The Art of the Caravan
Every Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., is “caravan” in Los Angeles, during which about 500 to 600 houses open their doors for real estate agents to come preview and determine whether any would be right to show their clients. During this three-hour window, an incredible mix of estates, condos, fixers, specs, rentals, income properties and raw land — from Malibu to Santa Monica, from Brentwood to Beverly Hills, in and above the Sunset Strip, down by the Grove and over to Los Feliz and downtown LA — can be visited.
The most important three-hour window of the week
To me, caravan is the most important three hours of the week. Unfortunately, too many agents look at it as just an opportunity to see the few things that might be of interest to their buyer client(s). I look at caravan differently; it’s a chance to get to know the market. Very often, properties I see on caravan serve as “comps” for a future listing or a buy. From time to time, I come across an inspired design idea. Homes for which I have no buyer can often inspire me to reach out to my “sphere of influence” and find a buyer. And it’s always helpful to see the house that goes into escrow in the first week with 14 offers.
As they say, “knowledge is power.” Caravan is crammed full of information; information that agents need to absorb, process and utilize. I’m always amazed when an agent tells me that they are doing something not time-sensitive during caravan, instead of going out, seeing the product and getting their fingers on the pulse of the market.
To make my three-hour window as productive as possible, I take a fair amount of time to plan my attack. The night before caravan, I go on to our MLS and search what’s open the following day. I also read through the paper edition of what’s open and see if something was advertised as open in the paper edition, but not online. I then plot the properties linearly across town (usually, I will start in Malibu or the Palisades and make my way toward downtown). By plotting this way, I save time figuring out which house I’m going to next or the most expedient way to do so.
I nearly always have more properties on my list than I can possibly make. This can serve two purposes: it inspires me to keep going and, when I’m nearing the final hour or so, I can determine if I want to push for that jewel across town or, instead, pick up the four that are clustered together closer by.
I always try to be at my first house 15 minutes before the start of caravan; I am often helping the listing agent turn on lights and plant flags, and, in return, I get one house under my belt before the three-hour window even starts! On a good day, I see 17-18 properties during caravan. My personal best is 23 (twice). If caravan were an Olympic sport, I think I might be the world (or at least LA) record holder.
Too many times, I’ve been in post-caravan office meetings where someone will mention a property they considered “terrible.” Usually, however, it isn’t the property that is terrible; it’s the price. Unfortunately, the agent assessed the property through the “lens” of the price, found a disconnect between appropriate and current pricing, realized that he or she couldn’t sell it for that price and, consequently, deemed the property “terrible.” Nine months later, when the property is re-listed with another agent, at a greatly reduced price, the “hating” agent gets a call from a client who says: “Hey, have you seen X property, and what do you think about it?” The agent, who by now has seen possibly hundreds of homes since, has a hazy memory of X property and can only recall that it was “terrible.”
To avoid this, I try to challenge myself when I go see properties. While walking through, I guess as to the living and lot square footages, and I think about what I would have priced it at. Doing so hones my skills as an agent, and it gets me to think more critically about a home: What do I like about it? What do I not like about it? Do I think it is well priced?
An opportunity for information and relationships
Caravan is also a great opportunity to “return a phone call” when you run into someone or to learn about an upcoming listing or a new “pocket.” Take a moment to gather information and to develop, maintain and nurture relationships. In this vein, because I see so many properties, and because I am independently evaluating them, I am constantly being called on by other agents to help them price their upcoming listings. This often affords me an early opportunity to see a property (allowing me to slot in an alternative one on caravan!) and allows me to further a relationship with a fellow real estate agent (something we all need to do more).
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.