grades from an F to a C! Kudos to Principal James Hopkins, the teachers, and of course, the students. The big question is, “how did they do it?”. At the helm of this transformation is Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga. This past January, he laid out a strategic 5-year plan that fosters a strong partnership between Durham schools, parents, teachers, and an unwavering commitment from the business community.

Every school will have an official community partner. In Lakewood’s case, they have three: Duke University, YMCA, and KBI Biopharma. Every day, Duke students volunteer as tutors at Lakewood.

On a similar note, the DPS Foundation was formed a year ago specifically to foster community support and investment in Durham Public Schools. About 25 businesses have helped fund school projects and there’s about $120,000 in grants planned for next year. Additionally, the Foundation provides an online forum for parents to request meetings with city officials to discuss enrolling in Durham Public Schools.

Is the plan working? Well, a couple of weeks into the school year, Durham Public Schools has an enrollment of 32,993. That’s an increase of 555 students over last year’s number. And according to Mubenga, it’s encouraging since he hadn’t seen numbers like this going back four to five years.

There’s a slew of dedicated individuals and businesses working hard to flip Durham Public School’s reputation on its backside. As realtors serving as the front line to new home buyers contributing to the rise of Durham’s popularity, we have the responsibility and duty to defend these efforts and change the knee-jerk reaction to the all too frequent question:
“Is That House In Orange County or Durham County?”. Everyone’s response going forward should be, “Yes! It’s Durham County! And have you seen what’s been going on with the rejuvenated Durham Public School System?”.

Durham Magazine: October / November 2019 Issue pg. 122

You’re Never Alone With A _______.

How many of you upon reading the title, filled in the blank with Schizophrenic? And the reason you did was to quote the music album of the same name by Ian Hunter, right? Nicely done music buffs! I would have done the same.

However, that would have been the wrong answer as it pertains to this post. The word(s) I was looking for were something along the lines of “voice digital assistant”. You’re never alone with a voice digital assistant like: Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Bixby.

Voice digital assistants are available on smartphones, tablets, computers, and on standalone speaker-like devices. Additionally, most major appliance manufacturers will be rolling out voice controlled smart appliances to the U.S. market within the next few months including: washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, coffee makers, and refrigerators.

How do they work? Well, as we go about our daily activities, these voice digital assistants are listening in the background for their wake up phrase (Hey Siri, Ok Google, Alexa are just a few examples). The assistants are able to filter out background noise and upon hearing their wake up phrase and subsequent commands, the devices can send text messages, create calendar entries, dial calls, answer questions, relay weather information, set alarms, adjust thermostats, turn off lights, play music, change television stations, and even operate the above mentioned smart devices within the home. This is by no means an exhaustive list as new functionality is being developed daily.

Technically speaking, once the devices wake up, they begin recording audio clips of your voice. These audio clips are sent over an encrypted connection to a server that processes the audio files and formulate a response. Recordings are saved on the devices and users may access their account to delete them.

As you can imagine, this raises a whole set of privacy concerns. For example, I was showing a luxury home recently, and as I entered the front foyer of the home, there was an Amazon Alexa on a small wooden side table with a printout of possible commands. Why not play along, I thought. “Alexa, Start Tour”. Smooth jazz music began to play throughout the home and the family room eyeball lights dimmed. Based on the printout I asked Alexa to lower the inside temperature. Recording audio is illegal in North Carolina without the permission of a party to the conversation. Did I just inadvertently give the seller permission to record my dialog?

What if voice digital assistants were able to identify a dangerous pattern of words or had the abililty to recognize potential illegal activities that were about to occur? Should the assistants report these incidents to the authorities?

Technology has come a long way from when I was growing up. I can honestly remember not having a microwave as they weren’t available. As my children were growing up, I also remember explaining the rotary dial telephone and how we had to place the tip of a finger in a small round hole corresponding to each of the 10 numbers we wished to dial and with our finger turn the dial clockwise until it stopped.

Imagine a day when children won’t be able to fathom a time when people couldn’t verbally communicate with every device in the home. “Mom! The refrigerator is not listening to me!”.

