Episode 9 – Home Buying Advice & Tips with Rona Fischman 4 Buyers Real Estate
This is Listen Up Homebuyers. The only podcast offering Home Buying advice and tips from true buyer agents. And now here’s your host, Victoria Ray Henderson.
Victoria Ray Henderson 00:10
My guest for Listen Up Home Buyers is the owner of 4 Buyers Real Estate and Exclusive Buyer Brokerage in Massachusetts. This guest has been an exclusive buyer’s agent since 1992. In fact, she is one of the founding members of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents. You’ll know it as neighbor and a former director for the Massachusetts association of buyer’s agents. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and is a certified exclusive buyer’s agent. Welcome Rona Fischman.
Rona Fischman 00:41
Victoria Ray Henderson 00:42
Hi, how are you up there in Massachusetts?
Rona Fischman 00:45
It’s actually really lovely Massachusetts today. We we’ve got one of these rare, cool, clear, beautiful air great air quality kinds of days.
Victoria Ray Henderson 00:56
Oh, Lovely! That is wonderful. And has your winter been a tough one? Has it been difficult to be doing your job this last few months?
Rona Fischman 01:06
Actually, Massachusetts, Eastern mass. Anyway, not central mass, but around the Boston area has been unusually mild. So what’s ended up happening is it’s actually rather pleasant out. But the inventory for the spring hasn’t come out yet. So we’re not as busy as we want to be.
Victoria Ray Henderson 01:24
Rona Fischman 01:24
You know, we all fired up and no place to go.
Victoria Ray Henderson 01:28
And now, could you clarify where it is that you serve homebuyers in Massachusetts?
Rona Fischman 01:33
Well, we’re based in Cambridge. And we’ve been in Cambridge since 2008. And before that, I worked for 13 years in Newton, which is about maybe six or eight miles south of Boston, and to a slightly to the west. And then I have another agent Barbie; who is up in Lowell, which is about a half an hour to the north. And we sort of work the whole area from Lowell to a little bit south of Boston and West out to about active with you.
Victoria Ray Henderson 02:07
You cover a pretty large area.
Rona Fischman 02:09
Yes, we’ve got we’ve got six people-
Victoria Ray Henderson 02:11
Rona Fischman 02:12
-know, each person has their own sort of area where it’s closer to where they live, and it’s easier for them. And they know it like the back of their hands.
Victoria Ray Henderson 02:20
Okay, for those of you who don’t know what Neva is, you know, Rona, since you were one of the founding members, could you kind of give a little history as to what neighbor is, and why you thought it would be a good idea to have found the organization?
Rona Fischman 02:36
Okay, well, it’s, it becomes a personal story, which is the most important kind of story there is. I was a teacher and a counselor. And at the point where I was getting pushed out of middle management because of budget cuts, I said, I have to do something that helps people in a way that has a beginning, middle and an end and sort of a finite accomplishment. Because I realized that when I was teaching, I was counseling too much. And when I was counseling, I was teaching too much. And it just was not a good fit.
Victoria Ray Henderson 03:11
Rona Fischman 03:12
So I went into real estate while I was on unemployment after losing a middle management job. And, you know, I had been a clinical director, and I didn’t know what I was going to do next. And I met someone who did real estate, but he was a buyer’s agent. So he belonged to the Massachusetts association of buyer’s agents.
Victoria Ray Henderson 03:34
Rona Fischman 03:35
And in the first year that I was a buyer’s agent, I actually spent a little bit of time doing listings, I did three listings in my first year.
Victoria Ray Henderson 03:45
So wait, how did how did that happen? If you were with the Massachusetts association of buyer’s agents.
Rona Fischman 03:51
In the Massachusetts association of buyer’s agents, they do what they call single agency-
Victoria Ray Henderson 03:58
Rona Fischman 03:58
-is where you can in fact list within the firm. But if a buyer and seller in the same transaction, you’re going to, you’re committed to referring both of them out.
