Archive for October, 2012

5 Things to Look for In a Realtor

Monday, October 29th, 2012

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

A customer walked in recently and wanted to list his property, and we said “okay.”

Then we started doing the research on the property.  My partner Kate Stevens and I started attacking the money side, looking for the best price to start at.  In the meantime my partner Ron Barry drove to the property to see what it looked like in person so we could factor the condition of the home and land in more accurately.

Variables started popping up.  A lot of variables.  Things like impact fees and credits for impact fees and there was even a possible historic angle on the property.

Soon we realized we were in over our heads.  Someone with a very specialized expertise was needed to sell this property…and we weren’t that person.

So we contacted the seller and told him the property was out of our scope, and that we would help him find an agent better able to handle it.

Wouldn’t you love it if an agent did that for you?

Here are 5 things you can look for when you go out and hunt for a Realtor:

Experience is one thing to look for. Image by hoyasmeg.

Experience is one thing to look for. Image by hoyasmeg.


Experience doesn’t neccesarily mean years in the business, but the number of transactions a Realtor has worked on.

Most experienced Realtors know what their strengths and weaknesses are.  Ask them what they are when you interview them.

Look for a Realtor who isn’t afraid to admit there are properties that are out of their depth from time to time.

In the example above it took us about three hours to figure it out.  Which leads to…


Our rationale for initially accepting the property sight unseen is that we’re experienced with a wide enough variety of properties to the point we believe “we can handle just about anything.”  But as we got down to it and started anticipating some of the questions from prospective buyers, we realized we wouldn’t have the answers, and more importantly, didn’t know if we could find the answers fast enough, or accurately enough.  This might kill a sale and hurt the seller.

So as soon as we figured out that we weren’t the people to sell the property, we got in touch with the seller.  It might not have been what he wanted to hear right at that second, but it was what he needed to hear.

Working in Scope

Every property is different, so there are a lot of times as a Realtor you are going to encounter something that you’ve never seen before.

That’s okay…that’s just part of the business.

And if you are experienced enough a Realtor you will know who to ask, or where to find the answers, or what past experience is relevant in solving the problem.

When we realized we were out of our scope on the above example we declined the job.  Better to do that in three hours than bravely try to muddle through for 3 months and lead the seller down the garden path.

The upshot is if you are selling a regular residential house, don’t call a commercial Realtor out.  They may be desperate enough for business to take the job, and mash up your sale in the process.

Marketing Skill

In the age of the internet you need to find someone who will get your property online.  This is how we found a Realtor to work with out of state.  Being “findable” online was key.

Listening to What You Want, Telling You What You Need to Hear

If you’re interviewing a Realtor and they don’t seem to get it, they probably won’t get it.

If you tell a Realtor you will only buy a concrete block house and they are only showing you frame construction, then they aren’t listening and they won’t ever listen.  You have my permission to dump them.

But if there are no concrete block homes in your price range…and they aren’t showing you anything because of that…don’t blame them.  Either adjust your price range or the type of home you will accept.  I know, that’s hard advice to take when you have your heart set on something.

And if you’re telling a Realtor that you need to get $250,000 out of a house, and they are telling you that you can only get $150,000 out of it, they are listening.  They’re not only listening, they are telling you what you need to hear in order to sell.

Too many Realtors will take your $150,000 home at $250,000 and hope and pray that the pressure of what is making you move will become so great that you have to lower the price.

Don’t hire that Realtor, hire someone who’s not afraid to walk away if they think they can’t sell it.

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you buy or sell, we’ll excel in all of the above, or we won’t take the job.  Email us at

Photo kind courtesy hoyasmeg (creative commons) on flickr .



Should a Seller Be at the Showing?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

Should a seller be at the showing?



Well there are a few reasons, the chief of these is that buyers aren’t comfortable about speaking their mind when the seller is around.  They have to be polite, and remain gaurded.

A buyer wants to look around the house, kind of mentally place where their furniture might go, maybe sit down and imagine themselves living there.  And they absolutely can’t do that if the seller is hanging off their elbow.

My partners Ron Barry, Kate Stevens and I were all in the office (at the same time!) today and I corralled them into making a short video on the subject below:

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you want peace and privacy when viewing a listing.  Email us at .

3425 Haley Point 32084: Back on the Market

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

Our beautiful waterfront condo at 3425 Haley Point in St. Augustine is back on the market for $147,000!

This extremely nice 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo has expansive views of the San Sebastian River and historic downtown St Augustine from the living areas and master bedroom.

