Listen to the podcast on all your favorite streaming platforms!
Hello and welcome to The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. I'm Connie Chung.
I'm Cliff Tsang.
And I am Kenny Gong, and we are the founders and partners of Willowmar Real Estate.
This is a show for those interested and invested in the world of residential real estate.
Every episode, we sit down for insights, stories, and conversations about all things in the real estate market today, running a real estate team in California, and finding our ways as leaders and business partners.
And today, we have the third and final edition of a three-part series that we are doing sharing our experiences of buying our first homes and talking about what we learned, what we wish we could have done differently, and all of the insights, especially as insiders of this profession.
And Cliff, you're in the hot seat. Walk through where you were at the stage of life when you bought your first home.
So, I'll set the stage. It's 2015-ish. I'll use a lot of ish-es because ... You know, I think, close enough to what we're talking about: 2015, Mee-Sun and I are dating, things are going well. And she–I actually don't know why she had this idea–but she had the far-fetched idea at the time to buy a home. So I–actually, funny enough, as I'm prepping for this, I realized she bought the home, not me. But I was so involved with the process, so I think this will count. And now since we're married …
I love it.
But I was like, oh man, maybe this story won't qualify actually.
So, 2015, we start looking for condos in San Francisco, and we get paired up with a friend's aunt. who is a real estate agent. Big red flag, but we didn't know it was a red flag at the time. And it's funny because when you go through the process the first time, I guess with anything in life, but especially with real estate since it's kind of complex, with many steps, you really don't know what the norm is.
You just kind of get thrown into it and then you work with that real estate agent. But I would say: maybe as we were starting to put offers in and things were not going all that well, we knew that the agent we were working with was not that good. But I think we were just kind of mentally committed at the time and didn't really know how to unroute and reroute to someone else.
So we started looking at condos. Mee-Sun had a crazy spreadsheet. We were looking at a lot of condos in SoMa. I remember one on Franklin, like near Japantown, that we put an offer on and missed out. And then there was another one–maybe like Lower Pac Heights or Nob Hill that we missed out on as well. And it's funny because in hindsight, the homes that we really liked and missed out on, you know, the one that we ultimately got–and I'll get to that–kind of worked out for the best.
There's a loft in SoMa that we really liked and yeah, so some of the red flags that we had with this real estate agent was: I remember we'd go to the open houses together, and if we liked it, then she'd say, “Okay, let me talk to the listing agent.” And I remember she did this really weird wink thing to the agent as she was talking to them like, “We're gonna submit an offer. What do we need to come in at to make this work?”
And it was like an awkward Asian auntie negotiating in the moment, and I just knew it was not going well. It was the first time for us, but we just knew this was not going all that well. And well, what kind of sucked too was there were two times where–she didn't guarantee, but she really kind of verbalized–this was the classic example of the opposite of what you should do, you know, set reasonable expectations and over deliver.
This was two times where she was like, “We're going to get the home. I know it. I've chatted with the listing agent or somebody at the right price.” All the stuff that now in hindsight I know you shouldn't do with the client because there's an element of you just never know what's going to happen.
Even the listing agent doesn't know where the offers are going to come in, for example. So both the times we struck out, and I remember Mee-Sun just being devastated. She had just emotionally already bought the home. She was already mentally moving in furniture and all of that into the home.
Twice, yeah. So those didn't work out, and then we pivoted to new construction. And so that's how we ended up at the Rockwell, 1688 Pine and Franklin. And that was a really fun experience. You know, we went into the sales office, which was on Polk Street. I think it's now a real estate office there.
And we went in, worked with the design crew, picked our spot. They had the big-screen TV where you flip through and you're able to pick your unit. We had to decide: do we add parking or not? And that whole process was really, really neat. And the cool thing about new construction is you lock in the price, and you lock in your move-in date. You effectively know that you're going to get the home and call it a year. And so, that was just really nice to give us time to plan the move, kind of say goodbye to ... Well, it was kind of the same neighborhood because we were just two, three blocks away. But just kind of say bye to that home that Mee-Sun was at for–I think she rented for maybe five years there and had a roommate there. Pavan, actually.
I think we should insert the crazy story with Mee-Sun's roommate, Pavan, who we met at an open house because his roommate was buying a home and he had to find a new home. And so, for folks, this is so fun because one of our clients–
Came to our open house–
That's why Pavan was looking.