Victoria Ray Henderson 04:11
Rona Fischman 04:12
So when I had a listing, if the buyer was somebody I was already representing, then I couldn’t do the transaction and I would have handled it would have referred me to another listing agent and to another buyer’s agent. I didn’t even want to do that. So we did single what we call single agency in Massachusetts for about six months. And then we said as of April 1, any listing we have left, we’re going to refer out and be exclusive buyer agents.
Victoria Ray Henderson 04:42
So why did you make that choice? Why did you make the decision to do that?
Rona Fischman 04:46
When I was approaching listings, I found that it was a lot of marketing and trying to get people excited about buying a thing. And that’s antithetical to who I am as a teacher and a counselor, but I really want to do is sit down with somebody and say you have this rich money? How do you turn that money into something that’s valuable in your life, and that’s consistent with my skills as a teacher and a counselor? And being a listing agent simply was not.
Victoria Ray Henderson 05:12
Right. It’s sort of was counterproductive to everything that. Well, basically everything that you have had become at that point, which is somebody who wants to help and look out for an advocate for someone rather than trying to shove them into, into what you have available.
Rona Fischman 05:29
I’m not interested in being part of the mechanism by which property values get driven up, you know, I want my friends to be able to live here in an environment, you know, the greater Boston area is a very hot market. So our property values are going up.
Victoria Ray Henderson 05:44
Rona Fischman 05:45
And I get to stem the tide of that one house at a time by giving somebody the best house their money is going to buy for them. And therefore I’m doing real estate, but it’s not <sil> in that world of greedy, let’s make people excited and drive prices up.
Victoria Ray Henderson 06:01
Yeah, now i totally understand that. You know, it’s interesting, Rona, as I’ve gotten to know you. I’ve been reading more of your blogs and your Facebook posts. And there’s such a sense of social responsibility. I mean, anyone who reads anything that you write, is going to know that you are not only advocating for homebuyers, but you advocate for people. And it comes through I mean, in everything that you write, and everything you post in social media.
Rona Fischman 06:29
Well, real estate is about community, if you don’t care about the town, that you’re selling houses, and you shouldn’t be doing this.
Victoria Ray Henderson 06:35
Well. I mean, it makes sense. I mean, you would hope that people would have a vested interest in the community that they’re working in, because they live there, too.
Rona Fischman 06:44
When I know the accomplishments in my life, one of the accomplishments has been to create a business where everybody in the business with me, all my agents, their lives are better, and what they’re doing out in the world is making their communities better.
Victoria Ray Henderson 06:59
That’s a wonderful way to run a business.
Rona Fischman 07:02
And it’s paying off. I mean, I just have the most fabulous agents and they’ll do anything they have to do to get their buyers the best place they can get. We work together so that we will have work life balance, and nobody’s burned out. And nobody’s you know, missing too much of their children’s things and missing too much of life. Because buyer’s agents work nights and weekends.
Victoria Ray Henderson 07:24
Yes, we do. [Laughter]
Rona Fischman 07:25
And many of us are in partnerships with significant others who work nine to five, Monday to Friday. It takes a lot to make that work. But we sort of have a formula now. And our agents all make sure that the people who are new that are coming in, figure out how to make time for their spouses time for their kids, so that they are fresh, because if they are burning out, they are not going to be the best for their clients either.
Victoria Ray Henderson 07:32
Right. Yeah, that’s exactly right. So when you’re talking about your sense of responsibility for the community, I’m curious to know, do you have any kind of a formula that you pass on to your to your agents as to how you evaluate the neighborhood, the property, and how you walk your clients through the process.
Rona Fischman 08:12
The first thing is always where that where the clients life is. So it before you even pick a community to move into, if the client hasn’t lived there before, they really need to spend time there. So we suggest what we call the test drive.
Victoria Ray Henderson 08:30
Rona Fischman 08:31
That if, if this the particular client family has children that are preschool, we would want them to go to a preschool park line and play with their kids there, you know, figure out where the ice cream place is, figure out where the bicycle routes are. All the things that they’re going to need to raise their children in that neighborhood before they even look at a house.