The home is upgraded throughout – from tile floors, to crown molding, to plantation shutters – with attention everywhere.

The screened porch has been glassed in with sliders for year round enjoyment of the tranquil view.

Vista Cove boasts excellent community facilities including pool,  nature preserve with trails. This is a short sale. 

You can see a short video below, or click on the address link above to find out more information. Contact Kate Stevens at (904) 377-2276 or email with questions!

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you buy or sell.  Email us at or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.

Is it a Good Time to List?

Friday, October 19th, 2012

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

Is it a good time to list?

IS IT a good time to list?

IS IT a good time to list?

Realtors–fairly– have a reputation for claiming that it’s (always) the “right time to buy” or “the time to list is now.”  In fact, when I was writing the title to this post in my mind I could see a Realtor running down the aisle like one of the crazed game show contestants at The Price is Right with a big sign saying “The Time to List is Now!”

So let’s look at it from your perspective, is it a good time to list for you?

The Market

If your home is priced right it should sell in five to eight months (the market average is five months).

Luxury homes and beach condos will take longer because there are less buyers available to buy these homes.  But otherwise figure plus or minus five months.

The key is that the home is, again, priced right.

If you’re not prepared to price your home right this is not the time to list.

Do You Have a Place to Go?

If you do list your home and it does sell, where will you move to?

If you don’t have a place to move, you’re going to have about 60 days to find someplace to go (because most real estate contracts run sixty days, start to finish).

Will the Market Go Up?

The market in St. Johns County has been flat but stable for the past two years, and if you look at the straight numbers they don’t seem to be going up much, if at all, as we head into 2013.

What we are seeing is a market that doesn’t have a huge variety in choice, and because of that we’re seeing a lot of buyers head towards new construction.

The upshot for you as a seller is that if you have a nice house in one of the more desirable school districts, you are going to be able to hold closer to your list price because there is going to be more demand for your home (because there is less overall choice).

But if your home is not in good shape or has a lot of deferred maintenance (like that roof you keep meaning to replace), or if the floor plan is dated (like only one bathroom), then your home will sit longer on the market (say beyond five months) and will take a hit on list price.

But you aren’t going to see a big jump in prices this year or next, so you aren’t going to lose money by listing now vs. next year.

List Now or Wait Until January?

From now until the end of the year we’ll see a few less buyers in the market every day.

With the holidays coming up people have more and more outside obligations and less actual time to shop for homes.

So the people that manage to carve out the time to go out and look are actually pretty serious buyers…a good thing for sellers.

The downside is that the December average sales price is generally the lowest of the year.

But don’t freak out…there are a couple things working here.

The first reason you see a lower sales price in December is because you have sellers who have been trying to sell since January (at a too high list price), and suddenly they see less buyers as the end of the year approaches.  So these sellers tend to overreact and give too much away when a lone buyer comes along.

The second reason is that some people really have to unload by the end of the year for tax reasons, and so they cut deals.

So what do you think? Is it time to list or not? :-)

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you buy or sell.  Email us at or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.

All images, video and audio not in the public domain are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17–United States Code–Section 107) and remain the property of the film or photo copyright owners.


An Update on Our Native Plants Project

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
How to grow a Florida wildflower garden!

How to grow a Florida wildflower garden!

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

In our last update back in May, only the Gaillardia (Blanket Flower) was blooming from our fall wildflower planting.

What a difference a few months makes!

In mid to late summer the bright yellow blooms of Yellow Coneflower and Black Eye Susan started popping up…the Black Eyes still remain vibrant (the coneflowers only lasted through August).

Right now many of the Gaillardia are still blooming though many of them are also going to seed.

In the “dead area” from our second wildflower planting only a single Black Eye Susan bloomed.  So we tarped the area over again in August (except for the one flower), and recently reseeded it.  We made a cool graphic of our wildflower seedings which we included with this post.

The wildflowers, from a Florida native beach wildflower mix, surprised us in that they grew so tall.  We expected them to stay low and hug the ground like they do in the dunes.  I’m not sure why they grew so tall here.

We thought that the wildflowers would be lower than the Society Garlic, which is planted behind them.  But since they are so tall I think in the spring we’ll move the garlic to the front of the wildflower bed, and maybe mulch the garlic with oak leaves to keep the weeds out (such as they are in the Valley).

Everything we planted this year and last has survived with the exception of one Fountain Grass plant.  In the spring we thought one of the garlic plants had died but it’s still there, hanging on and trying to get bigger.

The Fountain Grass we planted in early summer really benefitted from the bountiful rains we had this summer.  Where last year’s crop had trouble getting established even with frequent watering, this year’s plants really seemed to thrive and even get bigger.

