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Dirty Little Insurance Secret – The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil



With the Southern California fires blazing all around me, I thought it might be a good time to talk about insurance. Big insurance companies have a dirty little secret. They systematically deny claims over and over in order to reduce their payout. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the fair settlement.

I learned this lesson the hard way.

Several years ago a pipe burst under my kitchen floor. The water came up from under the floor and damaged many of my cabinets and the wood floors. I submitted a claim to my Insurance Company and they tried to pay me a few thousand dollars. The Insurance Company denied most of my claim.
Luckily I had a friend who referred me to his Licensed public insurance adjuster, Bob Barton from Barton Consulting who I hired to file my insurance claim. Bob worked with the insurance company’s adjuster and a mold contractor to complete an estimate for a complete repair of my kitchen including mold remediation. After only a few months, I ended up with a check for more than $60,000. I was able to have my kitchen completely repaired.

Bob Barton of Barton Consulting is now a part of my on-call real estate team.
I recently was on a listing appointment and while touring the home, I smelled mold. When we got to a room off the garage, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Because of an unrepaired roof leak, there was mold growing in the room. I immediately called Barton Consulting. After visiting with my client, Bob filed a claim for roof damage and mold remediation. My client has now collected a sizable check from his insurance company and is in the process of repairing his damaged roof. Instead of listing a handy man special, I will now be listing a home in good repair. Needless to say, my client is thrilled with this extra service.

The fires that are burning here in Southern California cause more problems than burned homes. There is also smoke and water damage. Many insurance policies even cover mandatory evacuation costs and will reimburse hotel stays.

If you have smoke damage, (when you move a picture on the wall you can see a clean outline) your insurance company will pay to have your home steamed and cleaned, but only if you understand how to file the claim. It pays to hire a professional independent insurance consultant.
If your home has been fire damaged partially or totally because of these fires, it is important to hire an expert to help recover the costs necessary to rebuild your home and your life. You would be surprised at what an insurance policy will cover, but you have to know what to ask for in order to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t volunteer this information to their clients.

If you would like more information on filing an insurance claim, please call Bob Barton at Barton Consulting. Bob has helped thousands of families repair their lives after a disaster. He has a staff of contractors, mold testers, attorney’s and other professionals that will assist you in getting the compensation that you deserve. Bob’s company works in most states. I highly recommend this company for your personal loss or your client’s losses. You can contact Bob Barton at 818-915-1864.

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Prop 60/90 – Don’t leave your Calabasas Home Without It

To download a PDF brochure about Prop 60/90 click here. To download the LA Assessors form click here. For more information and help planning your move, call Tracey Thomas at 818-652-2937 or email [email protected]

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Calabasas Real Estate Update for 7/21/2014

This Week The median list price in Calabasas, CA this week is $1,874,500. The Market Action Index has been trending down lately, while inventory and days-on-market are climbing. The trends imply a weakening market. Supply and Demand The market has been cooling off a bit in recent weeks, as more homes are available and demand is less. However, the market is still notably in the Seller’s zone so we haven’t yet seen prices move lower as a result. it may take a few more weeks of slack demand for prices to reflect and begin to fall. Expect a decline in prices if the index falls to the Buyer’s zone.

Calabasas Real Estate Supply and Demand

Calabasas Real Estate Supply and Demand

The Market Action Index answers the questions “How’s the market?” by measuring the current rate of sale versus the amount of the inventory. An index above 30 implies  Seller’s Market conditions. Below 30, the conditions favor the buyer.

Real Time Market Profile for Calabasas Real Estate

Real Time Market Profile for Calabasas Real Estate

Price Prices have moved upward in the last few weeks and are nearing the market’s all time high. A persistent drop of the Market Action Index into the Buyer’s zone will be a leading indicator of the price strength subsiding.

Calabasas Price Trends

For the complete real estate report for Calabasas for the week of 7/14/2014, email [email protected] or call 818-652-2937.