Yeah, so we met a random stranger who came to one of our listings in Inner Richmond of San Francisco, and we somehow learned–I think Kenny and I, we just asked a lot of great questions to meet people who come through the door, and he had shared how he was looking. We found out he had a roommate who had bought a home–being Mee-Sun–you know, us not knowing until a little later, which was why he was out deciding to buy his own home and out searching. And just in that moment, it was so crazy because we somehow talked about where we all grew up or went to high school, and I said San Gabriel. You know, it's a small town, and he's like “By any chance, do you know a Cliff Tsang?” And we made the connection right then and there, like, what a small world because Cliff and I went to high school together and–
Wow. And I remember the tail end of that story is: well, I was spending a lot of time at their place because Mee-Sun and I were dating. And I think he came home one day and was like, “Hey, I just met Connie and Kenny at an open house.”
So crazy. Well, even more bizarre was that he was working with Redfin Realtor at the time and was so into that. And we're like, “Well, good for you. You know, if you ever change your mind or want to hear what we have to offer, let us know.” And it probably wasn't until weeks later, or maybe a month or so, he, I think, lost out on some homes and was like, “Alright, can we set up a meeting?”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Another reminder that you can't connect the dots in the moment, especially in this industry.
But very cool.
That is so wild. It was right around that, it was the exact same time.
Yeah, it was like we were in it with you guys, but not, because we weren't even working together yet.
Yeah, yeah. But I should also mention that bad real estate agent experience was one of the main reasons why, when Mee-Sun and I came back from our trip in 2018, 2019, that's when I sought you out, Con. I think it gave me a lot of confidence to get into the industry just knowing that there is opportunity and there are real estate agents who aren't … I don't know what word to use … aren't doing the best job. And I was like, “Hey, I think I can do client service better than my experience.” So it really did kind of work out for the best because we really love that home, that condo. We still have that condo. We actually just found a new renter for that condo.
And so it was kind of a nice trip down memory lane when Mee-Sun and I spent the last couple weeks kind of prepping the unit, meeting the new tenant there, and showing her around, giving the walkthrough. And I was like, “Oh, we were here a few years ago, and, you know, really, really enjoyed our time.”
Going back to the process when you were selecting which unit you wanted to be in, finishes, and even just securing the contract: was there any–because for folks who may not know, in new construction, oftentimes, they'll release units in phases–was there any urgency on your part or a specific unit or floor plan you had in mind that you were targeting? Or there was a ton to choose from and it was pretty easy to just select one?
If I remember correctly, I think we were a little bit late to the project. And so, we didn't have that many to pick from based on our budget. But I remember … I think we were deciding between two options: one that had a pillar that was in the living room, and that's the one that we actually ended up going with.
And then maybe another one that was courtyard facing or that just got a little bit less natural light. Shout out to Mee-Sun, though, because I think in those moments, I get really flustered. I'm a “needs to be the perfect decision, am I making a mistake?” I get super worried and she's just really, really decisive, and she picked the unit that has the pillar in the living room.
That was a big discussion point for us like, “Where does the TV go?” I remember we talked about that many many many many times.
You're one of the TV buyers.
Yeah. I was right, by the way. And it was a nice unit. It was facing the street, we got a lot of natural light, and it all worked out.
It's so funny.
It's so funny that pillar, a new construction–because it's everywhere, right? Because, of course–
They need to support the unit somehow. All the units.
Cliff, were you the buyer who goes into a home and the first thing you scout out is where you’re going to place your TV?
I do actually. Yeah. Because I think for me, I feel like I'm not that picky about other elements of the home, but having a nice living room setup with a big TV–and I feel like I don't even watch that much Netflix or TV–but just, to me, it's decorative. Having a nice TV and being able to host people and when there's sporting events on–I really, really enjoy that. So, the bigger the TV spot, the better.
I want to get into something that I know we run into as agents all the time, which is reconciling how couples make decisions together.
So I would love to hear about …
About this, about your process, especially because at that time you all were dating, right? You were just dating. And so, I'm curious to hear more about the decision to have you as a decision maker, because that's a decision.
And what that process was like as you all, yeah, reconciled, negotiated, and came to a meeting of the minds for both of your individual needs.
That is a great perspective of like: that is a decision to bring in your boyfriend or girlfriend at the time, or whoever your partner is. It's funny because Mee-Sun and I were dating at the time, things were going well, I think we're going towards the path of marriage or however you want to describe it. But I remember, her looping me into the conversation gave me a lot of confidence too about where things stood. It was like an indirect way of saying, “Hey, we're in the same boat together.”
And also, going through that process, I think we learned a lot about each other too. Mee-Sun, similar to you, Kenny, she's maybe the easiest buyer, client. I think literally eight out of ten homes she would put an offer on. You know, she just loves home and she just is ready to move in.
