Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Doctor, Doctor, Give me the news!

I had an experience that bears remembering from a couple of years ago. I got a call from an acquaintance who wanted me to drop by his office. That is always bad news. I thought Amway? Some other multi-level, get rich quick scheme? Well, I went because I have this lingering fear that something is going to come along that truly is a get rich, quick scheme and I will be chasing the train after it leaves the depot.

There sitting on top of this guy's desk is a little machine that looks like a blood pressure machine that you see in the pharmacy. He started giving me the hot pitch. Seems this machine was the first of its kind and its function was to measure your level of antioxidants. I have never been a big believer in antioxidants but I stayed mute. He invited me to stick my finger in a little orifice in the machine and wait until the red light went out and then the machine spits out a cash register tape and he tears it off and looks at it. Shaking his head he tells me that I am pitifully low on antioxidants. He shows me the number. It is around 10,000.

At that point I ask him what the number means. He says it means that you are way low on your antioxidants. I tell him " No I mean, if you take my blood pressure the number is a manifestation of millimeters of mercury measured at atmospheric pressure against a specific gradient. If my blood pressure is 140/90 then it means that the pressure is 140 during systole and 90 during diastole. What does this number mean?" He stared at me for a moment, thanked me for coming by and told me he had another appointment. I found out later that he was a NuSkin distributor and he was jockeying to sell me vitamins to build up my antioxidants.

On a visit to my physician later on, who is a respected practitioner of internal medicine, I asked him what he thought about antioxidants. He told me that if it could help me take off about 40 pounds of blubber he was all in favor of it. Otherwise, he was in agreement with the folks at American Heart. It is a nostrum without the benefit of clinical trials nor proven efficacy. It was all in the minds of the people who like to sell you health supplements, containing antioxidants.

Here lately, I have been running into a little creature named Zillow. I had a face to face encounter with a client on a listing appointment. He had his laptop, I pulled out mine. We both jumped on some unsuspecting neighbor's wireless network. He said Zillow had his property valued at X. My comparables, out of the local MLS network, had him priced at Y. We argued for the better part of a half hour and struck a compromise at Z. It was exhausting. He had unflailing confidence in his Zillow. I started to ask the same question about the Zillow formulae as I did the NuSkin salesman. I let it go. It is possible to win a battle and lose the war.

I blogged a few weeks ago about the Wal-Marting of real estate commissions. My bottom line was that if you are going to retain a Realtor then get an experienced, smart one, preferably pretty good-looking, and then listen to the advice they give you. We live in the world of real estate daily. We practice in your back yard. We are the doctors of the real estate scenario.

It is easy to get enamoured with an internet entity that is so pretty and has as many little bells and whistles as Zillow. However, would you please explain to me how a software engineer sitting in Zillow headquarters in Pittman, New Jersey can create a formula, from property appraisers databases primarily, that can tell you what a home is worth that they have never walked into? It is mostly Buyers who glom onto Zillow and want to beat you off your price, because it is usually lowball.

This is another tiresome effort to remove the expert from the process. We believe their fees to be too high. They are crooks. They are lazy. They don't spend enough time with us and on our project. "That doctor was in the exam room with me for 45 seconds, looked at my labs and then had his nurse write me a handful of Rx's. His fee was $150. The Rx's cost $200. " My next door neighbor, who graduated from, junior high school, in the summer, sells health supplements that have antioxidants in them. I am going to put my life in her hands." Whoa ! That physician did 8 years of schooling past high school. Then he did another 4 or 5 in a residency program somewhere. He knows his specialized field better than anyone. Realtors do not come close to that level of professionalism, but they are trained and experienced where you are not. Retain one, listen to them and get ready to go to a closing. Remember that Realtor does not make a dime until he or she sells your house.

I have relatives and friends, in whom I place great confidence, who put a lot of stock into health supplements. For that reason I give them some degree of merit. I often consult Web-MD to provide explanations for my numerous bouts of hypochondriasis. I think that Zillow and the other online appraisal engines have some degree of credibility. Just as I would not rely solely on Web-MD to give me conclusive avenues on an illness, I would not rely solely on Zillow for setting a value on my property. The more information we garner the better off we are. In the final analysis you need to consult the expert to come to a well advised path forward. The internet is a wonderful tool for raising the performance of all of us.

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