We did not come this far to come this far…to only come this far
I was recently involved in a real estate transaction in an old converted woolen mill in Medway, Massachusetts. The mill building is The Sanford Mill which is on the Charles River. It’s an
amazing condo complex with 69 uniquely individual units in the association.
Let’s rewind a little bit so I can show the whole story. When I got into real estate I worked for Coldwell Banker in Milton, Massachusetts. Our office was located at 60 Adams Street in
Milton. It was on the “banks of the Neponset River” in Lower Mills where Dorchester meets Milton. The area is rich with history. In the early half of the 20th century, there was a
chocolate factory that supplied the “world” with tons of chocolate. The Walter Baker Chocolate Factory was considered an icon in the rich history of this section of Boston.
Many of the locals remember walking to St. Gregory’s Catholic Church on Adams Street in Dorchester and smelling the rich sweet smell of chocolate in the air. I have heard stories recollecting memories of the smell and the hustle and bustle of the chocolate factory so many times in my 15 year career as a real estate advisor in the area. I fondly remember driving by the waterfall on the way over from West Roxbury to Quincy to visit my grandmother.
Historically speaking, in 1674 a powder mill was built and is considered to be one of the earliest in the colonies. This powder mill took advantage of the town’s water power sites. Boston investors, saw the potential the river and it’s proximity to Boston prope and area where the Baker Chocolate Factory was developed. In the 18th century, the Town of Milton and Lower Mills expanded as an industrial site with an iron slitting mill, paper and sawmills, and the first chocolate factory in New England (the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory) in 1764, which was converted from the original Stoughton Grist Mill built in 1674.
Since my real estate office was so close, I had an affinity to the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to smell the chocolate like so many of myclients. The production of chocolate in Lower Mills had ceased in the mid to late 1960s. The mill was sate for awhile until it was converted to The Baker Square Condominiums in 1987. In the first round of conversion in the 80’s, there were two mills converted to condos. The mills converted were the Park Mill and The Forbes Mills. This conversion yielded 98 unique residential dwellings.
While at the Coldwell Banker office in Milton, I would frequently go to Pat’s Pizza in Lower Mills for lunch with colleagues and clients. I would always walk by the Baker Chocolate
Factory. I loved that building! I wanted in. I made it my mission to find some clients in the building. Shortly after I put the intention out there and went to work, I did end getting some
clients who wanted to sell in the building. The rest was history. I ended up selling quite a few in the building over time.
The Bottom Line Here is that I love Old Mills Turned into Residential Dwellings
Fast forward a few years, my family and I moved out to the burbs from the Milton area. I missed that urban loft feeling. I was so used to getting a fix with when I would sell or show
condos at The Baker Square Condos….I needed a fix. I looked around and ended up discovering The Sanford Mill in Medway. The Sanford Mill is comprised of two mill buildings which has 69 units and it’s sits on the banks of the Charles River. It too has a history much like the Baker Mills in Lower Mills.
The Sanford Mills in Medway is a an old woolen Mill. The Sanford Mill once made woolen blankets for the Union Army during the Civil War. Today, the Sanford Mill serves up brick and
beams to residents lucky enough to call it home. Since my earlier days of selling the condos at The Baker Square complex, I have always had a strong desire to sell condos similar to those since my move to the ‘burbs.
How to Gain a Foothold
I did a search on the Internet to find out more about the condos at Sanford Mill. I found several properties in the complex over the years that did not sell. I ended up tracking down the owners of the condos which did not sell. I sent a direct mail piece to each of these individual owners explaining my position and offering to meet with them about their condo and interview for the job of selling it for them.
I ended up meeting with one owner, for sake of anonymity I will call her Gail. Gail reached out to me on a Friday night around 4:00 PM. I immediately called her back within the hour. We ended up chatting over the phone about the condo and agreed to meet at a Starbucks in Norwood the next day to discuss the potential sale of her Sanford Mill Condo. I went to my office at O-Dark Thirty to prepare for the appointment. I did all my homework and market research in preparation of the meeting.
Gail, her husband John and I hit it off well. They told me how they had been speaking with other agents and they wanted to price the property at a much lower price. Agents were pricing 20 to 30k less than I was willing to market the property at. I could see where they were coming from in that there had been some lower recorded sales in the area and the complex itself. I get that. I have a distinct advantage in that my “niche” is really all of Norfolk County and and also a large swath of Suffolk County. Due to the Suffolk County exposure I have, I have a good beat on what is happening in the city which ultimately ripples out to the ‘burbs. The chronic issue in Boston has been the lack of inventory in the marketplace. After careful examination of the marketplace, I realized that the lack of inventory was going to play out in our favor. I strongly positioned the property for the market at a retail listing price of 199k.
Tenants can make it Tricky at Best
Another challenge that I had with property was there was a tenant in the property. Generally speaking, tenant occupied property can be difficult to sell.
