Monday Morning Quarterback: I Don’t Understand

Opinion | February 8, 2021


It was the fall of 1991, and I’m not estimating; I remember it vividly.

Color Me Badd was crushing it with “I Wanna Sex You Up,” and you just couldn’t possibly get enough of C & C Music Factory.  I mean, it’s now 2021, I’m 40-years-old, and I still can’t get enough of C & C Music Factory, so imagine what it was like back then?

Boyz II Men had “Motownphilly,” and it was like magic to the ears.

EMF released “Unbelievable,” and it had an unreal hook before the chorus that made you scream, “…aaaaooooh….you’re unbelievable!”

It wasn’t all pop/dance though.  Amy Grant had “Baby Baby,” and Bryan Adams dominated the music scene with “Everything I Do,” which was the song of choice for my friend Chris and his girlfriend, Katherine.  We were 11-years-old.  I can’t believe he had a girlfriend…

Earlier that year, I had purchased Kriss Kross‘ first album, “Totally Crossed Out,” on cassette.  “Jump” was the shiz-nit before anybody knew what shiz-nit was.  “Jump” was the first song on the cassette, and you had to fast-forward through the next song to get to “Warm It Up Chris” which was their other hit.  That was the problem with cassettes: the fast-forwarding and rewinding.

The concept of owning a compact disc was foreign to me.  My father was the only person I knew that owned C.D.’s, and I loved inserting them to the C.D. player in his car.

Remember, years later, going to HMV on Yonge Street?  What a scene!

At 11-years-old, I didn’t own a single C.D., and I didn’t expect to.

But then, something amazing happened!

I was thumbing through the Toronto Start “SPORTS” section, which was all the rage back then, and a colourful flyer fell out onto the ground.

I looked down and saw this:

Remember?

I know you do.

We all do!  And I’m sure we all remember the excitement of running home and highlighting the C.D.s’ that we were going to buy……..wait for it……….for only a penny!

I didn’t know if EMF had any song other than “Unbelievable,” but if I could own that album, and get it on a C.D., I’d be willing to pay more than a penny!  Except, I wouldn’t have to…

I swear, I think I had a short-list of a dozen albums that I wanted, but I eventually narrowed it down to six and filled out my form.

I went and asked my Dad for a stamp so I could mail this out, and he said, “What are you doing?”

So, I explained to him that I was going to buy six compact discs for a penny and that I needed to mail this card to the seller so they would mail them to me.

My Dad looked down at me from behind his glasses and said, “Did you read all that writing there?”

I lied, of course, and said that I had.

“So you know that in order to get those six C.D.’s for a penny, you’re joining a club and you agree to buy a C.D. at full price, every month, for a year?”

We all had this conversation with our mom or dad back then.  Every single one of us.

Do you remember what happened next?

Next, you’d say, “Oh, no, Dad, um, you see…..well…….this here?  This says that you get all these C.D’.s for a penny….” and you’d try to convince your mom or dad, while also, sadly, convincing yourself too.

I mean, what kind of child would accept this outcome?  After spending all that time picking out the six C.D’s. that you wanted?  And after looking through the Sears Catalogue to pick out that C.D. holder on a swivel that you wanted to buy for your new collection?

Impossible.

I tried one more time, desperately, to convince my father that he was wrong, but then he said, “Dave, did you ever stop to ask yourself why a company would sell six C.D.’s for a penny?”

He was on to something there.  For sure.

“Does it seem like a reasonable thing for a company to do?  Does it seem like, maybe, just maybe, it’s a little too good to actually be true?”

I’m pretty sure I ended up crying.  I probably complained to my mother too, and she probably said she would just buy me six C.D.’s or something.  That was the ying/yang parenting style of my parents.

But the next day at school, my friend Jason told me that his father gave him the same explanation the night before too!

In fact, it seemed like all the kids in grades six, seven, and eight, had, at one point or another, found the Columbia House flyer and been told by their parents that, sadly, the price offered in the advertisement wasn’t a reality.

Now, I’d hate to break up this trip down memory lane for ya’ll, but surely you know the point of this story isn’t to reminisce.

Ah, yes, the folksy intro!  So many blogs start with a story unrelated to real estate and, once in a while, they serve a purpose.

Many of you already know where I’m going with this “six C.D.’s for a penny story,” serving as a parallel to something in the Toronto real estate market.  Others are familiar with the Monday Morning Quarterback theme and are aware that the timing, one day after the Superbowl, is coincidental.