And I think she comes with the belief of “home is what you make of it.” It doesn't have to face the exact right way, and, if this door isn't painted right, it’s not a big deal because you can not only fix those, you make the home what it is. You know, with the right furniture, with the right lighting, and your presence, too.
So, yeah, all of that was part of that experience. And it's kind of interesting because at the time, it was hard to connect those dots a little bit. But in hindsight, it clearly was so additive to our relationship. I think, also, I remember coming out of it thinking we're very aligned on things, as well, and it was not a frustrating or argumentative process. And, it also helped that I knew also that I was kind of taking a backseat, that I was maybe an advisor, but since she was purchasing, and she was going to be on the deed, that my decision or my opinions are not weighed as heavily as hers. But, it was a really, really great experience going through that together. Yeah. Highly, highly recommend for–well, I don't know if I'd say, highly recommend for boyfriend girlfriends, but it could be additive in many ways, if things are going in the right direction.
And maybe, I mean, I don't want to be a pessimist, but also, maybe it could be telling in a negative way too, right? And that could be good to just loop people in early on.
Yeah, yeah. I'm curious to know if there were–and of course you don't have to share details–but I'm curious to know if there were moments when you were talking about something, and that you realized that there really was alignment. What were some of those moments where you really felt like, “Okay, yeah, we're not only in alignment for this transaction, but that this alignment means so much more about our relationship.”
Yeah, well, I think naturally, as you're buying a place together, there's a lot of talk about furniture, moving in together, and it's that alignment of the vision. You're literally creating a vision. Like, with new construction, it's crazy because it's literally a year out, and it's just a drawing or a floor plan that you see of the place, and you're literally envisioning together what things will be in a year. I joke about the TV placement, although at the time it was frustrating for us a little bit, but it was us dreaming together.
All of us coming together and figuring out what, you know, and moving in together. I think the first time you move in with someone, too, it's a big, big decision for yourself, for the other party, maybe even for the families and all that. And you know, a decision that we didn't take lightly.
So yeah, it was nice.
Did you know you were going to move in prior to … because given now, thinking about it, Mee-Sun had a roommate. Was this your first time living together too, and did you know you were buying this with the intention of your living together?
Yeah, yeah. I think one of the catalysts, too, was since we were living together at our apartment with Pavan, maybe it was like, “Hey, we need to get our own place and have a little bit more space.” So, what would be funny is we should have the significant other come onto the podcast and give their perspective on–
Of working with us.
Yeah, I wonder what Mee-Sun would say. Or even Poppin. Is it the same story that we're telling here?
Given how new construction–it's such a long escrow that some people may not be prepared for and oftentimes with delays that people may not be prepared for–how did you two keep patient in the year-long build out? And did you experience any delays or hiccups?
Luckily, I don't recall us having any delays. Yeah. I mean, maybe like a week or two, but it was pretty spot on. I think we moved in August of 2016 and that's what we had planned for as well. So it kind of worked out. Yeah, my memory of it was that it was just a pretty rosy, pretty straightforward process.
Going back to just having that time to move out of your current place was really, really nice. I know we only moved a few blocks away, but it was just nice to have that time mentally. Because I think otherwise, for some of our clients or folks who are going through the process, it's like, you put an offer–I mean, if it's an all-cash offer, it's like seven to ten days, you get the keys, and you're already scheduling movers.
And then otherwise, if you have financing, it's what, twenty-one to thirty days? It's still really quick, you know? If you have a vacation in there, or you're gone for two weekends, it's like you're getting the keys right away. So us having that time was really, really nice.
Ooh, can you share what financing, the lending process, looks like for new construction for folks who may be listening and not aware?
Oh yeah, and I'll tell you a little bit about the unpleasant experience that I had too. At the time, because we didn't know that this was normal or not. We kept getting funneled to our real estate agent's loan officer.
And, I didn't know at the time that you fully have the choice. You can decide who to work with. And we're just getting a lot of pressure to work with that loan officer. So I don't, I still don't know what was happening behind the scenes, but I'm guessing something not the most professional. And to give you a sense, I think his interest rate was almost half a percent, three quarters of a percent higher than the prevailing market rate at the time.
And she kept saying something like, “Well, you can just refinance after you close.” In hindsight, that was a shady or not the best advice to get. And that's why we always give our clients multiple options and let them know it's always their choice.
And for new construction, so you get pre-approved, usually with the developer, and they might have some incentives if you work with that lender. But you always have the choice as a buyer, and typically what happens is you're pre-approved going into the purchase to make sure that you're all good on paper.