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A Picture Is Worth a 1000 Words – We Dig HDR Photography

A picture is worth 1,000 words and in real estate marketing,  pictures are worth even more! Home buyers start their search online, a whopping 85% click around on their computer, phone or iPad for weeks looking at houses before they ever set foot into one. These home buyers are looking at pictures and lots of them. Real Estate pictures run the gamut of dark and blurry to professionally taken and well lit.

We have been experimenting with HDR photography for our listing photos and we’re digging it, and are clients are too! So what is HDR photography? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and its a method of taking and processing a photograph that incorporates a range exposures from under exposed (dark) to over exposed (light). Since most homes have light and dark areas this tends to even out the photos and make details more visible.

Here is an example of a regular flash photography on the left and HDR photography on the right.

Exterior HDR Photography

Exterior HDR Photography





The difference is even more dramatic for interior shots because there is less available light.

Interior HDR Photography

Interior HDR Photography





We believe that great pictures sell houses and we love HDR photography so much that we’re offering it on every single listing no matter what the price range. Call Tracey Thomas at 818-652-2937 for more information and to see how professional HDR photos can help sell  your house.

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Are You My Real Estate Agent?

Are you my Real Estate Agent

There’s an adage that says you get what you pay for. The warning is especially relevant for homebuyers who work with the listing agent in a so-called single-agent transaction.

I’ve heard too many war stories about buyers who think they’ll get a better deal by going directly to the listing agent of the property. Most often, they do not get a better deal, and they end up not being represented properly in the negotiations.

In fact, buyers who use the listing agent aren’t always fairly represented, which is why single-agent transactions are outlawed in some states. 

So what is an agency relationship?

Agency relationships are created when one person — a lawyer or an investment adviser, for example — agrees to act on another’s behalf or represent them in dealings with a third party.

Once an agency relationship is established, an agent owes their client “fiduciary duties” — they must act in the client’s best interests, with honesty and good faith, while avoiding conflicts of interest or “self-dealing” that puts their own interests ahead of the client’s.

The state of California does allow dual agency in real real estate transactions, although it must be disclosed. The real estate broker does have a fiduciary duty to both parties and herein lies the problem.

If you were being sued by someone, would you use the same attorney as the person suing you? Of course you wouldn’t, even if you could save money. I always wonder when a home buyer tells me that they want to deal directly with the listing agent.

So why do buyers work with the listing agent?

Typically, buyers who choose to work with the listing agent say they do so because they think they’re getting a better deal. The idea that buyers can negotiate to get the listing agent to give up part of their commission because the buyers are unrepresented is a myth. The seller is paying the commission and if anyone is getting a discount it would be the seller. As a matter of fact, many listing contracts are written with a commission reduction to the seller if the listing agent represents the buyer also.

If the buyer is working with the listing agent, be aware of the conflict of interest problem that exists. Remember that the listing agent is interested in getting a deal done, and the higher the purchase price, the bigger the commission to the agent.

 What’s the harm?

The problem with the single-agent deal is that it makes it impossible for the agent to fulfill a fiduciary duty to both parties. The agent has an inherent conflict of interest when working with the buyer. It is very difficult for the agent to keep his knowledge of the buyer’s negotiating points, including their best price, from becoming known to the seller, either directly or through the agent’s advice to the seller regarding counter-offers.

Beyond price, buyers should understand that a single-agent deal creates the opportunity for a problem on virtually every deal point. Because of the conflict of interest, there is a real chance that the agent doesn’t have the buyer’s best interests in mind. It doesn’t necessarily happen every time. However, the pressure, opportunity and rationalization are all there for the seller’s agent to act in their own client’s interest and against the interests of the buyer.

Think again the next time you decide to work directly with the listing agent. If you want to be sure of who is representing your best interests, call Tracey Thomas at 818-652-2937. When I represent you, I only represent your best interests and you won’t have to wonder who your real estate agent is.

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Calabasas Mortgage Rates are at Historic Lows – Infograph

Calabasas interest rates are at historic lows.

Calabasas interest rates are at historic lows.

