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An Interview With Jason Hartman, Authority Magazine | March 20, 2022

How can you get the best price possible when you are looking to sell your home? Sometimes it’s a matter of timing, the right upgrades, or simply the right negotiation. In this interview series called “How To Get The Best Price When You Sell Your Home” we are talking to successful real estate leaders, who can share stories, insights, and lessons from their experience about how to get the best price when you want to sell your home.

As a particular part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alice Tomkins.

Alice Tomkins Haltom is a Sacramento-based residential real estate professional with over a decade of experience supporting one of the largest residential land brokers in the local industry. Alice’s work with new home communities has given her extensive expertise in the end-to-end process of homebuilding. She transitioned to real estate following a long career in the legal industry and is passionate about focusing on her clients with integrity, hard work and professionalism.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to your career?

I worked in the legal field for nearly 30 years. I moved forward from there to work with a large land broker corporation and was fascinated to learn how the homes we all live in come to be from start to finish. I quickly discovered it is a lengthy and involved process with many moving parts, working together with lots of people and entities, and oodles of negotiating, compromise, and navigation. I was inspired to become an agent following personally going through the buying and selling process a couple of times and realizing how much my experience could have been more satisfied with a more attentive agent.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away, you took out of that story?

Oh my goodness, it was such a comedy of errors and is funny now to think about but was very embarrassing at the time. One recent Friday evening, I arrived at a new listing to have it professionally staged for the seller. I requested the alarm code but was told the seller would disarm it remotely prior to my arrival. To my dismay, it wasn’t disarmed so upon entering I was met with the request to enter a code. Not having the code, within 60 seconds the shrill sound of the alarm penetrated to what seemed like blocks away — I have never heard such a loud alarm. I couldn’t reach the seller, neighbors emerged from their homes to investigate and offered to try and reach the seller as well. No luck. In the meantime, I had come out to assure the concerned neighbors that I wasn’t a bad guy and to explain the situation and the (self-locking) front door closed behind me with my car keys, purse, phone, and…the house keys inside the house. Sellers had left town for the week and there were no other keys. Fast forward to the emergency locksmith arriving sometime later, staging obviously sidelined to the next day, and me embarrassingly borrowing phones to make all the necessary calls and arrangements because I was hobbled with none of my usual tools at my disposal. After multiple hours later and exhausting all of his tricks, the locksmith was not able to get in because sellers had installed Fort Knox-type security locks so he ends up having to drill out the deadbolt. And after consuming my entire Yeti of water, I really had to go to the bathroom, which I was locked out of so…we won’t go there. All of this is being reviewed closely at some later time by the seller through his high-tech security system. Not my best moment for sure.

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

You have to give to get. Give your time, your love, your attention, your care, your knowledge, your kindness — it comes back multiple times over. A recent transaction in which my buyers were in contract for more than $100k over list price and had waived appraisal on a fixer they fell in love with presented such a lesson. The appraisal fell much shorter than anticipated and I humbly requested the sellers reduce the purchase price, which they were in no way obligated to do. I had done a few things during the transaction to assist the sellers and their agent, which I wasn’t required to do but for which they were very grateful. In return, the seller volunteered to reduce the price and my buyers were shocked and literally brought to tears. They didn’t hold out high hopes the request would be granted and would have no way of knowing that the things I had done may have influenced the decision, but the bottom line is it doesn’t matter because that’s my job — to directly or indirectly, conventionally or unconventionally, always advocate for my clients.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Always working on ways to continuously provide value to people through staging, my personal experiences, improving my social media presence, staying educated on the market and current events impacting our local communities, supporting location businesses and charities, maintaining a listing of vendors homeowners may need — the list goes on. Not sure how exciting it all is. I tell my clients it is my hope that they will consider me a real estate resource in perpetuity. When they do and I continue to get calls and referrals from them year after year, that’s exciting!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our entire crew is what makes us stand out. Both individually and collectively we are incredible, dynamic, smart, kind, thoughtful, and extraordinary. An acquaintance I ran into recently told me that our office has so many great agents that it would be difficult for someone to pick who to use if they knew more than one of us.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

None of us is an island, true. There are quite a few of those people in my life, in fact too many to list here. If you really need this one answered let me know and I’ll work on refining it and narrowing it down somehow.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, can you please tell us why you are an authority about the topic of getting the best price when selling a home?

To the extent anyone can legitimately call themselves an authority, I believe I am well qualified based on a number of factors. My office collaborates and shares all things real estate so we all benefit from the groups’ collective knowledge and experiences. I do exhaustive, thorough (sometimes bordering on obsessive) research on current and historical stats and data to present a seller with information to help them arrive at a healthy and sane listing price. The goal is for the home to sell swiftly, for the highest price possible, with the fewest amount of speed bumps and/or surprises along the way. That takes us to the importance of listing prep, which is vital — have inspections done, make sure curb appeal, house and its contents are in the best possible condition. Eliminating as many unknowns or surprises prior to listing is clutch. A part of my job is to prep the house so it presents itself in such a way that buyers find it irresistible and feel confident and comfortable with it. Beyond prep and price, communication with potential buyer agents is vital, which usually entails listening twice as much as speaking — a lot can be learned from what isn’t said as well. Always answer or return calls, texts or emails as promptly as possible. Never be rude, make your boundaries and expectations clear, confirm things in writing to commemorate important things agreed up on the phone. Be kind, considerate, and respectful even when you are being firm or delivering unpleasant news.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry, as it is today? If you can please share a story or example.

