Speaking safe about neighborhood safety (and other matters of disclosure)

Often, buyers turn to me and ask one of the most frequently asked questions: “So, how is the neighborhood?”

These five words encompass so much: School system? Demographics? Neighbors? Safety?

Most buyers ask these questions because they view real estate brokers as local experts who can shed light and provide information on matters that are important to them and their transition into a new neighborhood. Often they are new to the city and look to an experienced broker for guidance and wisdom.

Many buyers are not aware of how tricky and dangerous such disclosures might be for a licensed broker.

Consider this – an innocent buyer approaches a broker at a public open house and begins a conversation. During their conversation, the broker is excited to learn that the buyer has no representation, thus making him a potential new client. The buyer indicates that he/she LOVES the property and has many questions about the building, neighborhood, school around the corner and mixed-income housing located on a nearby street.

Every one of these questions invites a deep dilemma for the broker. Speaking about the building might cause him to volunteer information about other owners (race, occupation, pets, personality). Discussing the school might cause him to describe who attends, what is the racial ratio and test scores in recent years. Speaking about nearby housing projects might result in the wrong information and impression about project dwellers. Talking about neighborhood safety is a complex can of worms.

The broker wants to engage the buyer and earn his/her business. The buyer is pressing on some of these burning questions, demanding guidance.

What should a buyer know:

1. According to the fair housing act, real estate professionals are not allowed to disclose any information that may sway buyers towards or away from a neighborhood. The act of “steering” may result in a broker’s license being revoked. A home purchase decision should be based on market value and not factors such as race, religion, ethnicity, etc. Buyers should do as much homework as they can about a neighborhood prior to looking for a home. Much of the information buyers seek is public record, and an experienced broker should guide buyers to do their own research and explain the limitations of disclosure conduct by which he must abide.

2. If you are not clear on how safe the neighborhood might be for you, visit the local police precinct and request an activity report. Such a report will summarize illegal activity in a neighborhood and help you decide if you are comfortable with your surroundings. If you are concerned about specific pockets or buildings, inspect the police reports carefully for disclosures of activity in those particular locations.

3. Walk around a neighborhood during different hours of the day and evening. Engage residents and visit local establishments. If you are a family, look for parents and strollers and gauge their comfort level while enjoying a family stroll. If you are a pet owner, walk to the nearest dog park, speak with other pet owners. These simple steps will allow you to have a first-hand experience of what it might be like to live in a neighborhood. By doing so you will avoid a situation in which your real estate broker is faced with the disclosure dilemma.

4. Every school should be willing and able to provide you with specific information. Respect the fact that a broker might not be able to elaborate beyond some very basic information in order to avoid misrepresentation.

5. Know that no matter how expensive the property you are looking to buy, an experienced, ethical broker will not engage you as a client if you insist on information that is wrong for him/her to provide.

The path of a healthy real estate transaction is littered with obstacles. Knowing what your broker can disclose should set the conversation in the right direction.

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Introducing Moshe Elmekias

As you may have noticed, the website has been undergoing some changes over the last few weeks. If you had not heard, we, Matthew Gaskill and Alisa Peterson, transferred to Sotheby’s International Realty in Los Angeles. In an effort to best serve our clients in Boston, we sought out a partner to take over our business who is local, attentive, and knowledgeable in the Boston real estate market.  Partnering with Moshe Elmekias was an easy choice for us since we saw how he operated first hand as we worked together in the South End office of Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty. Not only was Moshe a colleague, but a trusted friend and a source of insight based on his 15 years of experience working in the Boston real estate market.

Moshe Elmekias | Boston Realtor | Gibson Sotheby's International RealtyMoshe joined Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty nearly 15 years ago and quickly became a top producer, consistently ranked among the company’s elite brokers. He has earned recognition and praise from his clients, building his real estate family one extraordinary transaction at a time.