Alas, the Monday Morning Quarterback makes an appearance on TRB when there’s something from last week that we simply can’t leave alone without addressing.  And even though we’ve had the ensuing discussion a seemingly-infinite number of times, it would seem that recent comments on the blog necessitate us having it again.

I don’t read all the comments on TRB but I try my best.  The comments come in constantly, all day, and whenever I scroll through them, I’m always aware that there are others yet to be posted that I might miss.

Last week, we had a little bit of a debate on Friday after a reader expressed his displeasure with the under-pricing strategies (or tactics…) that seem to “plague” Toronto real estate, while others were quick to call sour grapes.

My response to this, as evidenced by today’s title, is simply: “I don’t understand.”

Not unlike a child that touches the hot stove for a second, third, fourth, and fifth time, whereas most learn their lesson after the first touch, I don’t understand how anybody, in 2021, can look at the way real estate is sold in Toronto and suggest that it’s somehow a puzzle that can’t be solved.

“Vuturistic”

“Ruthless”

“Gaslighting”

There’s a lot more, but I wanted to start here.

As my “six C.D.’s for a penny” example demonstrates, I feel, and have always felt, that much of the blame in these 30-offer melees on under-listed properties simply must lay with the buyers and their agents.

I recognize that it’s 2021 and that taking responsibility for one’s actions, circumstances, shortcomings, or anything but successes, is at an all-time low.  But when a person bids $1,250,000 on a $1,149,900 listing, and gets blown out by $500,000, is it really the “fault” of the listing agent?

A property that was discussed last week, on TRB, in Pick5, in the comments, and in the media, was listed for $1,149,900 and sold for over $1.6M.

The listing agent told me that she had “piles of letters from buyers” which, although a nice touch, were misplaced.

One buyer agent called the listing agent, hysterically crying, pleading, “Did you read our letter?  Please have the seller read it!  What can I do to get this house?  Tell me what we have to do!”

First of all, it’s not the listing agent’s responsibility to tell this buyer agent “what to do.”  Especially not when there are thirty other buyers.

Secondly, this person’s bid was $1,270,000.  It was almost $400,000 shy of the eventual sale price.

Lastly, and most importantly, any Tom, Dick, or Harry could have looked up the listing history for this property and seen that it had been offered for sale, unsuccessfully, in 2020 for $1,600,000 and then again for $1,500,000.  It was tenanted, during a pandemic, and didn’t sell.

So here we are in February of 2021 with this house being listed, effectively for a dollar, at a price of $1,149,000.

Now, who’s fault is it that a buyer offered $1,270,000, thought he or she had a chance, wrote a personal letter, and got all excited?

Is it the fault of the listing agent?

You know where I am on this one.  I believe in taking responsibility for one’s actions, and that buyer-agent has no business transacting in this market.

Under-pricing in Toronto isn’t “vulturistic.”  It’s not “ruthless.”  It’s merely predicated on competent, intelligent buyers and buyer agents entering the market and acting appropriately.

And this isn’t me “gaslighting.”

It’s easy to suggest, right?

That after fourteen years and three thousand blog posts, one could conclude that the entire purpose of TRB is for me to fan the flames of the Toronto real estate market?

Ya got me.

In 1998, after applying to, and being accepted by Carleton University for journalism, I instead took my flair for writing to business school at McMaster, and rather than trying to become the next author you’ve never heard of, I concocted a plan to study business, get into real estate, and gaslight the general public by starting a blog and spewing mistruths.

This concept of “listing at fair market value” is so flawed that I don’t know where to begin.

First of all, what is “fair market value?” Who determines that?  Don’t buyers and sellers ultimately determine fair market value in a free market?  Isn’t a property “worth what somebody is willing to pay for it?”  So then, if we take a property that we think is worth “around” $1,000,000, and price it at $1, or $500,000, or $799,900, and set a day and time when interested buyers may submit a bid, how hard is this puzzle to solve?

Is this “unfair?”

My reader last week said: for each listing only one wins, the other 40 consumers end up being disappointed, disgruntled

But again, I ask, who’s fault is it that 30-35 of those consumers submitted bids that had no chance in hell of ever being accepted?

Also, in a market where supply drastically trails demand, can we expect not to have more buyers who “don’t win” than buyers that do?

True, for each listing, only one buyer wins.

But can we think of a way for two people to buy the same house?

I don’t understand.

My reader said: there are still agents listing at market value and standing by that, without the circus.

Yes, there are.

But what about those properties listed “at market value” of $599,900 that sold for $660,000?  Doesn’t that throw your concept of “market value” out the window?