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Calabasas Relocation Texas Hold’em – Just Because I Make it Look Easy Doesn’t Mean it is

Calabasas Texas Holdem PokerThis is such a great story, I couldn’t wait until the transaction closed to write this post. Mr. and Mrs. buyer contacted me via email. They said they had seen my blog and were relocating to Los Angeles from out of State and needed to find a home that suited their needs in one weekend. They had been to the San Fernando Valley one other time on a house hunting trip but didn’t find what they were looking for.

Both, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer were very tech savvy with Mr. Buyer relocating for a position that he had accepted with an online gaming company. After several emails back and fourth we narrowed it down to seven homes. I previewed all of the homes and even video taped the homes that I thought would suit their needs the best, streaming the video online for them to review.

With all of this information in hand Mr. and Mrs. Buyer made arrangements to fly in to Los Angeles for a weekend whirlwind house hunting trip. Luckily when I met Mr. and Mrs. Buyer we had an instant rapport. Our house hunting trip was a success and we found a home that was right. Well almost right. It wasn’t in the right price range but everything else was good.

Knowing the Calabasas market like I do, we agreed to make an offer far below the asking price. When I received the counter offer and presented it to Mr. and Mrs. Buyer who by this time were back in their home state, I received the following email.

“Tracey — I am concerned about making a counter-offer on this property without an understanding concerning the end game. If it takes going above $1.81, I would be willing, however, I do not think it at all unreasonable to have participation from the Realtors in assisting us in going above this price. At this stage I would like to have your commitment to share in the overage above 1.81 on a 25% basis … meaning if we do settle at 1.85 that would be a $10k rebate ($40k * 25%) of your commission … which is well under the commitment from Discount Realtor (which would be $11.6k rebate). I believe this is quite fair Tracey … Mrs. Buyer found this house … WE Settled on it prior to flying … WE went around shopping ONCE with you … WE are the best buyers a Realtor could ever ask for … and WE are closing on this very quickly.
Please provide your commitment here so we can finalize the counter-offer, which I would like to make $1.81 … and find our way to a final price, which is in both our interests to keep low.”

Now because Mrs. Buyer is so tech savvy she had been searching endlessly online for homes. She had done a magnificent job of researching the homes and the neighborhoods. All along she had been using a Discount Brokers website and this is why they were bringing up the rebate issue. I thought long and hard about this email.

Here is my email response.

“Hi Mr. and Mrs Buyer,
Thanks for being for being open about your concerns. I fully understand your thought process. Many people feel the same way when dealing with Realtors. The lure of discount brokerages is not new and certainly can be enticing.

In hiring a full service Realtor, such as myself, you are hiring an individual with expertise in many different areas, not just in Calabasas. However; I live, work and play in Calabasas. My child goes to school here. I have seen all houses of interest on the market inside and out. I have also built solid relationships with many of the agents that work in Calabasas. Even if I don’t know them directly, they know of me. In fact I am not just a real estate agent, I’m a licensed CA Real Estate Broker. I have also have received the GRI and SRES designation. The GRI is a year long real estate designation that less than 10% of agents have nationwide. The SRES designation means that I am an expert in helping Seniors find housing. The education is helpful, but my main motivation when I obtained the extra license and designations was that it helps me when negotiating for my clients. Let me explain.

When a (good) listing agent receives an offer, one of the first things they will do is see which agent wrote the offer. If it’s an unknown agent from out of the area or a discount broker they know that they have the upper hand. We go so far as to Google other agents to see what type of negotiator and how much experience they have. When someone Googles me, it’s becomes crystal clear that I know my stuff.
The letter that I sent over to the other agent with your XXXX Street offer did not say much, but the conversation that I had with the listing agent on the phone is what facilitated the seller’s dropping the price $111,900 (nearly 6%) in the opening round of negotiations. He tried to use the list of comparable sales that he had and we literally went through his 20 comparable’s one by one. I had them thrown out for one reason or another. Primarily because I had seen the house and knew that it was not a similar property because of amenities, area, year built, etc. This is my area of expertise, I know the houses, I know what they sold for, I even know the back story on many. I know if it was divorce, or another problem. I have that information because this is my business. The discount broker or an outside agent does not have access to this information.