  1. Now that I am beginning to learn more about it, the new tech tools are pretty darn groovy and helpful. I can be old school and was tech reluctant. My brokerage has been such a patient and helpful guide in leading me into the many helpful benefits of real estate tech. Slowly, but surely, I’m getting there.
  2. I am super pumped that more younger folks and single people are buying their first homes and owning an appreciating (hopefully) asset. I would guess that at least half of my clients in the past year have been either younger (30ish or under), first-time homebuyers or single, never-been-married people who are excitedly and bravely buying a home. It seriously makes me so proud and stoked for them.
  3. I’m excited for the opportunities ahead of me to work with more wonderful clients, much like the clients I have worked with up to this point.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry as it is today? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

  1. Transparency, regulations and oversight are a concern of mine. Although at times I believe as a society we can be sometimes overregulated, I think that buyers and sellers are often in a vulnerable position and should rightly expect that their agent is truly representing their best interests, first and foremost. Brokerages should make sure they have oversight and are holding their agents accountable and to the highest possible standards. I respect this industry and am frustrated when I learn that a buyer or seller has a had a bad or unsatisfactory real estate experience that could have been prevented had the agent done their job properly and with integrity.
  2. Homes prices/affordability. I’d love to see more people own their homes. While I don’t think it should be something that is too easy to do, it also shouldn’t be a Herculean effort.
  3. It’s too paper/form intensive. I feel like there are too many superfluous forms that most clients don’t truly read and understand, despite our instruction to do so, before signing them. I’d really like to see the required paperwork get streamline and simplified. The revamped RPA in California is a great start and I think was a significant step in the right direction.

Based on your experience, what are a few of the biggest mistakes you have seen people make when they sell their homes? What must be done to avoid them?

  1. Overpricing. Some sellers won’t be swayed and have a price in mind — come hell or high water that’s what they believe it is worth. That’s challenging, but not impossible. If they are basing their price on sensationalized headlines and articles, discuss that and work together to verify or debunk the alleged facts and data they are based on. Knowledge is comforting and powerful. I find that providing sellers with credible comps, historical data and asking them questions rather than just giving your opinion of value is the best way to have them arrive at a list price that will ultimately serve them well and make them happy with the end result.
  2. Not doing of the requisite house prep. Taking short cuts and assuming that the market is so on fire that buyers will just buy it regardless and overpay for it is arrogant and not fairly participating in the process. Again, you have to give to get!
  3. Not making the house easily accessible while it is on the market. I find that with many of the iBuyer/seller programs which is so frustrating and I don’t think serves the sellers of those homes well.

I know this question has passionate opinions on both sides, but we would love to hear your opinion. Engaging a realtor is costly. Should people use a realtor when they sell their home? Please explain why you feel the way you do.

I imagine there are a select few who are capable of managing a real estate transaction without a realtor. I think the stats speak for themselves on this question — FSBO listings typically don’t yield the seller the same results, financially and otherwise, as using a qualified real estate agent. Hiring an agent affords sellers the benefits of marketing and syndication of a listing, depending on the brokerage the benefit of a legal, marketing, and other departments that promote a listing and support the agents and their clients. Plus developing a relationship with a good realtor is a potentially lifelong relationship and resource for real estate and real estate-related needs — priceless!

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. You are a “Real Estate Insider.” Can you please share five things you need to know in order to get the absolute best price when you sell your home? If you can, please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Hire a smart, trustworthy, hardworking real estate agent. Before deciding to work a realtor, ask friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. for recommendations based on their experiences. Meet with multiple agents before making a decision. I encourage everyone I meet with to speak to multiple agents before making a decision. It is a relationship that requires mutual respect, trust, open and honest communication and work. It is imperative that an agent have a good working relationship with the seller as well as with all of the other parties involved in a transaction — other agents, inspectors, other vendors, title company, lenders, transaction coordinators, etc. Pay attention to how the agent treats others.
  2. Price the home correctly. Over pricing a home is worse than most people might imagine. Even in a hot seller market, buyers aren’t stupid and likely have good agents representing their best interests. If prepped properly, the market and buyers will determine the value. It is worth what the highest bidder is willing to pay for it. Is that the market value? No, not the same thing exactly.
  3. Preparation! Preparation! Preparation! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to properly prepare a home for sale. Don’t compromise and take short cuts just to get it on the market soon. As a seller you want your house to stand out to buyers, possess things and make buyers feel in ways other houses do not. A lot of that is done through preparation.
  4. Hold a pre-listing open house for neighbors, friends and family is a great way to prep the house, maybe get some feedback and input, and also this begins to spread the word that you are selling your home. If it has been prepped and priced well it is surprising how the news spreads like wildfire, especially in this low inventory market.
  5. Be reasonable and informed with your expectations during the transaction. You may need to adapt and adjust at times depending on situations that arise. Did I mention that proper prepping before listing goes a long way to avoiding many of these situations and surprises?! Do what you say you will do and when you say you will do it. Be respectful of all parties involved in the transaction. People often times consider a real estate transaction to be adversarial, when in fact I don’t believe it should be.

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m a big fan of simply being kind. That doesn’t mean being a doormat or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. It means don’t be a jerk. Or if you are going to be a jerk, try to keep it at a minimum. We are all playing in this big sandbox together, let’s share the toys and don’t throw sand at each other.

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