Motivation and cleanliness are not always equal or greater than the motivation of the owner. Tenants don’t always welcome you into their domicile to show it or have open houses. In
this particular instance, I was really lucky in that the tenant wanted to break their lease early. The tenant and I had a great meeting during which it was decided that it was a mutually
beneficial situation for the both of us. The sooner I sold the property, the sooner the tenant could break their lease. This is better than I could have expected. To get a tenant onboard,
it’s usually pretty difficult. Their motivation rarely matches any of the other parties in the deal.
Now all systems are a go. I start pulling all of the condo documents from The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds. I called one of my preferred mortgage partner lenders, Andria Dolce of
Radius Financial for a condominium questionnaire.
A condo questionnaire is a document that lenders require when a condo is being purchased by a borrower. When mortgages are made
on condos, the lenders underwrite the condo and the buyer. The lender wants to things like:
- If there are any owners delinquent on monthly condo fees
- Any existing or threaten litigation against the property
- Amount of money in the reserve money in the association budget.
These are all things the buyers ask when purchasing a condo. It’s been a general rule of mine to get the condo questionnaire filled out by the seller’s condo association upfront. This allows you to “bulletproof” the transaction ahead of time so that if there are any issues you can cure these and/or disclose these to a potential buyer and avert a failed sale way ahead of time.
Here is a sample condo questionnaire from Andria Dolce of Radius Financial. If you are looking at purchasing a condo in Greater Boston, I would highly recommend scheduling a call with
Andria before you shop. Andria will spend the time to help you become knowledgeable about what to look at specifically as it relates to insuring that condo will go through financing.
Now the work begins…
Now the marketing process begins. I go and take my own photography and also hire a professional photographer as an adjunct to my own work. As part of the marketing development, I registered a domain for the mill property. You can visit www.SanfordMillCondos.com. I develop the web site for the property to market the property and site overall. This was an effective part of the positioning on this property. In addition to the web site for the property, I also install a texting response system. This allows would be suitors to send a text message to a # with special code word designated for this property. When a message is sent to it, a message is sent back with a web site for the prospective buyer to view with all if the property information.
Here is a sample of how the system works. If you want to get details about the condo, you can send the word “sanford” to 617-329-5608. This will send you all of the details about the property to include a virtual walk through and the option of a booking an appointment.
I also created and mailed gorgeous postcards to the owners of the complex. Since people in complexes like this often know people who may be interested in coming to their complex,
this was a good strategy. Here is a sample of the postcard that I developed for the property.
Open House, “No Problemo” – Adapt and Overcome
One of the challenges I had in preparation for the open house was the fact that there was intercom system which was tied to the tenant’s cell phone. Every time there was a visitor,
they would ring the buzzer and it would be directed to the tenant’s cell phone. As you can imagine, if you go through the effort of creating a ton of marketing for an open house with
calls to other real estate professionals in the area and direct mail to the community, you want to at least be able to get them in the door.
Along came my Protege…
I ended up paying my teenage daughter to come and stand with me at the open house. She was able to go to the main door of the condo at the Sanford Mill and greet the attendees and
direct them to me. This worked out beautifully. It could have been a disaster if I showed up and had no way to get people into the unit. After a rigorous few weeks of marketing and
showing the property, we were able to secure a buyer for the property. “YES!” We are halfway there. Now it’s onto the preparation for the closing.
Then the Fire Department Just Had to Show Up
As part of the closing process, there are few things that need to happen as part of settlement process. One of these is mandatory fire and carbon monoxide inspection. The mandatory
inspection is conducted by local municipalties. The inspection is essentially insuring that the property is compliant to the latest fire prevention codes as well as carbon monoxide detection devices being installed in the property. If you want to know more about compliance and regulation, you can visit the State of Massachusetts web site dedicated to fire and carbon monoxide detection and regulation here.
I scheduled the inspection with the Town of Medway Fire Department. The inspectors showed up exactly on time, which is a huge rarity in my line of work. In Boston, the inspection appointments are set in 3 hour window increments. They typically go between 9 to 12 and 1 to 4. As you can imagine, this can be quite taxing when you have a few of these every month. I pre-inspected the smoke detectors before hand to make sure that they worked. Also, since I am “belt and suspenders” kind of guy I had the owner pick up a few extra carbon monoxide detectors just in case. In addition, I came armed to the teeth with tools and extra batteries. After real estate 250 sales, I have discovered that although I am Irish-American, Murphy and his law are not good friends of The Mahoney Clan. As my friend Susan Symonds a professional photographer in Boston taught me, you want to be careful with the “The Law of 6 Ps”. The law simply stated and censored for the general audience is “Poor Poor Preparation equals a Poor Poor Performance.” Having been a cub scout as a kid, I am always prepared.
