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Neighborhood Watch

Michael Flack, 2:43 am ET

I BOUGHT A CONDO a few months back and have spent the past two months moving in. If I’d moved in before I retired, the process would have lasted no more than a month. But as I’m now retired and my time is virtually unlimited, I am merely halfway through the move-in process and type this sitting at a portable camp table.

While the move-in has been slow, it’s lightyears faster than the process of meeting the neighbors. While meeting new neighbors has always been a slow process, in the age of COVID-19 it’s downright glacial.

The first neighbor I met in my new townhouse community was Maxwell, whose garage is across the alley from mine. I met him during that classic driver of neighbor interaction—throwing out the garbage. Like a cat with a mouse in its mouth, I was proud to report to my wife, “I met a neighbor.”

The next time I saw Maxwell, he mentioned he was going to be moving soon and therefore was putting his house on the market. My first thought wasn’t to ask where he was moving or why but, “Damn, the only neighbor I met is moving.” Naturally, my second thought was, “What’s the list price?”

Well, a week later, after checking Zillow daily—I am retired—I noticed Maxwell’s place was for sale for $569,900. I was rooting for a quick sale at over the asking price, as Maxwell seemed like a nice guy—and, as his house was comparable to mine, it would mean the place I purchased a few months back had increased nicely in value.

Well, two weeks later, I bumped into Maxwell’s wife, Jessica, and she shared the bad news—for all concerned—that their townhouse had only received one offer and it was a lowball bid of $500,000. She blamed a previous neighbor for selling his place to a friend at a below-market price of $525,000, which she felt was bringing down the comps. I didn’t necessarily feel $500,000 was a terrible offer, but to foster neighborly goodwill I replied, “That’s just not cool.”

Well, a few days later I bumped into Maxwell, and he mentioned he was firing his real estate agent for not getting results. His wife mentioned that they’d hired him because he was a friend and that he wasn’t able to devote enough time to getting the job done.

I have no problem firing real estate agents, so I said something supportive like, “Yeah man, that makes sense to me.” I decided not to let her know that, instead of blaming the neighbor for screwing the comps, they may want to blame themselves for not spending the time to hire a competent real estate agent.

I really know only one thing about selling a home: You need to hire a good agent. Going with a friend, the person who sold you the place or a friend’s recommendation isn’t acceptable. Even if you feel this first agent is the greatest agent in the world, you need a second opinion. Maybe the second agent will provide a substantially different list price, a bit of market intel or point out an issue with your home that you never noticed.

I’m hopeful that the next time I run into Maxwell, he’ll have good news to share—and, more important, it’s at higher-than-list price.

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