Seeing Through Rose Colored Glasses!

That’s right! Rose colored glasses! Most sellers I meet with tend to look at their home through “rose colored glasses”. I’m sure you understand what I mean. For those that may not be familiar with the phrase, I’ll explain.

You see, sellers tend to look past their property’s deficiencies and instead view their property as deserving of top dollar once it hits the market.

When I say deficiencies, I’m talking about a property’s depreciation in value as opposed to appreciation in value. While it’s true that properties, at least in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina have appreciated significantly over the last 9 – 10 years (41%), many homeowners are finding that their home has appreciated much less overall. So, why is that?

First of all, these homeowners have allowed their homes to physically deteriorate over time. Realtors refer to this condition as deferred maintenance. In most cases, this is a curable condition. Realtors will often recommend to sellers to paint, or repair rotted exterior wood, or replace carpeting, or replace a roof. These repairs can result in an increase in appraised value for these homeowners and of course, a higher sales price.

While physical deterioration is readily apparent to homeowners as well as realtors, what’s not that obvious is functional obsolescence. Functional obsolescence pertains to older homes that may not have updated light fixtures or an older style kitchen that hasn’t been updated. Homeowners sometimes ask why updates are important at all. Well, for the simple reason that updates are more desirable for buyers. Then sellers will give the excuse that buyers may not like the updates they choose. Then it’s up to us to explain to sellers that we are looking to make their home as appealing as possible to the largest number of buyers we can. Luckily for the seller, these fixes are relatively simple so we call these curable.

What about the situation where the home has four bedrooms and 1 bathroom? That’s a form of functional obsolescence that we call incurable as the fix is more complicated and costly than the ones we just described.

The last type of depreciation we’ll talk about is external obsolescence. External obsolescence pertains to situations and conditions outside or beyond the homeowner’s property. For the most part, these conditions are incurable because the homeowner cannot fix the condition. Examples may include a nearby electrical tower, or the property borders an industrial park that produces undesirable, gut wrenching odors on a daily basis.

An experienced realtor can help homeowners understand why their home may not fetch the same price as other homes in their neighborhood because of these previously mentioned deficiencies.

Luxury Home Market Snapshot: Durham County 10/2019

First of all, where do we draw the line when talking about luxury homes in Durham County, NC? More specifically, where does it start? Currently, The Institute For Luxury Home Marketing defines the bottom-line luxury home threshold for the Raleigh / Durham Area at $539,000.

For our purposes though, let’s limit our discussion to Durham County, specifically. So, what I’ve done is take the top 10% of homes sold YTD in Durham County, sorted by sales price to come up with my own bottom-line luxury threshold of $500,000. Now, if one of you wishes to check my numbers, the true bottom line number is $450,000 but I just can’t see myself calling a $450K home “luxury” and for that reason, I’ve rounded up to $500,000. I’m sure some of you will even say that $500K is also NOT luxury and you’d have a decent argument there as well.

How many luxury buyers are we talking about? The following graph depicts the number of homes that have SOLD within certain price ranges YTD:

And how many luxury homes are currently available for sale in Durham County:

And lastly, how long do these luxury home typically stay on the market?

Durham County luxury homes tend to stay on the market for less than 100 days on average? That’s strong considering the average days on market for the entire MLS is 31 days.

If you have any questions regarding the data or if you’re interested in selling or buying a luxury home, give me a call. I’d welcome the opportunity to help out.

Is The Durham Market Slowing – August 2019?

The latest onslaught of “price corrections” on existing inventory coupled with thoughts of “where have all the buyers gone” may lead us to believe the market is heading downwards.

Is the market truly heading downward? Well, according to NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun, “Mortgage rates are at historically low levels, so I see no sign of the optimism about home buying fading,” he said. “However, the fact that slightly fewer are expressing strong intensity compared to recent prior quarters is implying some would-be buyers have concerns about the direction of the economy.”