Victoria Ray Henderson 08:55
Yes, to make sure it is a fit.
Rona Fischman 08:56
The fit is, you know, doing the things you would normally do. You want to make sure you can do them in that community. And then the next layer of that is being able to know that they can get to all the things that are important to them, you know, does your commute Make sense? Does your whole life Make sense? Is your trip to the things that are most important to you? Does it all make sense?
Victoria Ray Henderson 09:19
Rona Fischman 09:20
That’s a very concrete thing.
Victoria Ray Henderson 09:22
Rona Fischman 09:22
Then it’s a question of in that neighborhood, how much house can you buy for the money that you have? And the balance of when you’re buying a house, it’s always about the amount of money that you can spend is in like one side of the weight scale. And then on the other side is three balls, size, location and condition.
Victoria Ray Henderson 09:42
Rona Fischman 09:44
And, you know, if you’ve picked your location, you have to know what size and condition you get, and what that balance should look like. Before you step foot the house. Then we go into the house, and I have hired people who have an aptitude to be house nerds.-
Victoria Ray Henderson 09:59
Rona Fischman 09:59
-And firehouse. Third is somebody who’s interested in how the house is wearing-
Victoria Ray Henderson 10:07
Rona Fischman 10:07
-his house houses, you know, you buy a brand new house three years later, there is something you are going to have to repair.
Victoria Ray Henderson 10:12
Rona Fischman 10:13
I hire people who look at it like a puzzle.
Victoria Ray Henderson 10:16
Rona Fischman 10:17
And figure out how did that wet spot happen in the basement?
Victoria Ray Henderson 10:21
Rona Fischman 10:21
Oh, there’s a downspout outside that doesn’t have a little elbow to move it away from the house, it’s going straight down next to the foundation, we are able to point that out to people. And then it’s like, that’s a $3 fix.
Victoria Ray Henderson 10:35
Right, that $3 fix is one though, that it can cause a very huge problem and an expensive problem if it has been that way for a long time.
Rona Fischman 10:43
Right. And that’s the thing is having the curiosity,-
Victoria Ray Henderson 10:47
Rona Fischman 10:48
-the things I look at when I hire people, and they care about their communities, and we’re all invested in our communities. So figuring out where you’re going to live. And what that community feels like, Is something you can not change once you are in the house. And then I have people who have our house nerds and are curious about the way houses are aging.
Victoria Ray Henderson 11:10
Rona Fischman 11:10
One better word, and some of them are going to age gracefully, and we need to tell people, this house is not going to age gracefully, because it was it was built at a time when people were throwing houses up before a recession.
Victoria Ray Henderson 11:22
Rona Fischman 11:23
We sort of know those problem things.
Victoria Ray Henderson 11:24
I was in a house just like that last night kind of in fit into a small little section of an older neighborhood. And it was built in the 80s. And I pull up and I look at it. And it looks like if you know you blow on it too hard. It is going to just fall over. And we get inside and there is a piece of real wood in the house. Everything is just vinyl. And I mean, it was just and it was put together and correctly. And you can the staircase was off. And I guess I thought How could this be on the market for half a million dollars? But yes, you’re right. You’ve got to be able to have an eye for really what’s wrong and a house not just what’s right.
Rona Fischman 12:01
Dave is sort of funny, you haven’t met Dave, you’ve met a number of my, my agents.
Victoria Ray Henderson 12:06
Rona Fischman 12:07
But Dave is very blunt. And Dave will show a house to somebody and they’ll be like, it’s really nice. And then he’ll be like, okay, now it’s my turn to dash your dreams against the rocks.