The inspectors did their thing and came down and told me the property failed. I was devastated. I could not believe it. After all the prep, we still failed. The smoke detectors were the “hardwired” electric types. They have three wires in them. For you folks that dabble in home electricity, there is neutral, a hot wire and in the case of the smoke detector a “three wire” which is usually red. The red wire interconnects the smoke detectors to each other in a multi smoke detector situation. In a perfect world, when one smoke detector is “tripped” in a multi smoke detector installation it should trip all the detectors in the property in hardwired installation. This was not happening in our case. Can you say “oh boy”. This essentially means that something was probably off in the wiring.
How About that Irish Plumbers Network…
The owner’s father was at the property with me. Dave had a long and successful career in the insurance industry. If you know anyone who lives in the insurance business, then you know that they immediately go to the “bad neighborhood” in their mind. They have usually witnessed countless situations where things did go badly or have come into the office and had the voicemail box loaded up with clients who had major issues. I laughed and said to Dave “no problem”. He continued to worry about the situation. Dave continued to tell me it was a potentially a big problem. I get that, and was not trying to downplay the situation. What Dave did not know about me was that I have sold over 250 homes and that I have access to this little thing I like to call “The Irish Plumbers Network”. I shot out a text and secured an appointment with an electrician that I use all the time. Fast forward a couple of days. Terry the electrician came in. He fixed everything, I called the Medway Fire Department to come and reinspect the property. Within 5 minutes of the fire lieutenant arriving, we had the necessary certificate and we are onto a closing.
Steamin’ Mad at Stanley Steemer….
There was just one other item that needed to be taken care of and that was a carpet cleaning that was part of the negotiated terms in the sale. The new owner as part of their purchase was entitled to getting the carpets cleaned. The owner booked the cleaning with Stanley Steemer. The company was slated to come out between 8-9 on Thursday. I went to the property to faciliatate access on behalf of the owner. This was a couple of days before the closing.
I saw the Stanley Steemer van pull into the complex so I rode the elevator down to meet them. I greeted the men from the company and went onto point out the location of the door where the rear elevator was for access the unit at The Sanford Mill. The both looked at me like I was speaking Swahili, and the proceeded to tell me that they did not have a portable machine to bring up to the unit. Now after dealing with a failed fire inspection, an electrician visit and a second visit. I gave them a stern look and thought about speaking in Forked Tongue Swahili, but I took a moment and paused.
No that’s not Swahili…that’s “Bostonese”. I did not come this far to come this far. I proceeded to ask questions around what they did have. Specifically, how long were the hoses and cords. I have learned a real estate advisor to never take something as it appears on the surface. They told me the length and I did my quick vector analysis to see how far the target was.
I then said to the men, “well, we did not come this far to only come this far.” They looked at me like I was crazy. If you ask my wife and kids they will substantiate the facts here. I then pointed to the white 4 door Jeep Wrangler and directed them to the rear tailgate. I showed them how the Jeep is outfit like a mix between a rolling real real estate office and contractors’ van and how it usually has anything you need to solve field expedient issues. I walked them over and we chased down a series of ratcheting straps. I then tied them together to make one very long series. I went up to the unit and lowered down my straps. Lord Stanley and his men tied off their apparatus to then raise it up to the unit. As I often like to say to clients, I am partner in their deal and that most agents would make excuses. I have personal mantra which is “You can make excuses or you can make it to a closing, but you can do both”.
Back to our Friend Dave…
Dave was too funny. He told me how he was a “doubting Thomas” and that I converted him. My client, his daughter was funny as well. She was texting me asking me how Dave was
doing. I asked Dave to give me the “thumbs up” and I took a picture and sent it to my client as a text. She could not believe I was able to get “his mind out of the bad neighborhood”.
This is the part of the real estate client and sales process I love. If you give me a great problem to solve, I can usually wrap my head around it. I like to say “I am like a rat on a Cheeto.”
Can you imagine after all that work of developing the opportunity, marketing the property, finding the buyer and then negotiating the sale if I let a little smoke detector or a carpet cleaning blow up the deal? What a waste. It’s amazing to me how many Realtors I come across who are just not great problem solvers. Thanks to a father who was a union machinist and a drill sergeant at Fort Benning who made me learn that you can solve most anything if you just look at things closely and contemplate a solution.
Here is what the owner had to say:
If you are looking for a Realtor to work with to buy or sell a property, look no further than Mike Mahoney! Mike recently sold a condo for me, in the Metrowest area. From the first day I met him, I felt confident in his ability to get the job done. Mike is extremely knowledgeable in the current market conditions and his progressive and unique use of technology for marketing helped to get the word out to many prospective buyers. Throughout our time working together Mike was always available to answer questions and he consistently updated me about the property. Mike is easy-going and personable, yet tenacious and passionate about what he does. Give him a chance; he’ll hustle ’til the jobs done!
The true definition of being an entrepreneur is someone who is paid to solve other’s problems. I am thankful clients entrust me with their properties and their “problems”. It brings me great joy to me to get clients to their closing. If you have problems, call me at 617-980-9025 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org