So maybe that’s it. Buyers are becoming more cautious since they have concerns over the economy. That would help explain why there seems to be many fewer buyers than just a month or two ago. Fewer buyers means fewer showings. Fewer showings means fewer offers on homes. Fewer offers causes sellers to become more impatient than in the past and perhaps, that’s what’s causing all of these price drops.

Buyers are still out there but not with the same intensity we’ve seen in the past. In fact, according to NAR’s 3rd quarter Housing Opportunities and Marketing Experience Survey (HOME), 63% of the 2,705 households surveyed, indicated it was a good time to buy a home with 34% of them strongly believing now is a good time to buy.

And perhaps these signals are just cyclical in nature and is what we can expect during this time of year. After all, we are still ahead of August ’18 on multiple fronts: closed sales, sales price, and inventory.

Current as of September 10, 2019. All data from Triangle Multiple Listing Service, Inc.. | Report © 2019 ShowingTime.

Copyright ©2019 “HOME Survey: Housing Opportunities and Market Experience. September 2019” National Association of Realtors. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

#1 Lesson Not Taught In Real Estate School!

First you take (and pass) a real estate course specific to your state. Then, you schedule the real deal – a 3 hour test (in NC) that tests your knowledge regarding: Federal and state laws, commission rules, contracts, agency relationships, depreciation, appraisal methods, survey methods, net operating income, interest calculations, mortgage types and clauses, deeds, appurtenances, government police power, etc. etc. So much material, barely enough time.

With that being said, there are so many concepts and aspects of running a real estate business that are not taught in real estate school. I may have just surprised you by insinuating that you are in affect running your own real estate business. Yes, it’s your business and in the words of Robert Shuller, “If It’s Going To Be, It’s Up To Me.”

After all, once you got your real estate license, how did you see this whole real estate gig working out? Did you picture yourself signing on with one of the national brokerages and going to the office everyday as you did when you had a “real job”? You’re disciplined enough to show up early every day and be the first one to your desk every morning. Now what? Be honest. Did you even realize the job is 100% commission-based?

Well surprise! You have NOT entered the real estate business. You have entered the lead generation business. It truly doesn’t even matter what you are selling. Oops..another Freudian slip! You are a sales person whose primary job responsibility is lead generation. There, I said it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. You may be taking this as a negative and for the majority of Americans, it is a negative because they do not want to take responsibility for being in business for themselves. If that’s your attitude then don’t you think it’s better to find out sooner than later? If this sounds like you, then you probably do not want to be a real estate agent.

Ultimately, as a real estate agent, you are in business for yourself. And according to management guru Peter Drucker, there is only one true purpose of a business: to generate a customer. I rest my case, welcome to the lead generation business. Start generating leads my fellow real estate agents. More on this later.

Why Do Agents Always Want Me To Sign Something?

This blog is more directed towards buyers as opposed to sellers. After all, sellers must sign a listing agreement with a firm before their home is put on the market.

Buyers on the other hand, start their home search, probably online, and then venture out to view homes of interest in-person. Inevitably, the buyer will need to contact a real estate agent to gain access to those homes, unless of course, buyers take note of scheduled open houses and then visit those “open homes” without the assistance of a real estate agent.

It goes without saying, but yes, I’ll say it anyway, unless the buyer knows an agent they’d like to work with, there’s always this initial sense of tension between buyers and agents that don’t know each other when they first meet. This friction will even occur at open houses.

Take the following scenario. An agent is holding an open house and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of visitors.  Upon entering the home, the buyers and the agent introduce themselves.  At this point, one can imagine the thoughts going through each of their minds. Depending upon first impressions, the buyers could be thinking, “Gosh. I’m going to have to make this quick, this person is a little sketchy. In fact, I’m not quite sure we should be here alone with this character.” The agent on the other hand is thinking, “Gee. I wonder if these folks are already working with an agent? Wonder what their buying timeline is?”.

Let’s dive a little deeper into this scenario. First of all, the buyers are happily, I hope, looking for their next home and as such, are probably in a good mood, and have decided to visit open houses during their “free” time on a Saturday or Sunday.

