Even when sales are strong, realtors find themselves primping properties and bending over backwards to get the deal done. Sarasota agents agree that they're constantly simmering cinnamon on the stove and buying fresh flowers to spruce up a showing, along with propping up leaning mailboxes, hauling off termite-infested firewood and taking Christmas lights down for a showing at Easter.
But what if the market gets squishy? Those who do not wish to bog down simply pull on galoshes and rubber gloves and wade in. Weeding and window washing and skimming leaves out of the pool may not be part of the job description, but who's kidding whom? When sales slow down, the pros turn up the volume. Agents arriving a few minutes early to turn on the lights and open the blinds sometimes wind up scouring tubs and hastily running the vacuum cleaner. Dirty clothes have to be hidden, children's toys picked up and the trash taken outside. "You do what you must, and most times it is just easier to do it yourself," reports Candy Swick of Candy Swick & Company. "And you never know just what you will find."
Swick has crawled through a second-story condominium window in a skirt when her buyer was insistent and the seller forgot to remove the deadbolt on the front door. She made the sale. She once climbed up on a roof in panty hose and high heels to confirm an inspection so the closing could go through.
When a derelict tenant trashed the house, left town and locked Swick out of one of her listings, she telephoned a handyman and had the front door taken off its hinges to show the property. Her client did not want to wait for the clean-up so Swick warned him to expect the worst. "It looked as if a tornado had roared through the living room," remembers Swick. "It was a landfill of tossed beer bottles, spoiled food, old mattresses on the floor and overturned chairs." He bought the house. And on one occasion, she even paid someone to leave the property she was showing. "I was showing a condominium on Longboat Key to a couple from out-of-town and the extremely uncooperative tenant refused to leave," says Swick. "I called the listing agent and asked what to do and he told me to offer money. So I gave the women $25 and suggested she go out for dinner. She left and my clients bought the place."
Tom Cail of Michael Saunders listed a charming villa; during the open house, he noticed that a mother and child had chosen to ignore the "Water Is Off" sign and had used the restroom. Cail removed shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers and waded into a small pond on the property, armed with an oversized pasta pot. Water was successfully transported into the house and the problem swirled away.
Barbara Dumbaugh of Michael Saunders had a listing in Lakewood Ranch that needed a bit of accessorizing and updating. She bought what she refers to as "props," such as orchid plants to take the place of dated silk flower arrangements, framed prints to hang in lieu of really bad paintings and pretty knick-knacks for end tables and bookshelves. Piece by piece she rearranged the furniture in the house. One by one she substituted her accessories for existing items. Subtly, she removed artwork from the walls and hung her own things on the hooks. And then an offer came in.
"My sellers were not completely satisfied with the price, but I pointed out that they were in a bit of a crunch since they had already purchased another home," says Dumbaugh. "They needed to get this thing finished. At last, my clients said, 'Okay, we will sign the offer on one condition. You allow us to keep everything that you brought in.' Of course, I couldn't laugh so I just said certainly, please enjoy. I think I did not even spend $300."
The more people that see a house, the better the chances of finding that buyer, right? Lynn Robbins certainly sees it that way. So when she lists a property, she sometimes goes the extra mile to lure realtors inside. She once rented a costume and served lunch dressed as Robin Hood at a home in Sherwood Forest. Her listed property east of I-75 was showcased at an MLS meeting when Lynn dressed as a ranch hand, shot off cap pistols and invited everyone out for barbecue. "It can be difficult to get realtors out to look at properties," explains Robbins. "You have to try and do something a bit novel to get their attention."
And then there are the animal stories. Coldwell Banker's Barbara Ackerman was unfortunate enough to come between a lovely client and her grossly unappealing Shar-Pei. Ackerman said the creature looked like a warthog, was at least 100 years old (that's in human years) and smelled as though it had been buried for a time and then uncovered. "What could I do?" laments Ackerman. "I certainly did not want to insult the woman, and this was her dear dog." An emergency kit was quickly put together, including bones to lure the smelly carcass out into the yard, carpet deodorizer, dog perfume to mask the odor and a ball to throw so the animal would perhaps run a bit and then go to sleep in the grass. Or better. "All of these measures had to be put into place after the seller left the house," explains Ackerman, "so she would not be offended. I learned to move fast."
Donald Geikie of Michael Saunders once held an open house for realtors with specific instructions from the seller to keep the cat locked inside. Inadvertently the wrong door was opened, and the wily feline made her escape.
A panicked Geikie sprinted through neighborhood streets, tie flapping wildly over his shoulder, until he cornered the creature and made the capture. Flushed, sweating, breathing hard, he deposited the hateful beast back inside the bedroom only to have his co-lister whisper, "Don-that's a different cat."
Things may have slowed, but there's still action out there. Mary Ann Dabney of Arvida recently sold a two-lot package on Westway in Lido Shores for $3.8 million and the buyer promptly turned around and resold one for $2.45 million. Developer J. Blair Sparrow of Chartwell Properties has a magnificent 5,000-square-foot home for sale on John Ringling Parkway with full views of Sarasota Bay and the city skyline for just under $3 million. He's also putting up a 6,000-square-foot spec house where a modest ranch once stood on Bird Key's Warbler Lane. Selling price is $3.75 million and Dabney predicts it will sell prior to completion. "Even when the market slows a bit, we are still doing a terrific business along the waterfront," says Dabney. "And prices are staying high."