Archive for June, 2009
Few cities take their real estate more seriously than San Francisco, so I figured I’d come across some outstanding real estate agent blogs when I poked around the offerings there from local agents.
I wasn’t disappointed.
I’m doing a virtual tour of real estate agent blogs nationwide, looking to see who’s doing the best job of building blogs that are useful for people who are thinking of relocating to that area.
Real estate agent blogs can be useful to learn more about a city, of course, but they’re even more useful when looking at particular neighborhoods in that city — these blogs tend to be micro-focused on neighborhoods that an agent serves.
It can be hard to find solid neighborhood content, other than the same old tired data you’ll find repeated on a lot of neighborhood Websites that aggregate this information. A good real estate agent blog can tell you a lot about a community.
A few other criteria we look at:
Market data. People who are relocating want to know average sales prices, sales volumes, days on market, etc. Agents need to give it to them.
Explanatory articles about real estate, whether the basics or current issues. People looking for a home come from varied backgrounds as far as real estate knowledge, so the agent should attempt to give them information about a variety of real estate issues. For example, blogs about buying a foreclosed home are very useful in this market.
So with that, here are the top real estate agent blogs in San Francisco:
The Front Steps
The Front Steps from Alex Clark is a great guide to San Francisco real estate, including market observations, interesting tidbits on the city itself, nice photography and a snarky style that makes for interesting reading.
This is definitely not your typical real estate agent blog – and we can be thankful for that.
Sometimes agents can take the blog thing a little too seriously and never dare show a little leg when writing. Clark has no problem with that. His walkabout category is a particularly fun and insightful read.
Lively comments section as well. It’s the kind of blog I’d read just to see what’s going on San Francisco real estate wise, even if I wasn’t moving there.
The Marin Real Estate Guide
The Marin Real Estate Guide from Ginger Wilcox is a solid entry point for anyone who’s looking at real estate in tony Marin County. Her Marin Neighborhood breakdown is helpful for folks who don’t know the area, and her market reports page is useful for someone who wants to check in occasionally to see how the market is doing.
Bonus points for solid design – not something you always find on real estate agent blogs, lamentably. (So many sites have good content but lousy design. Agents: spend a few bucks to keep people from feeling like they’re transported back to the late ’90s when they hit your site.)
Wilcox excels in explanatory articles, like this recent translation of a Fed statement and its effect on mortgages.
Absolutely Foster City Blog
Absolutely Foster City Blog from Jim Minkey gives you a nice feel for the community, with a great mix of local events including contests, local school ratings and discussions about local events. Again, consumers looking to move to your community want to get an idea of your community is about. A Christmas lights contest might seem goofy, but hey, it gives you an idea of the community spirit.
I like this little insight into real estate agent life, as Minkey recounts a debate he had with an overheated homebuyer.
Blogs are about personality, and Minkey’s has loads.
Living Well in San Mateo
Living Well in San Mateo from Raymond Stoklosa, Rebecca Williamson, and Chris Williamson does a nice job breaking down the local neighborhoods in San Mateo (like Hallmark), as well as some real estate basics stuff for novice homebuyers or just homebuyers who could need some brushups about current real estate issues, including this post on questions to ask when buying a short sale.
The White Oaks Blog
The White Oaks Blog (www.whiteoaksblog.com) from Chuck Gillooley focuses on the White Oaks neighborhood of San Carlos. In addition to the usual postings on market data and interesting properties for sale, Gillooley takes a particularly close look at issues affecting the community, especially the schools. He also does a very nice job writing about local community issues, as well as issues affecting the real estate market, like this post on home appraisals not meshing with sales prices, and the effect it can have on the transaction.
San Mateo Real Estate Blog
Vicki Moore’s “Official” San Mateo Real Estate Blog is an interesting, newspaperish-feel that does a good job in covering all things real estate (though we’re unsure how it attained its ‘official’ status, but let’s not quibble). This is a nice post on Pedro Point.
Marin Real Estate Blog
Marin Real Estate Blog from Mark Lomas offers good and frequent updates on market conditions, as well as some reports on goings-on in the community.
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The more you move, the more wise you get to some of the shenanigans from disreputable moving companies.
However, there always seems to be more of these scams popping up. Here are a few you probably haven’t heard of.
‘Your Moving Quote is Guaranteed – But It’s Wrong’
Most people rightly insist on getting a “binding estimate,” which is often referred to as a “guaranteed moving quote” or ”flat rate.”
That makes sense: you pay no more than the quoted amount, and you can actually pay less if the estimate was too high.
But it doesn’t work so well if the moving quote itself is inaccurate.
Here’s what happens. A moving estimator comes to your home for an in-home visual estimate, does an inventory of your stuff, and gives you a quote that is guaranteed to not be any higher than the estimate.
But that ‘guaranteed quote’ is only good for the inventory that the moving company uses to come up with your moving estimate. And if that inventory is wrong – ‘Ooops, I missed that bedroom!’ — the moving quote becomes void, and you’re stuck negotiating with the moving company for a new estimate (on Moving Day, no less).
The simplest way to protect yourself? It’s easy: scrutinize the inventory that the estimator uses to determine your moving estimate, and make sure nothing is left off.
Even if you pack yourself, it doesn’t mean you won’t be subject to some extra charges when it comes to packing — and we routinely hear from consumers whose original moving estimate double just from packing materials. Here’s what happens.
You didn’t pack everything in time, or you ran out of boxes. No biggie, just ask the moving company to do it. While you understand you’ll probably pay a premium for the boxes, there is probably one thing you haven’t thought of: packing tape.