In the past 20 years, Moshe has assisted countless buyers and sellers reach a satisfactory outcome by utilizing his knowledge, experience, ethics, straight-forward approach and ability to keep calm in stressful situations. He remains involved in all aspects of his clients’ real estate transactions, making himself available at any point in time and keeping everyone informed at every step. Moshe firmly believes that a real estate transaction should not only be smooth and successful but fun and exciting!

If you have any real estate needs in Boston, Alisa and I recommend Moshe without reservation. We decided to transfer our business to him because we know he will attend to the clients we were fortunate enough to work with in the same high standard of service to which Alisa and I held ourselves.

And if you or anyone you know has any real estate needs buying, selling, or renting a home in Los Angeles, you can find Matthew and Alisa at luxuryhomeslosangeles.com.

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3 Ways A Realtor Can Help You Win in a Situation with Multiple Offers

This is part two of a three part series on how to win in a situation with multiple offers. 

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know…. and what they know.

Many of the strategies I wrote about in the previous blog on how offer terms can help win a situation with multiple offers are only possible when the buyer has a good Realtor working on their behalf. A strong Realtor has a large vetted network of vendors in all aspects of a real estate purchase. From lenders and attorneys to painters and carpenters, a good Realtor has many qualified contacts able to put a buyer in the best position to buy a home. More importantly a strong Realtor has developed good relationships with other Realtors in the broker community.

  • Quiet Listings 

The Realtors behind Matthew and Alisa Group Real Estate Blog

Most sellers would prefer to have their property on the general market but few unique properties are shopped around quietly among brokers for reasons as simple as getting the right price, the sellers do no want the general public in their home, or the sellers does not want their neighbors to know they are moving. No matter the reason, the result is the same, a buyer needs to be in the know when a property becomes available. A good Realtor spends their time knowing the market conditions, the properties on the market, and the other agents working in the real estate sales market in the area and surrounding neighborhoods. So when a new listing is not going on the general market right away, selling agents will contact other trusted agents they know and have worked with to bring a buyer. Agents working for brokerages with deep connections in the community and many active agents will have further access to these quiet listings beyond their own personal network.

In extreme cases where a buyer must waive a mortgage contingency and/or an inspection contingency, advance knowledge or early access to a property can also allow the buyer the ability to have an inspection prior to submitting an offer or get the property approved by a lender before submitting an offer. Our team of Realtors does not believe a buyer should waive these contingencies unless protected. By getting our clients early access to properties we are able to offer them a competitive advantage while protecting their deposits.

  • Home Inspectors

As mentioned in the previous blog, expedited contingency dates and a short due diligence period can mean an accepted offer. Having a Realtor with a network of trusted inspectors means a buyer can offer an inspection date within two days of acceptance. With a list of multiple qualified inspectors to call, a buyer can almost always find an inspector available within two days.

  • Mortgage Lenders

When an offer has a mortgage contingency, a pre-approval letter must accompany the offer. In a multiple-offer situation, the decision can come down to what lender two particular buyers are using. When a buyer is using a big box lender, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, etc., their offer can be viewed less favorably because the arduous and inflexible underwriting can stall, delay, and even kill a deal after keeping the home off the market for two or more months. A seasoned listing agent will advise their client on the risks associated with taking an offer accompanied by a pre-approval letter from one of these lenders. Similar to the network of trusted home inspectors, Realtors have extensive networks of trusted mortgage lenders. Many Realtors have had to step in and advise a buyer to switch from a big box lender promising slightly lower rates to a mortgage lender known for getting to the closing table.

Working with a Realtor a buyer trusts is a key factor in any real estate transaction. However, a seller’s agent will not only look for the best terms for their client, but also the team the buyer has decided to use. Agents want to work with other proven agents because it assures their client the best chance of success. Using an agent unfamiliar with the area and the local customs of a transaction or an aunt who has her real estate license but has not sold a home in four years will not make an offer appear any stronger in a situation with multiple offers.

In the next post in this series, I will discuss how important the lender can be in a home purchase. Unless all buyers start buying property with cash, the lender a buyer uses can make or break a deal.