Victoria Ray Henderson 12:18
Rona Fischman 12:20
And I hope you know what I was in the basement. And I couldn’t say anything because the listing agent was right there. This basement, nice, a lot, a lot of work. And then he’ll give sort of a quickie of what were the major things that he saw. And there’ll be like, oh,-
Victoria Ray Henderson 12:39
Rona Fischman 12:40
-they will say I wanted anyway, and then a home inspector will-
Victoria Ray Henderson 12:43
Rona Fischman 12:44
-back us up what was wrong and given them give them an idea of whether this can be remediated or not.
Victoria Ray Henderson 12:51
Yes, you’ve mentioned wet basements a couple of times and we have that problem here in the Washington DC area. And I think it’s so common anytime you are in a place that is near bodies water, but is that something that you are up against quite a bit and then kind of educating your buyers as to what you need to do to make sure that you know how to fix a wet basement.
Rona Fischman 13:14
Yes we are close to. And like I’m in Somerville, which is which is all moraine. So once upon a time when the glaciers were here, it dropped rocks about 10 miles to the west of me. And then after that sort of sludge made the rest of this go, I’m on clay and mud.
Victoria Ray Henderson 13:34
Rona Fischman 13:35
Oh, there’s rock like a half a mile down. I mean, it’s, yeah, it’s that we’re not a big raid on area. We’re a big wet basement area.
Victoria Ray Henderson 13:41
Rona Fischman 13:42
Then you’ve got the fact that we’re in Greater Boston, where a chunk of our of our housing stuff, I don’t know how much but it’s well, in the three quarters or so range. We’re built right around the turn of the century. So we’re talking about 1900 to 1930. So these are old houses, these 100 year old houses, and they have rubble Foundation, which is just a rock and mortar below grade and then brick above it. So we’ve got a lot of effort. Almost all the basements are damp.
Victoria Ray Henderson 14:14
Yeah. Yeah, we have a similar problem here.
Rona Fischman 14:18
And depth is damp. Damp, you can put a dehumidifier on it keep your downspouts moving the water away from the house. And you can live happily ever after. But then there’s wet. You know, we’ve got enough of a water table that there are some houses that will get water every single spring-
Victoria Ray Henderson 14:37
Rona Fischman 14:38
-unless they have a sump pump system.
Victoria Ray Henderson 14:39
Rona Fischman 14:40
And then you are beholden on electricity. So if you don’t have a battery backup, your sump pumps not going to work if the power goes out. So that’s not cheap, but it works and we would rather see a working sump pump.
Victoria Ray Henderson 14:55
Yes. Then nothing at all.
Rona Fischman 14:57
Then nothing at all.
Victoria Ray Henderson 14:58
Rona Fischman 14:58
Well, we what we don’t want to see is a sump pump system that can’t keep up?
Victoria Ray Henderson 15:03
Rona Fischman 15:04
Then then you’ve got a sump pump system, you’ve got somebody who already tried to fix it. And it’s not working.
Victoria Ray Henderson 15:09
Rona Fischman 15:11
And one of, yeah, there’s a number of houses. And I have sort of a memory like an elephant for houses. So I had a colleague who is no longer work, Tory retired, who used to call this house the incredible stinking house.
Victoria Ray Henderson 15:28
Rona Fischman 15:28
It was in Cambridge. It was on a clay kind of soil. So the foundation would crack every six or seven years.
Victoria Ray Henderson 15:36
Rona Fischman 15:40
And the house was crooked. And every now and then somebody would buy it. And then three or four years later, they would put a bunch of money into it to fix it. And three or four years later, they put it back on the market with all the documentation of what they did to fix it. And then new people would move in and the foundation would crack again.
Victoria Ray Henderson 16:02
O’ God [laughter]
Rona Fischman 16:04
And the document how they fix it. And this is Hilda Silverman, who’s who used to work with me call that the incredible sinking house.
Victoria Ray Henderson 16:12
O, my God
Rona Fischman 16:14
And it every three or four years, it’s still going every three or four years somebody was somebody sells it. And they had this engineering report about how they fixed it. And how you won’t have any problems anymore.