We’ll keep you updated as things progress!

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you want some help growing into a new home in St. Augustine!  Email or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.

Missed Closings Are Nerve Wracking

Friday, October 12th, 2012

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

Missed closings are nerve wracking. 

Missed Closing. Image

This painting by Edvard Munch was probably based on a missed closing. Image by

If you are a buyer or seller it can be one of the most stressful things you will ever go through.

Here’s some things to keep in mind if it happens to you.

It’s Probably Not Anyone’s Fault (At Least, Not Anyone You Know’s Fault)

When a closing date is missed there’s a tendency for one side or the other to lash out…at the loan originator, at the real estate agent, at the title closer, at each other, etc.

Most of the time a closing is delayed because the buyer’s loan package does not show up on the day closing.

No one has any control over this, at least not anyone you know or can talk to.

Loans are ultimately processed not in your local market.  An underwriter sitting at a desk somewhere in California or Atlanta may not look at the loan paperwork for your closing until three days before the closing.  And if it’s some guy getting paid $8 an hour, and it’s Friday, and your closing is on Friday…well, your closing is going to be delayed.

What I’ve always been told is that the big lenders that actually loan most of the money for houses (regardless of who the loan originator is or who’s logo is on the loan paperwork) are always understaffed.  If volume increases they typically don’t add employees right away to handle the load, and they get backed up.  And if volume goes down they shed employees.  So there’s always a lot more work than people available to handle it.

Also, if you have a governement backed loan like USDA, FHA or VA, their approval process can delay things.  USDA is a very popular loan right now, and their approval process is taking longer simply because the volume is so high.

Hang In There, It Will Close 

Just hang in there and relax, it will close.

The only way it won’t close is if something in the loan or the home has substantially changed.

For example, if the buyer lost his job.  If the buyer loses his job he may no longer be able to afford the home.   That could kill a closing.

Or if the buyer went out and bought a new car it will change his debt-to-income ratio.  This may not kill a closing if his income is still good…but it probably means all sorts of paperwork that will have to be re-filed and re-approved…and that will take weeks.

Or it could be a seller didn’t do a repair that a VA appraiser required…which will delay things until the repair has been done and the appraiser went back out and verified it.

But if the status quo is maintained, it should close.

The only delayed closing that failed to close that I’ve had in seven years was when a loan originator issued a bogus approval when the buyer didn’t have established credit.  And that was only the third time in the last 12 years that a lender has lied to me to my face.

Closing Dates are Arbitrary Anyway

People get really upset about missed closings, but think about it…most of the time the closing date is arbitrary anyway.

Here’s a how a closing date is usually set:

We sit down with the purchase and sale contract, we look at a calendar, we pick a date about 60 days out (because that’s about what it takes for loans to get through these days), and sometimes we’ll look for a Wednesday because it gives us two business days for the bank package to come in, and two business days after in case it doesn’t.

And that’s it.

Sometimes we’ll adjust if one of the parties knows it’s going to be out of town or on vacation, etc.  But really it’s picking a date out of thin air 60 days down the road, with some minor adjustments.

At that point, I always tell the buyer and seller this:

“Look, if we give a bank 45 days, they are going to take 60.  If we give them 60 days, they are going to take 65.  DO NOT count on this date as a closing date.  If they hit it, that’s great, you move in early.  But expect it to be delayed.  DO NOT plan to move in on that date.  Give yourself at least a week or two beyond.  The banks are not hitting closing dates right now.”

And that’s my spiel.

Give Yourself Some Leeway


That’s in all caps, it must be important.

Do not have your mover show up two hours after the closing is supposed to take place.

If you do have a mover get with him or her ahead of time and figure out a contigency plan.

If you’ve already sold your home, have extra money and a place to stay if your closing doesn’t take place on time.

And guess what, if your closing takes place on time, or crazy as it may sound, early, you’ve got extra time to paint, to clean, to put in new flooring, to remove popcorn ceilings, and it’s a wonderful problem to have.

Are the Realtors Blase’ and Unsympathetic?

No, Realtors are not blase’ and unsympathetic.

The thing with Realtors is: this is our life.

We see it in a broader picture.  You go through it once.

You have to take off work to prepare for a potential closing, and it’s stressful.

You have to get the exact amount you need as a cashier’s check before the closing, and it’s stressful.

You have no idea where you are going to be living next week, and it’s stressful.

Speaking for myself and probably for a lot of Realtors–as common as missed closings are–this stress would kill me if I let to get it to me.