And again, for the nine-hundredth time now, I ask: who’s fault is the impending circus?

I was 11-years-old when I thought that I could buy six C.D.’s for a penny.

But in 2021, we have grown-ass adults, with their chosen “professional,” licensed by the Real Estate Council of Ontario, submitting $1,270,000 bids on houses that were listed last year for $1,600,000.

We could do without the circus.

Yes, we could.

But that’s part wishful-thinking and part willful ignorance.

After all, I would love to “do without the circus” here:

That’s a hockey card that I purchased at auction two weeks ago.

As you can see, there were a whopping twenty-one bids!

This auction started at $0.01 and it ended at $637, but how many people do you think bid on this hockey card at some point, when they had no chance of winning?

This is a ten-day auction, and personally, I think anybody bidding outside of the last four seconds of the auction lacks the experience necessary to be successful.  And yet, we have people bidding throughout the ten days and for amounts that would never, ever see them win the card.

If you know vintage hockey cards, you know this set, this card, and what similar cards have sold for, you knew this card would sell for between $600 – $700.  My dad really wanted this card, so I bid $800.  But I did so with four seconds left, and my auto-bid beat whoever had bid $632 as their max bid.

But what about the guy who bid $10 on the first day of the auction?

What about the guy who bid $200 in the last hour of the ten-day auction?

Did they ever have a chance?  Or was the card always going to be bought by somebody who knew what the value of the card was, was willing to pay it, and strategized with a last-second bid?

The circus.

That’s like saying that spending years “dating” is a waste of time, when you’re only going to end up marrying one person.

When you list a house at $1,289,900 that’s going to sell for between $1,500,000 – $1,550,000, you’re allowing rational, logical, informed, intelligent, knowledgeable buyers to submit a bid on the house, but you’re also allowing the uninformed, naive, or wishful individuals to play the game, by the same set of rules, and compete.

So what’s the alternative?

Put up a sign that says, “Only the intelligent need apply?”

My reader would suggest that we could price this house at $1,549,900 and ensure that the idiots don’t partake in the game.  But why is that the responsibility of the seller?  I know that in 2021, it’s so en vogue to placate the lowest common denominator.  Dumb things down.  Don’t celebrate the kids that get A+ grades in school because the C- kids might feel bad, and all that.  Shouldn’t the seller be able to hold an auction?  List at $0.01 if he or she chooses?  Or at $1,289,900 for a house that might sell at $1,550,000?

My reader says: “As a listing agent, one does have a responsibility to the seller, yes.  Also buyers.”

Yes, a certain duty of care exists to buyers, but NOT to make up for their incompetence.

I don’t understand.

I just don’t understand how people continue to line up for their turn to spout displeasure with their own shortcomings as though it’s an argument based on fair-versus-unfair.

My reader’s comments are dangerous.  The idea that buyers are going to be “held back 10 years,” whatever that means, is the same rhetoric I’ve been hearing for the nearly two-decades I’ve been in this business.

There is not a single residential property in Toronto that, ten years from now, would sell for less than it would today.

I don’t make a habit on TRB of putting a spotlight on stupidity, but with all that’s going on in the market right now, I wanted to take second to point out that it’s not the “greedy” sellers that are to blame for this difficult market, nor is it the “ruthless” agents who are pricing below fair market value, at a time when the concept of “fair” is difficult to define.

If we continue to ignore the concept of supply and demand in our market, and merely look for reasons we like, rather than reasons we don’t understand, to help explain why people can’t afford what they want, then we might as well just ban the private ownership of residential property and let the government own it all and decide who gets what.

Otherwise, I would call upon buyers and buyer agents to sharpen their pencils, take a look in the mirror, stop confusing “needs” with “wants,” and try to rise above the sea of discontent that’s drowning this real estate market.

By the way, great football game on Sunday night, right?  It’s just too bad only one team got to win in the end…

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26 Comments

    1. Appraiser

      at 10:01 am

      “Nothing is fair in this world. You might as well get that straight right now.” –Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

  1. Thomas

    at 7:44 am

    What we really need is a transparent bidding system. But will we ever see that happen?

    1. Libertarian

      at 10:35 am

      I agree. I’m surprised the government hasn’t tackled this yet considering they’ve tackled everything else about real estate.

      I’m also a bit surprised that the industry itself hasn’t made any changes. Yes, they are making a killing from the status quo, so of course they leave it as is, but their reputation is getting killed at the same time. And because of that, they are under attack in every direction. Why not make a tweak here and there to give an appearance that they are making an attempt to address everyone’s interests.