And then as the date draws near and they know when the completion is going to happen, then you'll finalize a lot of those loan documents and go through that final loan application, call it thirty, forty-five days before closing. That's when you'll lock in your interest rate, figure out closing costs, and all that.
At this point, you had how many other properties in your investment portfolio?
That one. That was just our second one. Yeah, in 2013, my dad helped me purchase a townhome in San Dimas and then this was the next one.
Did it feel any different? Was there any kind of difference between knowing that this was going to be a primary residence versus investment?
Yeah, I think we were a lot more thoughtful with the design choices, and we didn't have much of a budget to upgrade things or anything. But if you do have the opportunity to buy new construction, that's always a fun part of the process. You go into the showroom, they show you the options, and everything's just–it feels a little bit overpriced, you know you could do it on your own for cheaper, but it's just nice to move into the new unit with the upgraded flooring or customize how you'd like. So I think that was definitely on our mind. And, it still felt like a very new process to me even though I guess technically that was the second time. But I think, you know, if you do something once every five years, there's just a lot that you forget between each each time. So …
That's amazing that that was just your second purchase per se, because, gosh, Cliff, you should share how many units you own now. How much has changed from then when you bought that condo to what your real estate portfolio looks like today.
How many contracts have you ratified for yourself since then?
Oh, I actually don't know that number. I'm guessing maybe fifteen. So, what's cool about real estate is the knowledge that you build is cumulative. You learn how to read a contract and you dig in and it's somewhat applicable to other states. It's not the exact same, but understanding a rent roll or how to read an inspection report.
Those are generally the same across states and inspection reports. So, that knowledge base is definitely cumulative over time. And so, it's just been a really, really fun journey. I've really enjoyed learning more and more about real estate. And then now also, some of our clients too have reached out about “Hey, we want to buy out of state,” and that's been a cool next step or just being able to show people the ropes or give them the initial breadcrumbs to get started with the process.
I think that what also this reminds me of, and across the board of all of our different stories, is that in addition to real estate of course being investments for us and building wealth, actually building legitimate wealth that we can stand on. And that is very real. There's also all these wonderful, wonderful soft experiences that are attached and associated with purchasing real estate, right?
You learn so much, you just are able to stretch your mind to a place that you just never knew was possible. Or even if you knew it was possible, going through the experience of stretching your mind to acclimate to the process to know, to gain the knowledge. All of this is just such a wonderful experience of personal growth and personal development that I really loved, and I love who we are today and how each of these different stories and each of our personal purchases really led to the people that we are today–how we show up as agents, how we show up as leaders, how we show up as founders of a company. All of these things are, when you say cumulative, it's cumulative both in wealth, but it's also cumulative in that wonderful realm of becoming better as people and as humans.
It's so cool to think that your becoming a realtor was very much influenced by your experience working with one, and I feel like your experience is not uncommon for a lot of folks and how they also got inspired to join and be part of the real estate industry. And it's inspiring because I think it's so cool with the knowledge that we have and that power where we can share with clients to show there are so many ways to go about this and you really can have a positive experience in the home-buying journey.
Yeah, yeah. It's still motivating to me to this day, just like, “Hey, I want to make sure that everyone has a really, really good home-buying experience.” And I think that's kind of one of the mantras of our team, and that's what we really, really try to convey because for folks who are going through it the first time, you just don't know what is normal, right?
And that allows people to do not a good job, but also, hopefully, the inverse for folks who take it very seriously and want to do an amazing job. That's an opportunity to just give someone a really, really good experience for the first time, even though they don't know better. Let's just give them a wonderful experience.
Totally. Should we end there? Such a wonderful ending to another episode of The Thoughtful Realtor podcast. This is so fun. I learned so many new things about both of your experiences, and even recounting my own experience, learned a lot in just sharing. So, would love to hear from you listeners, what was your experience like buying your first home?
Yes, please, please, please share your stories with us. You can always find us at Willowmar.com or on Instagram at Willamar__.
And if you haven't already, hit that subscribe button and leave us a review. We love reading each of your comments. And we also love when you share the love, so if this was an enjoyable episode for you, and you loved the stories that we got to share, please share with friends or colleagues who might also love to hear this episode. And until next time. Bye-bye.
Stay up to date on the latest real estate trends.
December 6, 2023
December 5, 2023
November 28, 2023
November 8, 2023
November 6, 2023
November 2, 2023
October 26, 2023
September 29, 2023
August 22, 2023
Let’s schedule a time to learn about your goals, walk you through our process, and determine how we can best help you.