For me a missed closing means, “Will I get I paid this week?”

For me a missed closing means,  “Will I get paid at all for this work I put in?” because the buyers and sellers are screaming at each other and threatening each other that they’ll kill the deal.

For me a missed closing means, “Looks like I’ll have to wait until next week to buy (fill in the blank…groceries, shoes, a new battery, etc.).”

So as a Realtor the constantness of never knowing if and when you are going to get paid will kill you if you think about it.

That’s why something like 70% of new Realtors get out of the business within two years.  They can’t handle the stress of sales they don’t make, and they can’t handle the stress of the deals they do make.  The pay is erratic and especially the “when you get paid” is even more erratic.

So it’s not that we’re unsympathetic, it’s just that we have to stay cool or the stress will eat us alive.

Hope this helps some, and makes your closing easier!

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you buy or sell.  Email us at or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.

All images, video and audio not in the public domain are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17–United States Code–Section 107) and remain the property of the film or photo copyright owners.



NFL Player Buying a Home

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Sean Hessby Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

I was watching ESPN’s 30 On 30 movie Broke last week.  Basically it’s about how professional athletes come into a lot of money all at once and then blow it.

Broke chronicled some really bad real estate buys.   So if you come into a lot of money, here’s some good advice about buying a home.

Pay Cash

Your primary home is not an investment, it is your shelter.  It is the thing that will protect you against the wind and the rain.  If you live in Florida, like I do, it will also protect you against creditors if you homestead* it.

If you come into a lot of cash all at once, use it to buy that shelter.

Don’t Take Out a Loan Out On Your Shelter

People will try and sell you on the notion that “you have all this money just sitting in your house that you aren’t using.”

They will loan you money against the value of the house, either up front to buy the house, or to refinance it.

This luxury home was foreclosed on because the owners couldn't make the payments. Don't make the same mistake.

This luxury home was foreclosed on because the owners couldn't make the payments. Don't make the same mistake.

This is one of the few times that a real estate agent will caution you against getting a loan on a house.

This is because you are in a unique situation…you can buy the type of house you couldn’t afford before.

And you will never be able to afford it again.

If you take a loan out on it, you won’t be able to afford the loan payment once your playing career ends and the game checks stop.

So pay cash.

In other words:

If you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it.

Because if you can’t pay cash for it, you won’t be able to make the loan payment either (when the playing career ends).

And then you’ll either lose the house, or have to sell it fast at a loss.

And since you didn’t put a lot of money down on it, and because you sell it at a loss, you’ll walk away with little or no money.

And then you’ll be back to living in an apartment again.  Ouch!

Protect the House for All Time

Assuming the average NFL player will only play 3.5 years, it would probably be a good idea to protect the house for all time, for the time when you don’t have those game checks coming in.

To protect the house you will need to set up escrow accounts for your taxes, insurance, and repairs / replacements.  Think very long term.  Get an accountant to help you.

Assuming you are 20 and you might live until 80 that might mean escrowing enough to pay the taxes and insurance for 60 years…possibly over $1 million combined.  And you will have to manage the escrows over the years, to protect them from taxes and fees.

If you’re now thinking $1 million is a lot to invest (not including the price of the house), you’re not kidding.

So Don’t Over Buy

There are a lot more Big Expensive Homes on the market than there are Big Expensive Buyers to buy them.

People build their dream houses…gigantic homes…and then discover that they are way too big for just one or two people.

I can’t tell you how many huge, beautifully decorated homes I’ve seen with the owners just rattling around inside, like two beans in a big tin can.

It’s a dream for a lot of people to own a big house, but big houses with no people just end up back on the market.

So instead of buying big, go for a smaller home that will be a comfortable refuge.

When You Can Go A Bit Big: The Accesories

Like to work on cars?  Build a detached three-car garage with electric lifts.

Like to fish or hunt? Buy home with a dock and boatlift, or on enough acreage to hunt on for the rest of your natural life.

Like to make music?  Have a detatched, stand alone studio to record and mix music.

Repairs Down the Road

I mentioned earlier that you should set up escrows for taxes, insurance and repairs.  Repairs are the thing that everyone forgets about.

Say you follow my advice and buy a smaller house with a detached three-car garage.

Well, in 15 years the roof is going to need replaced, and the appliances are going to go at odd times, and the A/C unit may last 15 years or it may last just seven.

And those three electric lifts in the garage that are state of the art this year?  In 10 or 15 years they aren’t going to be state of the art anymore…you’ll want new…and they will probably break down from time to time anyway.