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Fair Housing Act: Why Realtors Are Not Allowed to Discuss Schools, Safety, and Religion

Buying a home is one of the biggest and most important purchase of their life for many people. People want to have a home where they can start and raise a family. It is common for buyers to want to know about the safety and schools. Unfortunately, Realtors cannot discuss those factors and/or religious institutions with buyers.

Realtors cannot discuss safety for two reasons, one of which is liability. If a Realtor says this neighborhood is safe and something happens after you move in, the real estate broker could be in trouble. The second reason is it violates the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing because of race, religion, color, familial status, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability.

Fair Housing - Buy Property You Want Where you WantFor many buyers, safety is an important factor along with being in a good school district or being close to a religious institution. Saying a particular neighborhood is safe, how great the schools are, or a wonderful church is nearby could be considered steering. Steering can be done in one of two ways. One is only showing a homebuyer houses in a particular area based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, familial status, or sexual orientation. The other is refusing or failing to show homes fitting the buyer’s criteria on the basis of their race, religion, color, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or familial status.

Everyone has the right to buy property in any area they chose to live. Being able to afford the property they want in said area is a different story but affordability and availability should be the only factors that keep anyone from renting a property or buying a property where the buyer wants to live. However, a few types of housing are exempt from the Fair Housing Laws. For example, owner occupied homes with no more than 4 units and single family homes sold or rented without the use of a Realtor. Also, housing operated by and used exclusively for organizations that limit occupancy to members only.

As Realtors, we do not want to hide any information, and we are happy to give the facts when we can. We cannot speak about safety, schools, crime, or religious institutions, but we can direct you to those who can such as Picket Report or an officer at the nearest police station.

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What Sellers Wish Buyers Knew Before Submitting an Offer

With property selling at lightening speed, sellers are in the position where they can review multiple offers. However, not all offers are created equal and some are down right off. Here are 4 things sellers hope buyers know when submitting an offer.

1- Nitpicking and nickel-and-diming will not get you a discount.

Pointing out every little stain and out-dated design will not have the seller agree to a discounted price. Sellers and seller’s agents know the difference between cosmetic issues and major concerns, and they (should) price the home accordingly. If you want to offer a certain price based on what you are going to have to do to the home, fine, but if it’s significantly less than asking and what you need to do is cosmetic, it will not be considered a serious offer by the seller. Even if you come back with a more reasonable offer, (and the property is still available) the seller may have taken your original offer personally and may decide not to work with you.

2- Giving a sad story with a sloppy offer will not impress or move a seller.

I have suggested to my buyers to write a brief letter about themselves and why they want to buy this particular property. This is a good idea when the sellers have multiple offers and the property was the seller’s home rather than a new construction from a developer. The letter gives the seller a chance to identify with you and in the best case scenario allows the seller to see you are in the same position they were in when they bought this home.

However, if your offer is incomplete (missing pre-approval letter, offer not signed, no deposit check, etc.) and you have a letter saying how you would rather be homeless than live in any other home than theirs, it could raise a red flag to the sellers and they may not want to deal with you.

Tips for Buyers from Sellers3- Making everything easy for the seller will make everything easy for the buyer.

First, have all your the paperwork signed, complete, and organized. Not every agent types the offer to purchase paperwork, which is fine as long as the offer is written clean and legible. Second, know what your timeline is but also be flexible to what the seller’s timeline is. Many sellers want to sell as soon as possible, so consider having your offer with accelerated closing dates. This will also give sellers more confidence your offer will make it to closing. Of course, paying cash will bring the most comfort, but if the buyer can have an inspection in two days, sign purchase and sale within a week, and close in 30 days, the seller may find those terms more comforting than a cash offer at a lower price.

4- Mind your manners.

Asking for a seller to fix something or give credit toward fixing something is not uncommon. Little issues are almost always found during an inspection. But do not demand to have the something done that doesn’t need to be fixed. If there is an issue, politeness and rationality goes a long way. Even beginning a request by stating, “I understand that I may asking this too late but…” or “Thank you for considering” will help your cause. As always “Please” and “Thank You” goes a long way.

