On Hovercrafts

J Philip Faranda March 7, 2013

HovercraftI was fortunate enough to be quoted in Business week in an article entitled Why Redfin, Zillow, and Trulia Haven't Killed Off Real Estate Brokers.  I spoke with the reporter for what seemed like a good healthy duration on where technology is taking our industry, the significance of its impact on the consumer experience and how licensees ply their trade, and the canard that access to information will somehow render real estate licensees redundant or irrelevant. After all that, here is the one quote that made the piece:
“We will never be a point-and-click industry...You will always need a trusted adviser to ensure that you get the best terms possible. The stakes are so high. If you want to do a do-it-yourself project, build a hovercraft.”
Now, I have said that 1000 times, but the other 999 times I have said or written it, I said "if you want a do-it-yourself project, build a go-cart." The one time I say it with hovercraft, it makes the media.  And my friends all picked up on the hovercraft thing.  Hovercraft do exist. Not just the science fiction kind, but the ones you build at home from a kit. I used to see the ads for them in the back of Boys Life and comic books, and I think they require parts from a vacuum cleaner. I don't know. I was more of a sea monkey kind of guy.  But I have seldom felt so strongly about something as to the importance of having a trusted adviser in what is typically the largest transaction of one's life. The median price for a home in Westchester is about $600,000. Assuming a 20% downpayment and a $480,000 mortgage at 4% interest, the total payments over the life of the loan are just over $825,000. But it doesn't stop there. The taxes, conservatively in today's dollars at $15,000 annually, would total another $450,000. The home insurance at $1200 annually would be another $36,000. Add in maintenance, improvements, a new roof and furnace along the way, updates, and you could spend another 6 figures easily over the life of the loan. Staggering. And I didn't even add inflation or rising taxes.  One might think I am a lousy broker for scaring off potential buyers with those numbers, but the truth is that you have to live somewhere, and that somewhere is never free. The numbers are uglier for renters, because you spend almost the same money over time, with no tax benefit (Call a CPA. I am not giving tax advice. This is a muse. Hovercraft, dammit), and at the end of the term you have no asset and  no equity. Living is expensive. But it beats the alternative.  Regardless, you never undertake that kind of a project alone without some experienced advocacy to help guide you. Not all agents are created equal, and I have always stressed to consumers that they should choose their representation wisely.  But do have representation. Jokes, hovercraft and sea monkeys aside, real estate should never be a do it yourself project. 

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