Victoria Ray Henderson 16:26
Oh, my God. [Laughter]
Rona Fischman 16:27
And it will crack again. And another one that I handled that was on top of a lake that was filled in. Oh, that doesn’t sound good. It was not good. Foundation, the back wall Foundation was at least 15 degrees off straight. And the first owner, one owner put in like another wall next to it. Like another foundation? Oh, yeah,
Victoria Ray Henderson 16:53
I’ve seen that. Yes
Rona Fischman 16:55
And that crack?-
Victoria Ray Henderson 16:57
Oh, my gosh!
Rona Fischman 16:58
And the owner that that my client was buying it from, um, put in steel rods that went 150 feet into the ground.
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:10
And that’s all the problem.
Rona Fischman 17:12
Well, it he the owner was claiming that it’s all the problem. And he had an engineer that set it off the problem. The buyer looked at it and got another engineer to look at it and said, the engineer said that might solve the problem. But then again, it might not.
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:27
Rona Fischman 17:28
That’s not good enough.
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:29
Right. Oh, gosh.
Rona Fischman 17:32
The owner who was selling it spent $250,000.
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:37
Wow. Sounds like they should just raise the property and maybe turn it into a park? I don’t know.
Rona Fischman 17:44
Just the lake back.
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:45
Yes, exactly. [Laughter]
Rona Fischman 17:47
The lake would be very nice.
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:48
It sounds like it. You know, I know that the whole Boston area, you know, kind of dodged a bullet with Hurricane Sandy. Several years ago.
Rona Fischman 17:57
Victoria Ray Henderson 17:58
But it was a bit of a wake up call for everyone there. How much do you talk to your clients about not just these wet basement issues, but the actual fact that you know, the sea levels are rising, and…
Rona Fischman 18:10
Alone it’s not as germane for us? Because we were good, you know, we were good 20 to 30 feet above. Now, we unusual that we were selling property that is actually in Florida.
Victoria Ray Henderson 18:22
That is great news.
Rona Fischman 18:24
Most of our most of our properties that our buyers are approaching are not in flood zones. And when they are in flood zones, it’s frequently river flooding.
Victoria Ray Henderson 18:29
Rona Fischman 18:33
And generally the house has to be astounding to be worth it.
Victoria Ray Henderson 18:38
Rona Fischman 18:39
Because the thing is, if you are even near a flood zone 10 years from now, you’re going to be in a flood zone.
Victoria Ray Henderson 18:47
Yes. Oh, yes.
Rona Fischman 18:48
And we do discuss that. And a lot of the flooding that we see here, the street flooding that we see in our area is mostly a matter of bad infrastructure.
Victoria Ray Henderson 18:59
Rona Fischman 19:00
A lot of our communities are getting serious about that. So a little bit closer to the water that is much more in their face.
Victoria Ray Henderson 19:08
Rona Fischman 19:09
You get to Cambridge, Somerville, and west of that. We were sort of on solid ground.
Victoria Ray Henderson 19:15
Rona. You know, getting back to the roots of neighbor and why you decided to make the decision to be one of the founding members. Can you talk a little bit more about what motivated you to do that? And how it works for you today?
Rona Fischman 19:28
Oh, sure. Okay, neighbor, you know, again, I very, very quickly, as a real estate agent, I realized that I didn’t want any part of the greed is good mentality.
Victoria Ray Henderson 19:41
Rona Fischman 19:42
And that, you know, if I had to swim around in that I would have gone back to teach it. Because I like teaching, I like counseling.
Victoria Ray Henderson 19:49
Rona Fischman 19:50
So that, you know that that’s a first no brainer start is that if there’s a national organization that’s talking about doing this process, So what I love, which is talking to people and saying what you want in your life, and how do you want to use your money to enhance your life?
Victoria Ray Henderson 20:10
Rona Fischman 20:10
And now I can be your ally and making that happen. I could spend the rest of my career doing that. And that’s what I did.