5-Choose your agent wisely.

From beginning your search to closing your transaction, your agent is there with you at every step acting in your best interest. Whether you are selling a home or buying a home, your agent should be acting professionally, responsibility, and constantly communicating with you. If you are putting in an offer to purchase, your agent should make sure you have all the paperwork to sign, have the dates clear, and go over everything to make sure you know what you are offering. I have written this many times, but it bears repeating, buying property and selling property is emotional. Anything that involves egos, memory, and money will be emotional, real estate transactions involve all of these with multiple parties. As your Realtor, it is our job to represent your best interests and keep emotions calm. Many of the tips I’ve written above can and should be explained by your Realtor, so it is very important to work with a Realtor you trust and who will represent you in the best possible light.

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Exclusive New Listing: 41 Commonwealth Avenue #3

Matthew Gaskill and Alisa Peterson have listed a new Back Bay condo. This parlor level property is located on the beautiful and historic Commonwealth Avenue, known as Comm Ave to the locals, a street designed after Parisian boulevards with its wide swath of tree-lined park running down the middle. 41 Commonwealth Avenue #3 is located on the sunny side of Comm Ave, which affords it ample Southern light throughout the day. Located on the second block of Comm Ave, between Berkeley and Clarendon, 41 Comm Ave is only one block from Boston’s Public Garden and one block from the shops of Boston’s famed Newbury Street.

41 Commonwealth Avenue was built around 1869, one of four adjoining houses (41, 43, 45, and 47 Commonwealth) built at the same time for banker, real estate investor, and lumber merchant Elijah Chesley Drew and his wife Hannah. The Drews made their home in 41 Commonwealth Avenue and sold the three remaining homes.

41 Comm Ave #3 Back Bay condo for saleThis lofted one bedroom condo features soaring 13 foot ceilings, parquet hardwood floors, and period details that include crown molding, wainscoting, and a fireplace with matching mirror above the mantle. The living space is large enough to live and entertain with areas for a sitting area, work station, and a full dining table. The kitchen is fully appointed with stainless steel appliances and a dishwasher. The building features free laundry facilities and a deeded storage area for the exclusive use of the owner of unit #3.

41 Comm Ave #3 would make a great home for a first-time homebuyer, as well as a pied-à-terre or an investment property. The current owners lived in the property until last year when their family expanded and have rented the property for $2600 per month for the last year. At the current rental price, the property offers a healthy positive cash flow as well as the promise of steady appreciation rate in a prime location within Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. With rental prices steadily increasing, the return on your investment will increase in both cash flow and appreciation over time.

With the location on Boston’s best street, owners and tenants alike enjoy all Boston has to offer. The offices of Back Bay are a short walk away while downtown is accessed via a short train ride. When work is over for the day, 41 Comm Ave #3 offers proximity to the Esplanade for a bike ride or jog before heading out for shopping or to one of the eateries along Newbury Street.

The 724 square foot condo at 41 Commonwealth Avenue #3 is being offered at $489,000.

First showings will take place Sunday March 3rd from 11:30-1. Offers, if any, will be reviewed after the open house. Please contact us with and and all questions or to schedule a private showing.

Posted in Alisa Peterson, Boston Property, Condo, Investment Property, Matthew Gaskill, Property for Sale, Rental Property | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Real Estate Transactions and Reviews from January and February

Over the last couple of months, Matthew and Alisa have had clients close on the following three properties. They represented the buyer in one transaction, represented the seller in another transaction, and represented both the buyer and the seller in the third transaction.

The first property to close was 121 Beach Street #703 in the Leather District. This closing was actually on December 28th, which is practically January, right? Matthew and Alisa represented both the buyer and the seller in the sale of 121 Beach Street #703. This 2 bedroom loft was under agreement in 16 days and sold for 96% of the list price after 23 days on the market. During 2012, the average days on market for the Leather District neighborhood was 99, compared to the 16 days on market for this loft condo.

The following is a video review provided by the buyer of 121 Beach Street #703. Apologizes for the audio on this video.

