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The Hunter S. Thompson of real estate

San Diego County salesman and blogger Jim Klinge revels in exposing the greed and excess that is blamed for the housing crunch.

April 02, 2009|Peter Y. Hong

He knew the market was headed for a crash, he said, one day in July 2005, when he had just come home from a family trip to Disney World and answered the phone. The woman on the line had seen a house that Klinge was selling.

"Up until that point, the only thing buyers wanted to know was how much over list they needed to offer. All of a sudden this lady was being critical of everything, the property, the price. I hung up the phone and told my wife, 'It's over,' " he said.

A few weeks later, he started blogging. His wife, Donna, who helps manage the family brokerage, was nervous. "He was really pushing the envelope with the blog, taking people on, naming names," she said. "I took deep breaths. I didn't know how it would turn out."

She said she was shocked one day to see a photo on the blog of two young men sitting on the floor of a house with their wrists bound like prisoners. They had been squatting in a foreclosed house Jim was selling, and he had sneaked up on them as they slept and tied them up with plastic zip ties in a brazen citizen's arrest.

But Donna, who began dating Jim when they were at Cal State Fullerton in the early 1980s, had after 20 years of marriage grown accustomed to his provocative style. So far, he's known when to stop pushing, both on the blog and with her and their two daughters, she said.

He also manages to keep things civil with his industry colleagues, a notoriously upbeat lot. Kris Berg, another San Diego County real estate broker who writes a blog as sweet as Klinge's is sour, says Klinge "is a nice guy, a great guy."

Does he offend other real estate brokers? Berg said she's not heard anything directly, but is sure he must, simply because "there's an inherent danger when you take transparency to that level. You're going to alienate people," she said.

Klinge figures that if he alienates some real estate agents but attracts more customers, it's all worth it.

Marc Needham, 33, was a fan of Klinge's blog for a year before becoming a client. He and his wife had looked for a house for a few months in 2007 with another agent but became fed up. "We had banks lying to us; our previous real estate agent lied to us," he said.

Needham said the agent and lenders told him the housing market would soon rebound and pushed him to pursue houses he felt he couldn't afford, places he said would have required spending 40% to 45% of his income on house payments.

Needham, a Web marketing director for a hospital chain, said he appreciated that Klinge agreed with his view that the housing market was more likely to keep falling than to quickly bounce back.

Represented by Klinge, the Needhams bought a four-bedroom house in Encinitas last year for $580,000. Needham said his house is probably worth less now, but he expected the decline, and Klinge also helped him avoid properties with problems he did not see.

Klinge recently took a reporter along when he visited a house with Christine Liashek, 29, a first-time home buyer. He did more warning than selling. She was drawn to a cozy, 1960s three-bedroom Carlsbad house with a swimming pool. It was just the size she and her husband -- they have a dog but no children -- were looking for. Standing in the living room, Liashek looked to Klinge for his opinion.

"That was the high school out there," Klinge said, nodding his head toward the front door, "You're going to have night football games, people parking here," Klinge told her. "The baseball field's out there too. You'll probably hear the batting practice."

Liashek still liked the house enough to ask him to show it to her husband later, which Klinge agreed to do. Then she asked him about a new home development nearby.

"I call it Foreclosure Ranch," Klinge said. "The reputation concerns me. It's probably the worst place in Carlsbad for foreclosures, and it'll be hard to shake that," he warned.

Liashek and her husband passed on the new development and the house near the high school.

But they're still looking with Klinge. Unlike previous generations of home buyers, who relied on their real estate agents to provide them with lists of homes to view, Liashek finds properties herself on websites such as SDlookup.com, Redfin and ZIP Realty and e-mails Klinge the addresses of houses she's interested in. Klinge will let her know which ones aren't worth a visit.

"He'll say this one's under power lines, that one's by the freeway, that one's in a bad school district," Liashek said.

"You do not have to waste your time going around in circles with Jim," she said. "I really appreciate that honesty."

But don't expect other agents to start bad-mouthing one another's houses and tying up teenagers.

Or even, Klinge says, highlighting the risks in a shaky market.

"They're chicken," Klinge said.

--

peter.hong@latimes.com

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