When you hire an attorney, you have a choice to hire an inexperienced lawyer for $150 hour or a seasoned veteran who knows all the tricks and the players. For this you will pay much more. Many times you pay $600 an hour or more. But for your money you get knowledge and power. You can do things with a high powered attorney that you could never do with a new discount lawyer. The amount per hour is so much less than the time or money that the experienced lawyer saves you.

This is the same in real estate. If you would have used Discount Broker to submit this offer and negotiate this transaction, you would be almost acting alone. They just write the number you tell them to and send it over. Then when the counter comes back, you tell them what to write next. They will prepare a comparable market analysis, but it would have been exactly like the one that the listing agent from ABC Company provided. They wouldn’t have been able to get a counter this low.

I educated the listing agent on the phone on the other properties. I told him what to tell his seller’s. I gave him the ammunition to get the price reduction. It’s all about market knowledge and understanding people. I am the best at this and this is why I do well.

Again, I understand your feelings, but in the long run I will protect your money and investment as if it were my own.

And just so you understand, once an offer is accepted and goes in to escrow there are more negotiations to come. The home inspection usually brings around more items that need to be negotiated. My contact list is full of experts that will help me to help you get accurate information on repairs and negotiate these repairs etc. This business is not just what you know, but whom you know also.

In closing, life is like Texas hold ‘em, we are dealt cards, but how we play them is based on our skill level. It may look easy, but until you sit across from Phil Hellmuth you don’t know what a real poker player is all about.

I hope you will reconsider now that you have all of the information. Please let me know how you’d like to proceed as the counter offer expires today at 5:00PM. “

And here is the response that I received back from Mr. Buyer.

” Life is like Texas Hold’em … you not only play the game extremely well … you are certainly one of the pro players I would back in my business!!
Thank you for taking the time to answer. Your answer is not only appreciated but it is accepted.
With that … please provide our counter-offer at $1.81 million. “

As it turned out, we did get this offer accepted so there wouldn’t have been any commission concession, but that was never the point. The point is that it pays to be confident and to explain to your clients exactly what it is that you do.

There is a wonderful epilogue to this story. I received this email from Mr. Buyer a few days after the closing.

” Tracey — Thanks so much. I simply cannot thank you enough for all your assistance. Mrs Buyer talked to many different people on the phone when we were looking for a Realtor for California … and it was only after talking with you that she could finally say “I found the right person” … and that was from a single conversation. “The right person” for us was someone who would care for our interests as if they were theirs … would take Mrs. Buyer’s picky tastes, which she is quite good at communicating over the phone, and convert that into the less than 1% of homes that actually qualify to meet those tastes … would take us soup to nutz through the closing procedures in California, and never let us miss a deadline with a friendly nudging approach … and would deal with my craziness in all regards, including my penny-pinching way of looking at life.
No one could ever be expected to excel in any of these areas … and I still scratch my head at how you scored more than 100% in ALL of them for certain. We have never met anyone like you …
When we are ready for the step up to a $10+ Million mansion (give me a few years to make my millions first) … I don’t care where it will be located … or where you are located … you simply must be the person to find it for us! I would be elated to be a reference to anyone that wants to use Tracey Thomas as their expert in finding a home … and you can believe I will be a walking billboard to anyone I come across that is looking. “

Mr. and Mrs. Buyer moved in to their new home last weekend. I was there on moving day with my favorite cake and some gorgeous flowers for their patio. It all felt so good. Did I say how much I love Calabasas Relocations!!

Please call Tracey Thomas at (818) 652-2937 if you are planning a relocation to Calabasas, I would love to help make your move a smooth, pleasant experience.

The names, numbers and identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy of my clients but this story is very true. I did mention to my clients that I’d be blogging about their experience and they were all for it. They have given me permission to tell this story.

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Real Estate Report for CA July 2013

July 2013 CA residential real estate sales gained 12.1 percent from June and rose 12.9 percent year over year. A sharp increase of non-distressed properties drove the jump in July sales.