The second condo to close was 141 Arlington Street #4, a closing which took place on January 15th. Matthew and Alisa represented the seller of the pied-à-terre in Bay Village. This one bedroom was under agreement in 14 days and sold for 96% of the list price after 18 days on the market, while the average days on market for Bay Village condos was 67.

In fact, 141 Arlington Street #6 recently sold. Unit #6 is a unit identical to the unit sold by Matthew and Alisa, but it also offers a roof deck. You would think it would sell faster than unit #4 and for more money, right? Wrong. This penthouse unit with a private roof deck sold for $3000 less than the unit sold by Matthew and Alisa and it took 135 days on market to do so. This is the difference marketing makes.

The following is a video review provided by the seller of 141 Arlington Street #4.

The last transaction was a condo at 87-89 Bourne Street #2 in Jamaica Plain, which closed on February 22nd. Matthew and Alisa brought the buyer to this condo and their buyer went under agreement after winning a multiple bid situation. Despite multiple offers, the buyers were able to purchase the condo for 97% of the asking price.

The following is a video review provided by the buyers of 87-89 Bourne Street #2.

If you would like to know what sets us apart from the average real estate agent, contact Realtors from the Matthew and Alisa Group.

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Should You Work With a Realtor to Buy Property?

There was a time when the only way a person could find a home for sale was searching for signs on lawns, scanning the paper, or going to a real estate office and having an agent flip through a binder of homes. Today, buyers can find what’s available while in their pajama’s at 3am. The internet makes it possible to learn just about everything regarding buying property. There is only one thing that the internet will not prepare you for, the emotions involved. The home you can see yourself raising a family and growing old in or rejuvenating your spirit of whimsy may have been the home the seller never thought they would ever leave and may still have a hard time parting with. The dream home may have another offer that you have to compete with. The perfect condo may be a short sale and you will have to wait months before you know if it is yours. Thousands of possible scenarios could come up and make you feel unprepared.

Buyers, the main reason you should work with a Realtor is unless you have bought many times before, you don’t know what you are doing. I am not saying this to be mean or to undermine anyone, I work with many seasoned Realtors that have been doing nothing but representing buyers and sellers for decades and even they say they learn something new at every deal. The real estate market is a volatile emotional animal and just when you think you have the reins, something changes.

Use a Realtor to Buy PropertyYou may be thinking that if you are not working with a Realtor, maybe you can pass the savings on to the seller and get a better deal. Nice idea, but wrong. If the seller already has a Realtor, the seller has already signed an agreement to pay the Realtor their commission. If you are not working with a Realtor, the seller’s agent keeps the full commission, without working to protect your interests. And without representation you are on uneven footing. The seller has a knowledgable professional working on their behalf with their interests in mind to get the the best possible deal. However, there is the opportunity for dual agency. Once the paperwork is signed, the agent becomes a neutral party. Even in this scenario, you will not get a better deal, the agent only passes information between you and the seller without analysis, while still receiving the commission agreed upon when the listing contract was signed.

If you are in a situation where you are not working with a Realtor and found a home that is for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) then you can potentially save the seller money and maybe get a lower price for the property. According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors of the latest trends of Buyers and Sellers, only 9% of homes on the market nationwide were FSBO properties. The majority of homes that are sold by owner were sold to a buyer that the seller knew beforehand. And with most FSBO sellers willing to work with a buyer’s agent and pay the agent’s commission, wouldn’t you prefer someone who does this every day preparing the paperwork and orchestrating the transaction to close?

Always remember Caveat Emptor or “let the buyer beware”. If you already know what the buying process entails and what to look for in a property, then you may not need an agent. But it is always better to have a professional with your best interests in mind when making a purchase in real estate and who is able to remove emotion from the process. Another agent once told me “the internet can give you information, but it can’t give you knowledge.” Even if you think you know what to expect, something can always come up that you never considered.

If you are interested in learning more about the home buying process and what we do to find you a home and protect your interests, contact the Realtors of the Matthew and Alisa Group.