So you need money set aside in an escrow just for repairs and replacements.   That way when you wake up to no hot water, and you don’t have a check coming in, you don’t have to sweat it because the money is already set aside.

Swimming Pools

There are two types of people in Florida: people who want a pool and people who will never own one again.

Pools are great, and they tend to get used the most by families with kids.

Otherwise most people use them sporadically…but they have to be taken care of daily (cleaning the leaves and dead frogs out of the filters) and weekly (with chemicals or salt).

It’s not that they are horrible expensive to care for, it’s just that most people find that’s it’s not something they enjoy doing every day.

You can hire a pool guy, which takes a lot of the stress off, but it’s still paying for something you are not using.

And if you don’t have a check coming in the minor burden of paying the pool guy for a pool you aren’t using can be a major burden when you need the money for something else.

What You Don’t Need

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you don’t need a bowling alley.

When people build a bowling alley (or a pool room or a movie theatre), what they’re really trying to capture is the ambiance of a bowling alley (or a pool room or a movie theatre).

Instead of building a bowling alley in your home, just rent a real bowling alley…you get the bowling alley and all its ambiance when you want it, and then you’re done.

After all, what if you had a bowling alley in your home, and you’re trying to get rest before a game or big match, and some visiting relative is up at midnight going after a perfect 300 game with all the whooping and hollering?

And then the pin setter breaks down and he gets you up to fix it.

If you think renting a bowling alley is expensive think about how expensive it will be to maintain one all the time.


If you buy a home in Florida, and it’s your primary home, you can homestead it.  You homestead it by going down to the property appraiser’s office and registering it as your homestead.

When you homestead your home it will cap the amount your tax assesment can go up (no more than 3%) in any year.

It will also protect you against creditors.

Let’s say you make some really bad investments and declare bankruptcy.  Well, it’s my understanding that they can’t take your home to pay off those bad investments.

What they can take your homestead for is if you don’t pay your taxes.

So you have to pay your taxes.  Nothing protects you from Uncle Sam.

They can also take your homestead is you don’t pay the mortgage on it.

Abd since you’re one of those rare individuals who can pay cash for a home, pay cash for it and you’ll never have to worry about missing payments on it.

If you desperately want to make a mortgage payment, make it on investment properties like a beach condo or a second home in Aspen.

But protect your house.

What’s that Under Armor commercial say? “We have to protect this house.”

Good advice when it’s your shelter from the wind, rain and creditors.

Sean Hess is an elite amateur athlete (top 10 in a U.S. National Championship in cycling).  Though he will never get out of the amateur ranks as a cyclist, he is a one of the finest real estate pros you will find.  Hire him by hiring St. Augustine Team Realty.  Call (904) 386-8327 or email .

All images, video and audio not in the public domain are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17–United States Code–Section 107) and remain the property of the film or photo copyright owners.

167 Pine Arbor Circle 32084: Lakefront Home in St. Augustine’s Heritage Park

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

We just listed a great home at 167 Pine Arbor Circle in St. Augustine’s Heritage Park.

You are bound to fall in love with this roomy and comfortable lakefront home.  It boasts a beautiful a brick exterior, 3-bedrooms, two gigantic  living areas, spacious bedrooms and a beautiful kitchen.  This is a short sale.  See a short video of the home below:

Want to know more?  Call Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327 or email

168 Fonseca Drive 32086: Home for Sale in St. Augustine’s Tuscany

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

We just listed an extremely nice 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom block home at 168 Fonseca Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32086.  It sits on a preserve lot in the popular Tuscany subdivision of St. Augustine Shores.

The home has an open floorplan with its living area off the kitchen (with breakfast nook). Many upgrades throughout including tile flooring, high ceilings, upgraded kitchen cabinets & appliances, fireplace, covered porch and tray ceilings. The lush landscaping & preserve lot only add to the appeal of the home. Community amenities include pool, clubhouse, dock, playing fields & much more. This is a short sale.  You can watch a short video of the home below:

Call Kate Stevens at (904) 386-8327 or email her at for more information.

What is a Lockbox?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

by Sean Hess (, Broker and Manager for St. Augustine Team Realty ( Join us on Facebook and Google+.

Does a Realtor want to put a lockbox on your home?

I just did a short video that shows you what a lockbox is, how it works, and why you should never allow anyone to put a tumbler-style lockbox on your home.  Watch it below:

Hire St. Augustine Team Realty when you go to sell.  We’ll make sure the lockboxes go on right!  Email or call Broker Sean Hess at (904) 386-8327.