Navigating Pasadena

With home prices up 1.2% within the last year, a projected 0.2% increase in 2020, based on data from Zillow, and the median home selling price at $826,800, the real estate buying process in the Pasadena area is an emotional roller coaster. Before investing in a property, real estate agent Lin Vlacich with Sotheby’s International Real Estate says there are noteworthy things to keep in mind to keep the process as smooth and simple as possible.

Have realistic expectations
Pasadena is known for lasting equity as the real estate market rises and falls. South Pasadena in particular is known for being a separate and somewhat secluded community that’s quiet, cool and hip. The area’s neighborhoods have a lot of charm and a deep appreciation for architecture.

“As we say in South Pasadena, don’t mess with our seniors, dogs or trees,” Vlacich says.

Homes can cost well over $5 million, even a condo will run about $500,000. “You have to understand how far your dollars will go and be realistic when going into the purchasing process,” Vlacich says.

Find the right agent
Just as the market ebbs and flows, the stream of real estate agents swells and shrinks. When the market is hot, more and more agents hit the scene. While not every agent who has been in the industry for a while is the perfect fit, Vlacich says that’s a great place to start. As someone with 43 years of experience, she says with time comes wisdom of reading the market to get buyers the best return they can.

“It’s all about trust between the agent and the clients. What makes me want to go 120% for my clients is when they trust me, because I wouldn’t do anything to break that trust. My license wouldn’t be worth it. And I think getting people to trust you takes time and experience,” Vlacich says.

Do your homework
As part of her initial interview with clients, Vlacich gives homebuyers homework. The task is simple—jot down what they absolutely must have in a house, and what they can’t live with at all. She asks couples do this part separately and honestly. Vlacich will compile the list and move forward on finding the perfect match.

“They’ve actually been looking for your [their] first home all your life,” Vlacich says. “You [they] can walk into a friend’s home and say ‘yikes,’ or they can love the way it feels. Sometimes they’ve never expressed it, but they’ve noted things they like. Sometimes they’ve never expressed it to their partner, sometimes they’ve never expressed it to their egos. It can be something that’s familiar, it can be a bad memory, but homes bring out the best and sometimes the worst in people. It’s a very emotional process.”

The agent says she is so passionate about this step that she won’t show homes to those who are unwilling to do it. It saves time, frustration and confusion for all involved parties.

“We’ll be working together for sometimes months and months, and sometimes I have to mediate the emotions between couples because it can get that intense when it comes to differing opinions,” she says. “I wish I had more marriage counseling and psychology courses in my college years,” Vlacich says with a laugh.

Be honest about your budget
During an initial meeting with clients, Vlacich says it’s important to establish trust with a budget. “I want to make sure you can compete in South Pasadena with your budget, and if I don’t think you can we will have to adjust and expand our search to other areas that can provide some or most of what you’re looking for,” Vlacich says.

Once a number is on the table, Vlacich says she ensures the homebuyers have their ducks in a row before they embark on home tours. Being financially organized is key, the agent says, because they may have to act fast if a home that comes on the market at a fair price in a great neighborhood. Homebuyers should have everything ready from bank statements, lender letters and gift letters. “If you don’t have that in place, we’re premature,” she says.

Another noteworthy point, Vlacich says, is to be honest about what you’re willing to spend with your agent up front.

“I hope with that initial interview I can get an understanding of what they can financially do,” she says. “My philosophy is don’t show them something they can’t afford. I also ask if their number is the truth? Or are you really capable of buying into $2 million and you told me $1.5 million? Because I won’t show you a $1.6 million home if that’s the truth. That honesty helps me help them be competitive.”

Get to know the seller
When push comes to shove, sometimes it’s not the highest bid that will win over a seller. Vlacich says she’s surprised at how often other factors can contribute to who gets the home. Knowing the history of the seller, and why they are selling can give some bids a leg up on others.

“It can be divorce, there could’ve been trauma or loss, I mean there are a million reasons to sell a home, and sometimes it takes someone who can relate to that to make them the perfect buyer,” Vlacich says.

The agent recently sold the home of a 92-year-old woman who lived in the house since 1971. She raised her children there after her and her husband built the home. The first Sunday the home was on the market, 32 showings traveled in and out of each room. Shortly after the property had 12 offers to shuffle through. Only one stood out.

“When talking to my seller I said, ‘Do you want something better than this?’ And she said, ‘What could be better?’ I said, ‘Better would be more money. Do you want to ask for more money?’”

The woman told Vlacich, “No I like them because they sent me a picture of their family.”

“You have to know your seller,” Vlacich says.

Lin Vlacich
Sotheby’s International Real Estate