An old trick is to use a TON of packing tape on freshly packed boxes, or boxes that the movers didn’t feel had enough tape.
So they wrap, and they wrap, and they wrap. Soon, that box has more wrapping than King Tut, and you find out later packing tape ain’t cheap, perhaps twice what you’d pay for it elsewhere.
And if you’re using professional packers, you might come across the half-filled box trick — only this isn’t nearly as much fun as when a magician pulls it off.
The mover puts just a few items in the bottom, and fills most of the rest of the box with packing paper. That small item is now in a big box — and big profits for the moving company. You might also find the movers trying to use more expensive boxes like dish-pack boxes (which have double-thick sides) for items that don’t need it.
To protect yourself: if you’re packing yourself, make sure everything has enough tape, and keep extra rolls around if you need to add more on Moving Day.
If you’re using professional packers, be around for the packing so you can supervise the work. And remember: on Moving Day, the movers will INSIST that everything is in a box — they won’t take stuff you’re thrown in a garbage bag.
‘Your Move Size: Whatever I Make It’
The moving estimator looks at your stuff to be moved on a long distance move, and says that what you need to have moved comes to a certain amount of ‘cubic feet.’ Huh?
First of all, who in the world even knows how big a cubic foot is? Second, why is the moving company using cubic feet instead of good old-fashioned weight?
Here’s why: when you have an estimate by weight, the moving company must go to a certified weighing station to see how much your stuff weighs — and that scale doesn’t lie (even if your own scale lies all the time when you’re trying to shed those extra pounds before your high school reunion).
With cubic feet, the moving company measures your final move by the space your goods take up in the truck. And all of a sudden, the moving company just becomes REALLY bad at loading a truck, and it has more empty spaces than Montana. Soon, your moving estimate is much higher because the estimated cubic foot load is much lower than the final load in the truck (that poorly packed truck).
How to Protect Yourself: Get a moving quote based on weight, and if you’re concerned that there might be issues when the moving company weighs your load, tag along with the movers to the scales — you have the right to do this and should feel entirely comfortable asking.
Here are some other moving scams to be aware of when choosing moving companies and planning your move:
* The low-ball bid. You get three bids, and company ABC comes in the lowest — nearly half the cost of everyone else! What a deal, right? Wrong. The company is most likely setting you up to lard on more charges later to get your quote to where it should be for them to make any money.
* Passing your move off to someone else. You speak on the phone with a moving company that gives you a quote, but on moving day someone else shows up. You were most likely dealing with a moving broker, which sold your business to someone else. Avoid moving brokers — you want to deal with the same company from the start of your move to the end. And choose a local moving company.
* Getting an estimate over the phone, or filling out an online inventory form. There’s no way for the moving company to get an accurate sense of what you need moved until they see it in person. Insist that the moving company comes to your home and gives you an in-home visual estimate.
Another way to avoid these scams is to take these other basic precautions:
* Check with your local Better Business Bureau for the complaint record of your moving company.
* See if the mover is a member of American Moving and Storage Association. In particular, ask if the mover is a ProMover, which is a new AMSA designation for moving companies that meet a strict review of their business practices, and agree to abide by a code of ethics in their business operations.
* Read reviews online, but beware their limitations.
The ‘binding estimate’ sounds so final, so iron-clad – it’s guaranteed to be exactly what you pay for your move, right?
Not necessarily — and it could majorly mess up your moving day.
There are two kinds of moving estimates: a non-binding estimate, which is an ‘estimate’ in the true sense of the word: you might pay more, you might pay less. These are more common for local moves, where you pay by the hour according to the number of laborers you use.
The other estimate is ‘binding.’ It’s binding on both you and the moving company. A popular binding estimate is the ‘guaranteed not to exceed’ estimate – you won’t pay more than the estimated moving costs, but if your moving costs end up being less than the estimate, you pay the lesser amount.
You often see these offered up as a guaranteed estimate, or a flat-rate estimate.
However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Here’s what can happen:
The estimator from a moving company comes to your home, sees what you need to have moved, and gives you an estimate.
On moving day – surprise! - the guys loading your truck say you have more stuff than is included on the estimate. Your binding estimate is kaput, and you will have to pay more.
How’d that happen?
1. You added more stuff to your move after you got you estimate.
2. Your moving estimator made an honest mistake, and didn’t include everything to be moved.
3. Your moving estimator purposefully underestimated your move in order to win your business. (And is now letting the driver handle the dirty work…)
Either way, you have to come to an agreement with the moving company about what you will pay. And it’s moving day. And you’re stressed, and now probably a little angry.
So you thought you were getting a binding estimate – but now you’re in a bind.
How to avoid this predicament:
* When you get a binding estimate, scrutinize the Table of Measurements that the estimator uses to give you moving quotes. This is a sheet your estimator uses to tally up the items you need to have moved. Insist on seeing this, and make sure it’s accurate. If it’s not, you’re going to have a problem on moving day.
* Beware the low bid. Even if it’s binding, your moving company can still insist on more money on moving day if it says the estimate was incorrect.
* Make sure that you won’t be adding additional items to your load before moving day. This will nullify your binding estimate.
* Get your estimate in writing.
On moving day, the binding estimate is included as an attachment to the bill of lading, which is a document you will be signing that turns over your goods to the moving company. Make sure it’s there.
More Fascinating Articles on Estimates:
How the Moving Company Sets Your Moving Estimate
The Best Estimate for Your Move