Know Your Opponent

Business | May 22, 2012

When my buyer-clients are looking at a house or condo, I’m doing the same thing – except I’m also sizing up the property and trying to learn all I can about the sellers.

You have to know who you’re dealing with…

Have you ever read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu?

I have.  Sort of…

I’m not going to lie – that’s a LONG book!  I brought it with me to Japan in 2005 and, in the words of Jerry Seinfeld, “Great book….I almost read the whole thing!”

One takeaway, however, is that in any battle, you must know your opponent.

My favorite quote:

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

Whether you’re in an actual battle, or just a skirmish in the business world, you must know your opponent.

No matter what business you’re in, there is always going to be competition.  Whether you are trying to win over the client, or push aside your competitor, you have to know who you are dealing with.

I think it goes without saying that in real estate, before you submit an offer on a property, you should find out all you can about the listing agent.  Thankfully Facebook and “the Facebook for adults” known as LinkedIn, enable us to spy on basically anybody, anywhere.

I want to know everything I can about another agent, such as how long they’ve been in the business, how many brokerages they’ve worked for (this is a beauty…), and of course, how many deals they do.

But if you’re working with a buyer, and you’re contemplating an offer, you need to learn all that you can about the seller of that particular house or condo.  Granted, in a red-hot market where multiple offers fly, there’s nothing that you can do, as the highest price wins.  But if you’re standing inside a property that isn’t priced well, and has been on the market a while, then start making mental notes!

I was in a condo last week with a couple of clients and while they looked around at the large open-concept living space, the chef’s kitchen, and the wonderful master bedroom, I was subtly taking in everything I could about the seller.  The property had been listed twice, reduced in price, and was still sitting on the market, and a simple look around at the seller’s domain told the whole story.

Here are the key observations I made:

1)  His custom closets.

The listing said “His and hers California closets,” only they weren’t really “his and hers,” but rather “his and more of his.”

Women need long, tall closets for dresses, gowns, and longer articles of clothing, whereas men can put two rows of hanging clothes in the space where women have one.  This guy has two racks of suits and shirts on the one side, and two racks of suits and shirts on the other.

That’s hardly what I would call “his and hers,” but maybe in his world, the woman leaves her clothes in her suitcase…

2)  He had more Prada shoes than any woman ever should, let alone a man.

To be honest, I didn’t know Prada made men’s shoes until I saw EIGHT pairs of them in his closet (he also kept the boxes, I don’t know why).

Everything I know about expensive shoes I’ve learned from watching Sex & The City.  Prada, Jimmie Choo, Manolo Blahnik.  I thought only Carrie Bradshaw had these?  What kind of man has eight pairs of Prada shoes?

There were Versace shoes as well, and some Todd’s.  I didn’t dig that much further.  I got what I needed…

3) The coin tray had no pennies.

That’s right – this guy throws out his pennies!  The coin tray was rather proudly displayed in the front hall, only it was all metallic – no copper.

I might have thought that “a guy like this” wouldn’t deal in change of any sort, but then I realized that perhaps having a coin tray with only shiny metals makes more of a statement than having no coin tray at all.

Rolls of pennies are only worth fifty-cents, yet I think most of us still feel accomplished when we seal up that roll and put it with the rest of the pile.  So what does it say about a guy that doesn’t want anything to do with pennies?

4) He has a copy of “The Game” by Neil Strauss on his bookshelf.

For those of you that don’t know, or are too lazy to click on the link above, The Game is a (supposed) non-fictional account of one year of the author’s life spent in the secret society of professional pick-up artists.  I say “supposed” because the stuff in this book is so foolish that it can’t ALL be true.

Every man has read this book, but most don’t want to possess a copy of it.  Imagine the look on your fiancée’s face when you’re unpacking boxes in your new condo and she holds up a copy of the book and says, “Why the hell do you have a book on how to pick up women?”

Most guys hand down the well-worn copy of “The Game” to a friend, but the gentleman in this condo displays the book proudly on his shelf, and has Neil Strauss’ other books.

The rest of his book collection demonstrated more of the same pattern…

5) He owned several hats.

No, I’m not talking about your standard New York Yankees flat-brim a la Jay-Z, but rather man-hats.

Fedora, Tam, Newsboy – you name it, he had it.  And he had several of each.

Think about your crew of friends.  Do you have a friend that wears a hat?  Shows up, casually, and happens to be wearing a Fedora with his Ralph Lauren v-neck t-shirt, perfect chest-hair, plaid shorts, and Todd’s loafers?  You know that guy?

My buddy Galen is the tallest drink of water I know, and I think I’ve seen him wear a fedora once.  There is a cummulative ZERO for every single other guy I know.

But this guy was one step away from a collection of leather-handled canes what with his dozen hats, all on racks, keeping their shape in tact.

Hat-people are just too cool for school, which clearly this guy is…

6) Excessive Adidas & Puma.

Aside from the dress shoes in the bedroom closet, this guy had upwards of TWENTY pairs of shoes in his foyer and hall closet.

Those are just “casual” shoes, keep in mind.

Each one was so clean you could have eaten off it!  Hey – I’m not knocking the obsessive-compulsive disorder, because that’s something I hold near and dear to my heart, but the “need” for twenty pairs of casual shoes is somewhat telling.

7) Empty second bedroom.

This is a classic.

It screams, “I want a big condo.  I want a two-bedroom condo.  I don’t actually need the second bedroom, but I definitely want a two-bedroom condo.”

It reminds me of that scene in Boiler Room where all the rowdy traders are in Ben Affleck’s house, and Giovanni Ribisi looks around to see a massive, unfurnished house, and upon seeing the tanning bed in the large dining room, he asks, “What….did he just move in?”  The guy he’s talking to replies, “Nah man, he’s been here eight months.”

The condo in question has a very large second bedroom with nothing in it.  Nothing.  Not even a paper-clip that fell out onto the carpet, or a penny.  Oh, wait, he doesn’t use pennies…

Put all this together, and you can figure out “what type of person” the seller is.

It changes things substantially.

This is the kind of person that lists at 115% of fair market value in a building that often takes a while to sell.

This is the kind of person that re-lists at 110% of fair market value two months after first listing.

This is the kind of person who won’t listen to reason, logic, or care at all to hear what the property is worth.  This is the kind of person that thinks things should just happen according to his wishes.

And as my clients and I decided, this is the kind of person that you’ll need to take 2-3 stabs at over the course of two weeks.  No matter what price this guy signs our initial offer back at, we walk away, and say “No thanks, we’re too far apart to even bother.”  Then when his ego deflates, and he asks his agent to call us back in 7-10 days and ask “What’s going on?” we go back for another try.

He wants $40,000 – $50,000 more than his condo is worth.

Just think of how many rolls of pennies that equates to…

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  1. Ralph Cramdown

    at 8:45 am

    How often do you get a deal in situations like this? Presumably you knew or suspected that he was 10% over in a slow building before the showing…

    As much as you can learn snoop… er, touring through a man’s home, you can often learn just as much by talking to his banker, or at least reading the terms and holder of his mortgage, on file at the land office and yours for less than $10.

  2. RPG

    at 6:14 pm

    Maybe it’s the same guy that parked his Mustang over two parking spaces?

  3. Ru

    at 1:59 pm

    Naw. That guy lives in woodbridge now and he occupies 3 on a diagonal with his Ferrari.


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