Schedule a consultation with a Realtor

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The Matthew and Alisa Group Home Buying Process Class was a Success!

This is a quick blog thanking everyone one for joining us at last night’s Home Buying Process Class!

We had a great turn out of buyers eager to learn about the home buying process. Matthew Gaskill and Alisa Peterson discussed the market conditions to give everyone an understanding of what to expect when searching to buy property this season. With properties going under-agreement as soon as they hit the market, we wanted to make sure that buyers understand how quickly they need to move to buy property.

Joe Smith, a knowledgeable lender from Guaranteed Rate explained what lenders look for when someone applies for a mortgage and the different types of loan programs available to homebuyers, both first-time home buyers and more seasoned  home buyers. He knows just as well as we do how competitive the market is right now and without proper financial backing (i.e. pre-approval letter), sellers won’t even consider the offer.

The wonderful David Datz, Esq., a real estate attorney, explained how important it is to assemble the right team to guide you through this process. This is one of the biggest purchases you can make and it is essential to have knowledgable professionals to explain what you are buying and what you are signing.

Thank you again to Stella Restaurant for providing delicious food and a great space for us to host our class. As you can see from the video, we had quite a few eager buyers ready to learn about the home buying process and I know there are more that were not able to make it.  We will be planning another class in month or two. If you are interested in attending, please subscribe to our newsletter and subscribe to our blog and we will keep you posted on our next class. These classes are meant for anyone interested in learning about the buying process in the current Boston real estate sales market. If you are a first-time home buyer, third-time home buyer, or an investor, you are welcome to join us and learn something new!

Posted in Alisa Peterson, Boston Events, Buy Property, First Home, Investment Property, Matthew Gaskill, Real Estate Sales Market, Real Estate Tips, Realtor, Rent vs Buy, Things to Do in Boston | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should You Work with a Realtor to Sell Property?

The internet has revolutionized the real estate business. For a long time sellers could only find out what their home was worth when someone told them or the latest real estate section of the paper came out. Today, sellers can go on Zillow and get a “zestimate.” So when all the information is at your finger tips, why work with a Realtor? Many use the saying, “Would you do your own dental work?” or “Would you self-diagnose chest pains?” Selling property is a major endeavor, with the exception of a few people, working with a professional will save you time and money in the long run.

Sellers, unless you have sold property numerous times and have plenty of time, it is in your best interest to work with a Realtor. I understand many will feel I am biased, but there is much more to selling property than putting an ad on the internet and opening a door.

Why Use a Realtor to Sell PropertyMarketing is the most important factor in getting your home sold at the best possible price. Realtors have access to a variety of networks and we use them all to showcase a property to get it sold. A couple of examples include an email blast to area Realtors, hosting a broker’s open house, and radius mailers introducing the property. According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors analyzing the latest trends of Buyers and Sellers, 90% of buyers use the internet for their search, which means high quality, professional photos are a must. If the pictures are dark, blurry, of messy rooms, or if the listing does not include photos buyers will move on. Many Realtors know how important good pictures are which is why many real estate offices have a professional photographer on staff.

The showings alone can be incredibly time consuming. Depending on the market your home is in, if there is an influx of properties similar to yours, you will have to accommodate every showing you can get. If you list your property with a Realtor, you will still have to accommodate showings but your Realtor can coordinate everything from multiple showings, open houses, and private showings to better accommodate your schedule and maximize the time allotted.

Finally, since 87% of buyers use agents, if you are going to sell your property on your own, you will only save half a commission since you will most likely need to offer a commission for buyer’s agents to bring their clients to your home. The majority of sellers who sell their property without professional assistance usually have a buyer before selling. But if you do not have a buyer and want to sell your property, consider using a professional. A large percentage of owners who try to sell on their own eventually list with a real estate professional, but what has this delay cost them in terms of lost buyers and time?

Would you like to discuss what The Matthew and Alisa Group offers when we list your property? We would be happy to share our method with you, so you can make an informed decision when it is time to sell.

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