CA Residential Sales for July 2013

CA Residential Sales for July 2013
















To get a clearer picture of current real estate sales trends and to eliminate seasonal factors, we compare July 2013 distressed and non-distressed property sales to July sales in prior years. With the exception of the temporary bounce in July 2009 sales from the First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit, July 2013 sales were the highest since July 2006. Dividing sales into their distressed and non-distressed components, distressed property sales fell 39.4 percent in the past 12 months, while non-distressed property sales jumped 63.7 percent. Distressed properties still account for 26.4 percent of total sales, which is historically still very high.

Non distressed vs short sale and bank owned properties

Non distressed vs short sale and bank owned properties
















When we divide distressed property sales into short sales and bank REO resales and compare them to non-distressed property sales, we find that since the beginning of the year, short sales have increased only 1.0 percent while bank REO resales have decreased 26.3 percent.  Meanwhile, over that same time period, non-distressed property sales have more than doubled, increasing by 103.3 percent.

Since the end of July, mortgage interest rates have drifted higher in response to the nearly 30-basis-point jump in the 10-year Treasury note.  I suspect the recent mortgage interest rate increase will likely push more fence-sitters into the market, driving up August sales as well.

Longer-term, however, rising mortgage interest rates will eventually depress sales and stabilize prices.

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Calabasas Real Estate Closed Sale Update for July 2013

There were 36 closed sales in Calabasas during July 2013. Of the 36 closed sales, 22 sold below list price and 14 sold at, or above the listing price. Multiple offers are common with cash buyers accounting for 11% of the home  sales last month in Calabasas.

Frustration seems to be a common sentiment of would be home buyers as they rush to get into a house before school starts.  There were only two distressed sales during July, one bank owned and one short sale.

“The Calabasas housing forecast for August 2013 is continued price increases with multiple offers on well priced homes.”

As of today there are only 105 homes on the market in Calabasas, this is less than 4 months of inventory. We’ll continue to see an increase in home prices as long as he inventory is low and interest rates continue to hold.

If you want to know where your home fits in, please call or email Tracey Thomas at 818-652-2937 or [email protected] for a detailed home price analysis.

Calabasas Home Sales for July 2013

Calabasas closed home sales for July 2013

  Calabasas Homes Sold July 2013

List view of Calabasas Real Estate Sales for July 2013

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Housing Inventory Creeps Up

I’ve been sensing a little increase in the housing inventory the past few weeks, not dramatic, just a small sign here and there. There has been a few more price reductions, some additional seller concessions, and numerous “come list me calls”. It’s a vibe, nothing concrete, but this Real Estate veteran trusts her gut.  So I gave into my geeky side this morning and immersed myself in some good old real estate data.  Lo and behold, the numbers validate what I’ve been feeling.

Here is my analysis of the data. You’ll see graphs below which are pretty telling. The number of Bank Owned homes for sale is diminishing. In May of 2011 they made up 40% of our market, last month they only made up 13%.  The even better news is that many homeowners are finally out of the red. This means they are able to sell their home without bringing money to the table. This is reflected in the charts below. It’s obvious that we’re seeing an increase in standard sales (non-distressed) on the market.

So what does this all mean? Buyers aren’t feeling it much…yet. There are still multiple offers on most properties, and many houses are selling over list price…but change is in the air. If these trends continue, we will see more and more houses on the market.  This is good news for home buyers as they’ll have more to choose from and we may even see a temporary, slight decrease in prices or a few more seller concessions. For home sellers, what are you waiting for? If you are a move up buyer, the window is closing. Soon you may not be able to negotiate a long rent back while you find your next home or you might have to make a lot more repairs in order to sell your house.

My gut feeling is (and the data seems to show) the corner has been turned, we are returning (slowly) to a more balanced market. Sheep follow other sheep, this is what history has shown over and over.

The graphs below show the number of homes for sale along the 101 corridor for the past two years.

Number of Units for Sale

Number of Units for Sale (Bank Owned and Non Bank Owned)


Number of Units Bank Owned Only

Number of Units Bank Owned Only

Number of Units for Sale - Non Bank Owned Only

Number of Units for Sale – Non Bank Owned Only

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