Victoria Ray Henderson 20:16
Rona Fischman 20:18
So once there was a national organization, it just expanded on something I had already grown to love. Because the Massachusetts association of buyer’s agents was one of the early state associations that pushed for national association. So there was Massachusetts and Colorado and California, and I think Texas, there were state organizations that were fairly strong.
Victoria Ray Henderson 20:43
And you’re talking back in the early 90s, right?
Rona Fischman 20:45
Early 90s. So I started in 92. And this was a couple years later, the people in neighbor were incredibly generous. I mean, theoretically, we’re competitors.
Victoria Ray Henderson 20:56
Rona Fischman 20:56
But our sense was, is enough to go around. If we explained to people what we are doing, we are going to have enough buyers to go around
Victoria Ray Henderson 21:05
In such a wholesome concept i don’t think a lot of people really understand. You know, certainly a lot of other agents don’t really understand it. But I can, I can see why so many of the neighbor members would be drawn to this business model.
Rona Fischman 21:20
Some of the people that I learned from who just the most brilliant, generous, lovely people,-
Victoria Ray Henderson 21:26
Rona Fischman 21:26
-Brought me along in this. And I’m sort of paying it back with my with my newer agents. I mean, I have millennial agents, I have Gen X agents, and they’re all getting the benefit of people who if they were still alive would be like 95 100 years old.
Victoria Ray Henderson 21:42
Rona Fischman 21:43
So yes, there’s just this wisdom that I’ve got by being a neighbor member, some of its technique, but a lot of it was about just locally looking at what’s a wholesome way, what’s a generous way to guide people into houses that are going to make them happy?
Victoria Ray Henderson 21:58
Rona Fischman 21:59
And that’s the goal is, you know, people come with their own money, their own budgets. How do you to turn that budget into something that’s going to go to support your life?
Victoria Ray Henderson 22:10
Rona Fischman 22:11
How’s your family? What could be more important?
Victoria Ray Henderson 22:14
Yeah, that’s true. And, and it’s such an education process for buyers, all along the way. There are so many layers that have to be understood all these things that they’re serious considerations.
Rona Fischman 22:26
Yeah. And, you know, and we’re pretty blunt about what’s wrong with the house. So the buyer will say, this house is, you know, this house will suit me, I can fit my life in that house.
Victoria Ray Henderson 22:37
Rona Fischman 22:37
Next question is, is this house worthy of you?
Victoria Ray Henderson 22:41
Yes, that’s a great question.
Rona Fischman 22:43
Or how has the previous owners really beat it up too much?
Victoria Ray Henderson 22:47
Rona Fischman 22:48
And what’s it going to cost you to make it worthy of you? And, you know, we don’t want people to buy things and be over their heads. I mean, I can I can say, I’ve been through three recessions. And I have zero foreclosures. That’s something I’m proud of.
Victoria Ray Henderson 23:03
Yes, that is Wonderful.
Rona Fischman 23:04
Over by my buyers don’t buy and then need to move in a year. Basic economic says, whatever goes up, must come down.
Victoria Ray Henderson 23:06
Rona Fischman 23:08
And we in this area in the greater Boston area, we’re going up in an unsustainable clip. So the last recession, which was a huge one, which a lot of people got hurt in, around here, we went up, you know, we went up and up and up and up and up in a way that was not sustainable. And then we receded 12 to 14%, depending on what you are measuring.
Victoria Ray Henderson 23:39
Rona Fischman 23:40
And then after two or three years, it caught back up to where it would have been. So our recession lasted, I think was about six years. Buying right now, people should not be so afraid of recession, as much as they should be very clear about getting something that’s really going to suit them that they can stay in if they have to stay in it and not have to move in the middle of a recession. If you are not moving and you are able to pay the mortgage. The recession doesn’t mean anything. Because five years later, it is going to be fine.
Victoria Ray Henderson 24:16
A good note to end on. Rona Fischman is the owner of 4 Buyers Real Estate and Exclusive Buyer Brokerage in Massachusetts. Thank you so much for joining me.
Rona Fischman 24:26
Oh, you’re really great to talk to you.
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