Agents are working at open houses. In fact, good agents are ALWAYS working. What does working mean to real estate agents? An agent’s most important work activity is the continuous, day in, day out, 24×7 generation of leads. Without leads, an agent will not survive. Let me just rephrase this a bit – “Without the generation of quality leads, an agent will not survive.”

Let’s face it. If you work for a company and you are not part of their sales force, it is NOT your responsibility to generate a customer. Customers of your company already exist and your responsibility is to support that customer in some way shape or form. Your function could be billing, marketing, technical support, product support, inventory replenishment, administrator, research, product design, etc. etc. I’m sure you get the point.

As independent contractors working for themselves, real estate agents do not automatically have “built-in” customers. It’s up to the agents to generate their own customers to earn a living. No customers : no money.

It’s very important that we set that stage because buyers as mentioned previously, are looking for homes during their “free” time however, real estate agents’ main professional objective is to minimize the amount of time they work for free.

So of course, the agent will ask the buyers, either during the introduction or sometime shortly thereafter, whether the buyer is currently working with an agent.

If the buyers are already working with another agent, then all bets are off for the agent standing there in the flesh. A real estate agent is prohibited from working with a buyer who is already represented by another agent. However, if the buyers are currently unrepresented, then they are “open game” to the agent.  The agent may start building rapport with the buyers and eventually take them on as clients.

Hence the reason real estate agents will at some point, ask the buyers to sign something. The first document or brochure, depending upon how it’s presented, is the Working With Real Estate Agents Brochure. This is NOT a contract. This is a document required by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission that explains how an agent may work with clients. That’s all, it’s strictly informational in nature.

The next document an agent will ask you to sign is a buyer agency agreement. This is where buyers get all “weirded out” and perhaps rightfully so. (Please excuse me a bit, I’ve never written nor said “weirded out” in my life but inexplicably, these are the words that came immediately to mind.) This document serves as a sort of employment contract between you and the agent. It lays out, amongst other items, the duration of the agreement, compensation the agent expects to earn, buyer’s duties, and the firm’s duties.

Many buyers will not and have no intention of ever signing the buyer agency agreement. Well, if the buyer, for one reason or another, is not comfortable working with that particular agent, then by all means, do not sign an agreement with that agent. Simple enough.  I guess the main reason the buyer doesn’t wish to sign is because they don’t want to be tied to one particular agent – they want to shop around. Again, the buyer has all the right to do that. But buyers, keep in mind, as you bounce from agent to agent, you will continually be asked to sign a buyer agency agreement; hence the title of this blog, “Why do agents always want me to sign something?”.

And here’s why agents always ask you to sign. The buyer agency agreement is the only guarantee that an agent will ever get paid.  And by the way, it’s not a 100% guarantee either.

Buyers who do sign a buyer agency agreement with an agent become a client of the agent’s firm with the agent having primary responsibility for following through with the firm’s duties.  The signing also establishes a fiduciary relationship between agent and client.  The client / agent become one-in-the-same and work together to successfully close on a home. And it isn’t until closing that the agent finally gets paid!

In an agent’s mind, a buyer who will not sign a buyer agency agreement may be an extremely low quality lead.  Essentially, there’s a high probability that this lead will waste an agent’s time, money, and other valuable resources without ever buying a home from this agent. In essence, the buyer becomes a low priority for that agent.

Can you blame the agent? Why would anyone work for free?

My House Is The Same As My Neighbor’s!


Undoubtedly, one of the most important tasks a listing agent performs is the determination of the “probable selling price” of their seller’s home. Sellers mean well and I appreciate the fact many have done their homework and have somewhat of an idea as to what the listing price should be for their home. In fact, I will often ask the seller prior to coming out to their home to conduct the formal listing presentation, the listing price they’d like to set for their home. Why did they pick that price? Many times, their reason is “my house is the same as my neighbor’s house” and it sold for X amount.


The seller’s house may have been built at the same time as their neighbor’s, may have the exact same floor plan, identical upgrades & amenities, similar lot size, etc, etc.
However, real estate is heterogenous – no two properties are exactly alike. Each property is unique and therefore, even though two properties appear similar, one may have more value than the other based on where in the neighborhood the house is located. We call this situs value.