  2. Mark BTW @David

    at 9:25 am

    Meh, it works until, it dosen’t work anymore. Already with all the new listings, will cool the “offer date” thing. See a turn around coming soon.
    You never wanna lose TWO things to gain ONE. Generally speaking.
    Thats what FOMO/GASLIGHTING does. Think of going so much over on a bid, that low interest rate means nothing, will never get you ahead, you just invested 200 ++ as gravy. WHY? Yes, Transparency is needed specifically for these reasons. After all, we all know what happens to homes that are treated like Casinos.
    “Ruthless” AND going to add “UNETHICAL” meaning BETWEEN realtors, must be exhausting.

  3. Sirgruper

    at 9:27 am

    The problem is that residential purchases are often made by consumers and they do it once or twice in a decade or two. Just like Columbia House or the aquatic monkeys for the generation before were terribly deceptive and shameful; it prays on the inexperienced. It only works because there is a new crop of inexperienced buyers and agents all the time. That is why there is consumer protection laws. Maybe residential real estate should be that focus. Try buying a commercial property in the same market. Either a property is priced for what the vendor wants or is unpriced with a virtual due diligence room so all the information is there. Vendor agents do that to get the best price as they know that buyers are not suckers (generally). Why not in residential? Seems obvious. What if listings had to provide comparables like MPAC does when your property has a changed assessment. Or we could have large swaths of the population learn the hard way as we do.

    1. Marty

      at 9:39 am

      My aquatic monkeys all grew up and moved out.

      I still have my X-ray glasses though.

      1. Sirgruper

        at 12:06 am

        So lucky! I had my spy camera until some bully on the beach kicked sand in my face and took it and my girl.

  4. Marty

    at 9:37 am

    My reader last week said: for each listing only one wins, the other 40 consumers end up being disappointed, disgruntled

    ^ that’s the comment line that stuck with me last week.

    And I’ll defend David here – time and time again has has told us how he will handle this with his buyer clients. They might be *slightly* disappointed, but they won’t be disgruntled as David has prepared them for the outcomes.

    Now, sorry you had to grow up in the decade that you did.

    Color Me Badd, C & C Music Factory, Boyz II Men had to be tough.

    EMF on the other hand, not so bad.

  5. RPG

    at 9:51 am

    You’re going to catch flak for this post.

    People don’t like hearing the truth when it has a negative impact on their own situation.

  6. Mark

    at 9:57 am

    LOL. I was lucky to be to have been early 20’s in the best decade ever…
    The 80’s. 🌈
    Not particularly aiming Ruthless and Unethical towards David.
    Industry in general, and current mood in market to me at least.
    100 percent @Sirgrouper. Enjoy the beautiful day.

  7. JL

    at 11:54 am

    I’ve never loved the “under list/offer night” approach, but know enough to understand how it works and to accept it as the reality in which the market currently operates. Having said that, to help eliminate (or at least reduce) “the circus”, would it not be as simple as highlighting some big bold disclaimer right next to the listing price: “this price means nothing, seller may refuse offer even at or above list price, final selling price may be substantially higher than the listing price, do your own due diligence as to actual market value, etc”. We have stupid disclaimers of little consequence on nearly everything these days, so why not add one in some form that might actually help make markets more efficient. It seems like a large part of the root issue is buyers mistakenly thinking the list price has “some” meaning as to what the property should sell for (or for those slightly more enlightened, using it as some anchor for how much higher the price can go above list), when in many cases there’s little correlation at all. Telling or reminding people of that fact would go a long way, IMO. I know, I know… “that’s part of the role of the buying agent” many will say and I would agree, but clearly that’s not happening here. I think in many ways even having the list at $1 would work better, because even uninformed people would more easily clue in to the fact that that wont be the final selling price.

  8. Condodweller

    at 12:04 pm

    Somebody give me the strength to change the things I can, and to accept the things I can’t.

  9. reality

    at 12:45 pm

    One house one buyer. Let the biggest balls win. Get in line folks. Blaming the system is how losers manage their loser personality. Maybe, its time to visit the reality store and buy some brains so you can fit into a house you can actually afford rather than a house you wish you had.

  10. Joel

    at 2:42 pm

    The people that complain about how much a real estate agent makes are the same ones using a cash back realtor to make offers on houses, using asking price as a guide.

