December 03, 2007
Brother can you spare a dime?
Bing Crosby was dreaming of a white Christmas, but many find themselves in the red after the holidays. Shopping, travel plans, light displays that would make the Griswolds jealous...the costs just keep piling on mercilessly, overloading our stress-meters until we can't wait for the madness to end January 2nd. As an added bonus, retailers have now decided to start stocking the shelves in mid-October for the holiday blitz...Halloween costumes have to compete with artificial Christmas trees and the Frosty/Rudolph-combo inflatable snowglobes. How can we possibly be expected to resist the charms of holiday retailers this time of year?
Against my better judgment, I joined my father-in-law on "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving for those of you who refuse to bow to the hoopla) to search for an external hard drive for his computer. One of the household-name retailers had one for a great price, and we bravely (stupidly?) ventured out to compete with the masses for a deal. To make a long story short, the place was a zoo, they were sold out of almost every item advertised as an 'early bird special', and we ended up buying a more expensive hard drive just so we wouldn't feel like the trip was wasted.
I know what you're thinking - we fell right into the retailer's trap...and you're right. How many millions were spent that Friday on items the shoppers never intended to purchase when they left their homes that morning? How many non-sale items were bought simply because they were still on the shelves, long after the bargains were gone? How many more millions are going to be spent in the coming weeks?
Unfortunately for people trying to sell their homes in most markets across the United States, that same consumer irrationality we witnessed (and took part in) at the department store isn't near as prevalent. Prospective homebuyers are holding out for the best possible bargains. As such, the same kind of incentives retailers use to get you in the doors are being tested in real estate. The carrots I've seen dangled by sellers in my hometown include an Alaskan cruise, a $5,000 Home Depot gift card, and zero closing costs. The house up the street from ours has been on the market for almost five months. The 'for sale' sign out front offers $100 gas card for prospective buyers. Yes, gas is expensive, but are you going to buy a house so you can get a one-time courtesy fill up for your SUV? Probably not. The next question that comes to mind, then, is at what point do the dollars and cents cause rational behavior to kick in? (And if you know the answer to that question, would you please fill me in???)
I am certainly as guilty as anyone, as my opening story would indicate. If you're reading this, there's a good chance you hold a seller-financed real estate note that you are considering selling. Have you fallen under the retailers' enchantments to spend more than you planned over the holidays? Are you thinking more and more about that day in January when the American Express or Visa bill shows up as a grim reminder of your holiday generosity to every family member, friend, co-worker, mailman, etc. you bought something for? Just know you can sell your note (or even just a part of it) if you need some extra cash to pay for that holiday hangover. And don't be embarrassed... we all fall victim to the hype sometimes!
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