This is critical for the home seller to understand so they price their home appropriately. During the listing presentation I make sure to fully explain situs value as it pertains to properties that are comparable to the seller’s home.
During a recent listing presentation to a seller whose home was on the market for six months and left the market unsold (aka expired), the situs value explanation opened the seller’s eyes as to why the home didn’t sell.
Two of the comparable properties were located on the golf course and one of the two was down the street from the tennis courts. Yet the seller’s property was priced the same as those two properties. The seller’s home was overpriced by more than $30,000 and not only did it not sell, they had received zero offers.
We’re confident with the new price, the home will sell and the sellers can comfortably “turn a new page” in their lives.

What Projects Should I Tackle Before Selling My Home?


In this blog, we’ll take a look at the results of the National Association Of Realtors “2017 Remodeling Impact Report”. The report compiled results of several surveys: consumers who had completed remodeling projects; NARI’s (National Association Of Remodeling Industry) project cost survey; and the NAR’s (National Association Of Realtors) survey regarding buyer appeal, estimated project recovery costs, and expected resale estimates.

Let me clear up some some assumptions regarding costs since I’m sure you all will have questions as to how these costs were calculated. First of all, project costs are influenced by project design, quality of materials, location, home condition and age, and homeowner preferences. So of course, your costs will vary accordingly. Secondly, we’ll make some assumptions about the “typical” home for these cost estimates, namely: the home is in good condition and there are no surprises; size of home = 2450 square feet; and the home was built post-1978.


I could have easily asked, “How much money do you have?”. In this case, it’s not all about the money but money does play a major role. Can you do the work yourself? Do you have the time to do the work yourself? Do you have a REALLY good friend or family member that can help you out? Does someone owe you a favor, or two?

According to the report, 32% of homeowners completed the work themselves, 32% hired professionals, 21% hired labor but purchased the materials themselves, and finally, 14% did some of the work.


The report examined pre-sale interior AND exterior projects across 3 dimensions: potential buyer appeal, expected resale value, and recovered project costs. So, are you most interested in what the next owner would want? Or, how much more you can sell your home for? OR lastly, how much of the costs you could recover when you sell?

Once you decide, let’s add a fourth question…would you like to enjoy the project for a period of time before you sell?


And here’s where money plays a major role, especially when it comes to INTERIOR projects. As you can imagine, the interior projects with the highest buyer appeal and highest resale value were also a few of the more expensive projects. Starting with highest buyer appeal:

1. Complete kitchen remodel: cost = $65K, amount recovered = $40K (62%)
2. Kitchen upgrade
: cost =$35,000, amount recovered = $20K (57%)
3. Bathroom renovation
: cost = $30,000, amount recovered = $15K (50%)

There were 3 projects that were more expensive but had less buyer appeal:
new owner’s suite
: cost = $125K, amount recovered = $65K (52%)
attic conversion
: cost = $75K, amount recovered = $40K (53%)
new bathroom addition
: cost = $59K, amount recovered = $29,750 (50%)

I know what you’re thinking. What’s the difference between remodel and renovate? Well, I actually had to look outside the report for those definitions and their meanings are pretty much consistent with what I would have thought.

renovate = to restore to a good state of repair; to update or upgrade.

remodel = change structure or form of something; tranforming.

Now, what if you were interested in recovering as much of your interior project costs as possible? The highest return on your investment from highest to lowest:

1. hardwood floor refinishing: cost = $3K, amount recovered = $3K (100%)
2. new wood flooring
: cost = $5.5K, amount recovered = $5K (91%)
3. insulation upgrade
: cost = $2.1K, amount recovered = $1.6K (76%)


Interestingly enough, the exterior project that scored highest across all 3 dimensions: potential buyer appeal, expected resale value, and recovered project cost was not one of the most expensive exterior projects – new roof. In order from highest buyer appeal:

1. new roof: cost = $7.5K, amount recovered = $8,150 (109%)
2. new vinyl windows
: cost = $18,975, amount recovered = $15K (79%)
3. new garage door
: cost = $2.3K, amount recovered = $2K (87%)

The remaining exterior projects highlighted in the report, again from highest to lowest buyer appeal:

4. new vinyl siding: cost = $13,350, amount recovered = $10K (75%)
5. new steel front door
: cost = $2K, amount recovered = $1.5K (75%)
6. new wood windows
: cost = $35K, amount recovered = $20K (57%)
7. new fiberglass front door
: cost = $2.7K, amount recovered = $1.8K (67%)
8. new fiber-cement siding
: cost = $18K, amount recovered = $15K (83%)


As you can see, there are many factors to consider when deciding upon pre-sale projects. From the amount of resources the homeowner has at their disposal to whether they focus on the interior or exterior and perhaps most importantly, what the homeowner is looking to accomplish.

And remember this, there are many other projects that the homeowner may want to consider before tackling any of the projects listed here – and for practically little to no money.

If you still have questions after reading this, please do not hesitate to contact me as I will do my best in helping you out.

Cmon’, Big Money!

You’d think you’d hear the above mantra at a casino craps table rather than at a listing meeting prior to marketing a seller’s home. “C’mon Big Money, Big Money, let’s go, $450,000! (dice fly in the air)”. Well I’ve got some news for you, listing at that price when the probable selling price is $45,000 less, is, more or less, gambling. And you’re going to lose in more ways than one.

First of all, if you truly want to sell, it will take you a long, long time. You see, the $405,000 buyer you NEED to buy your home will be turned away by the $450,000 list price. They will not even show up to see your home! Why would a $405,000 home buyer want to see a home that is priced 10% over what they can afford? Not going to happen. So, the actual buyer who can afford your home is being eliminated from the potential buyer pool.

Secondly, the $450,000 buyer that sees your home will be disgusted. Disgusted because they’ve seen what $450,000 can buy them, and guess what, your house comes up way too short. Essentially, they’ve compared your home to other $450,000 homes feature by feature, and they immediately conclude that your home is significantly overpriced. And they are buyers! Can you imagine what a knowledgeable real estate professional will say? Not only that, but that real estate agent will not bring another $450,000 buyer to that home. So, the buyer you believe you’re attracting, will also be slowly eliminated from the buyer pool.

So, over the course of several weeks, you’ll begin to notice that nobody is coming to see your home: neither $405,000 buyers nor $450,000 buyers. Make sense? Your buyer pool has been reduced to a slow trickle if not completely dried up.

If you still need to sell, guess what happens at this point? Price reduction(s). Maybe more than one price reduction. How many price reductions will it take to get to the actual legitimate sales price? That’s up to you. Do you actually KNOW what the probable selling price of your home should be? Your agent should have run a comparative market analysis to determine the probable selling price of your home. And if they did, why didn’t you heed their advice? Never mind. I know why.

You see, many homeowners have such strong emotional ties to their homes and believe these “feelings” somehow contribute to the overall value of their home. Sorry, but the real estate market doesn’t care that you’ve spent 20 years raising your family there and that you have too many memorable moments to let the home go at $405,000. It doesn’t work that way.

How do I know? Well, in short, I’m a full-time professional real estate consultant and it’s my job to be an expert on my local market. I’ve done my homework, I’ve selected similar properties for comparison, I’ve run the numbers, I’ve made the appropriate monetary adjustments, I’ve assigned calculated weights to the adjusted prices, and finally, I’ve come up with a probable selling price for your home. The current market dictates the probable selling price of your home, I just utilize current market data to calculate that price and communicate that to you. In affect, I’m just a messenger. In reality, since I get paid on a percentage of the sales price, don’t you think I’d prefer the highest price possible just as you would? You betcha’.

In closing, if you truly must sell your home, why gamble? Select a real estate professional that knows the local market, can run the numbers for you and pinpoint the probable selling price of your home. Based on this probable selling price, both you and the real estate professional can agree on the listing price for your home.