    Asking price is a number to give a range on an MLS search. Use comparables to see what a home is worth and adjust for market conditions. If you think a house is worth 1.5 based off of the others that have sold near it in the last 90 days and someone pays 1.6 for it, well then, it wasn’t worth it to you. Move on to the next house and maybe no one is as interested as the last.

    Basing your offers off of what you want to pay is a good way to miss out on owning a home. With access to the information online, you should be able to tell what most homes are going to sell for within 5% or so. Buyer agents and buyers need to educate themselves on purchases for $1.5 million dollars. They likely do more research on what they should pay for the car they want than they do on the house they want.

  11. Appraiser

    at 4:38 pm

    “Average resale price of GTA homes to pass $1 million for first time:”

    “Looking ahead, a strengthening economy and renewed GTA population growth following widespread vaccinations will support the continued demand for both ownership and rental housing. But over the long run, the supply of listings will remain an issue, particularly in lowrise segments,”

    https://www.thestar.com/business/2021/02/08/average-resale-price-of-gta-homes-to-pass-1-million-for-first-time-toronto-real-estate-board.html

    1. EastYorker

      at 5:20 pm

      its not the bidding or winning that gets me. Its when the seller puts an “sold over asking” on an underpriced house. Duh….

      1. Appraiser

        at 8:37 am

        Yup. “sold over” lost its punch years ago – more or less meaningless now.

  12. Steve

    at 5:16 pm

    So speaking of fair market value and sports memorabilia, like as it turns out a lot of folks in the last few weeks I recently came across NBA Top Shot…. This is a market for people to buy and sell licensed digital moments with some cryptocurrency sprinkled through it – and they’re doing it. Some early flippers appear to have made a bunch of money, a bunch of other people seem to be currently in the process of catching the knife, and so the circle of life continues.

    Make of it what you will but I feel like buried in that somewhere is a whole blog in its own right. Would you ever buy a digital collectible for your league of choice?

    1. Steve

      at 5:19 pm

      Oh, and on the Ebay thing. I have never in my life understood the person who wanders into an Ebay listing and makes their bid hours, days, or weeks before the listing closes. What good can ever come of it?

      1. David

        at 11:57 am

        It’s for professional buyers, who are emotionally detached. They see something, they know their max bid and will put it in and walk away.

        If they get it, they get it. Otherwise they move on.

  13. EastYorker

    at 5:22 pm

    Its not the bidding or winner that gets me.
    Its when the seller posts a “Sold over asking” on a purposely underpriced property.

    Duh …….

  14. Appraiser

    at 8:48 am

    On the day of the trial of the twice-impeached, riot inducing malignant narcissist, aka: “he-who-shall-not-be-named,” I came across a prescient headline in The Atlantic from February 4, 2020.

    “A Republic, If We Can Keep It
    The government set up by James Madison and the other Founders requires a virtuous public and virtuous leaders—or the whole system will fail.”

    ~Adam J. White
    Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/02/a-republic-if-we-can-keep-it/605887/

  15. R

    at 12:50 pm

    You can’t really have it both ways.

    Underlisting is a “strategy”, so don’t complain…. and screw those agents who don’t know what they are doing pricing at $1

    Good agents should know the right price, and everyone who bids less is an idiot…. but sometimes buyers have to accept they lost.

    Losing a bidding war is losing, no matter if you lost by $1 or by $200,000. If you are bidding on behalf of a buyer and don’t win, you are just as “wrong” as the agent bidding the listing price.

    Remind me again, why you need an agent to set a list price, if listings sell for what someone is willing to pay and $1 listings bring in bids and more competition – “supply and demand” getting the right price in the end?

    I’ve only been involved in 1 bidding war and won, so am not crying afoul of the process but the logic to justify it sometimes escapes me.

    1. Condodweller

      at 8:06 pm

      “Losing a bidding war is losing, no matter if you lost by $1 or by $200,000.”

      I’m going to disagree with this is. I don’t subscribe to the idea that something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. To me, it’s worth what I’m willing to pay for it. Even then I may be willing to pay a premium to secure the deal but it would still be worth what I think it’s worth. If someone else is willing to pay more, I’m ok with that and wouldn’t consider myself a loser.

      1. Maya Wys

        at 3:43 pm

        I’ve been following your blogs for sometime and thought I’d finally chime in to say, that you are an extremely talented writer/ author & realtor.
        The general public needs to experience even one of your three thousand blog posts, to know you aren’t afraid to speak the “realtor” truth and put any questionable or even typical real estate practices on blast.
        Awaiting your next blog entry.

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