I moved quickly to my desk, plopped my briefcase on the floor and immediately turned on the computer; a routine that is repeated with regularity, day in and day out.
"You walk with purpose," my colleague, Adrienne, said from the other side of the cubicle, as she continued her own work. "I always know it's you when you come in."
My sister, Jill states it less kindly; "You walk like an elephant. Once you're awake, I can never get back to sleep." (So get a hotel room already!)
My mother-in-law, Zee, thinks I walk too fast. (Is is my fault her legs are too short?)
My husband thinks I walk too loudly. (Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey!)
The dog doesn't care how I walk, just as long as I walk with him in tow.
What do I think?
I like to think that I walk like a runway model; with long, elegant, graceful strides (sure I do).
We're each entitled to our own opinions so I'll concede that each person's perception is accurate to some extent. Depending on where I am headed and how quickly I need to arrive; I do walk with purpose, I walk loudly, and I walk quickly (with the exception of that runway model thing; that's probably just an illusion on my part).
With apologies to my entire family, my colleagues, and my friends, it's highly unlikely that my heavy gait is going to change perceptibly any time soon, or to quote Popeye, "I yam what I yam." But it does present a nice premise for this week's Perspective, which is:
Facts notwithstanding, "perception" is everything!
As you might guess, "perception" comes up quite a bit with respect to Real Estate, especially when it comes to negotiations. Once Buyers and Sellers find themselves in contract with due diligence now underway, the opinions of professional inspectors, engineers, electricians, plumbers and the like, begin to take center stage - often to very mixed reviews.
If you are on the side that has hired these expensive tradesmen to be your advocates, the suggestion that the house would benefit from additional sheer walling and more extensive bolting, holds quite a bit of weight. Additionally (and much to the Seller's dismay) it may also open the door for further negotiation. (Say it ain't so!)
On the other hand, if you are the property owner, who has lived in the home for years without seismic upgrades or a braced chimney in place, any negative comments or findings - whether it's your inspections or theirs - can seem ridiculous, if not downright insulting. ("We've lived with it like that since we moved in . . .")
Whether we believe the process is highly subjective or not (and it often is) is beside the point. Typically, these issues aren't about working the price back (although it can feel like it in the moment) as much as they are about concerns for health and safety measures, and in rarer cases, preservation of property boundaries. (Oh, that makes more sense.)
In short, it's about "perception."
So with that in mind, it's important to acknowledge that your level of comfort and risk, may not match that of the new homeowners, and certainly, there's no avoiding the reality that codes and expectations have changed dramatically over the past several years, adding higher standards to the mix for both home Sellers, as well as home Buyers.
In truth, both sides have valid viewpoints that in all likelihood, are going to require some delicate navigating in order to keep the parties moving forward and peacefully in contract. (Again, we are talking "perceptions," here, not necessarily "realities.") If everybody is reasonable, then earnest parties will work to find a meeting of the minds.
Finally, given today's highly schizophrenic marketplace (perhaps 'bi-polar' is more accurate), Buyers often have more room to negotiate once inspections have been completed than they did in the past, and they are taking full advantage of that change in status. (You'll do the same when it's your turn to buy.)
"But we are selling our home "AS IS!"
No argument there, but let me remind you that ALL homes are sold "AS IS," based on what we know to be true about the home with respect to upfront disclosure (disclose, disclose, DISCLOSE!) Once "new discovery" comes to light, Buyers have the option to "accept, reject, or renegotiate," and often do. Try not to take offense at this turn of events; it actually is standard practice. Remember, you also have the right to "accept, reject, or renegotiate," in turn.
EXCEPT my husband - he married me "AS IS," and make no mistake, there's been a WHOLE BUNCH of new discovery over the last twenty-two years. Like my family and friends, he'll just have to put up with ALL of my many obnoxious, yet endearing, shortcomings (as I do his). Like homes, it's best to focus our attention on what works!
For better or worse - it is, what it is . . . .
"What happened?" the agent on the other line said. "I thought your clients LOVED the property."
"They did." I replied. "Unfortunately, their friends didn't." (Say What?)
Listen, I understand your desire to bring your "friends" to the house you are now in the midst of purchasing. It's a BIG investment and everyone wants to avoid making a mistake. However, nothing takes the air out of the balloon faster than having your friends decide that the house has drawbacks that they would rather live without. Let me save you (and them) the trouble - EVERY HOUSE HAS DRAWBACKS. (They do! ) I've sold A LOT of houses to clients through the years, and I've bought several of my own, and without exception, every single one of them (irrespective of the price) had some compromises to be made.
That isn't to say that every house is going to pass inspections with flying colors, or that I think that there isn't a valid point at which the buyer should walk away (in truth, there may be). If there are REAL risks that you, as the buyer, truly aren't comfortable living with - or addressing over time - then by all means, I'll have no trouble canceling the escrow on your behalf. In fact, I'll encourage it. The last thing in the world I want to do is talk you into a home that you will regret owning later on.
But with respect to the opinions of others (solicited or not) the question is: are we dealing with fatal "flaws" or fatal "friends?" Put another way, are there too many cooks in the kitchen?
It's not that your friends' intentions aren't pure (they undoubtedly are), but let's be clear - they're not necessarily objective. How can they be? Often our friends mistakenly believe that their job is to save us from ourselves. Is it any wonder that the value we place on their good opinion is often more important than our own? OR that they take their role so seriously? Anything (and I do mean anything) negative our friends observe has a tendency to sabotage the transaction and override any positive feelings about the home you previously held. Once that happens, there's no way to unring the bell.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a gal who respects a strong opinion and some emphatic discourse, but I have also learned along the way that it is often my role to validate your opinion, instead of expressing my own. Whether I personally like the house or not is beside the point. Whether or not I can justify the purchase and provide clarity about the home on which you are now in contract - very much is. My job is to lay out your options and set reasonable expectations so that you can make an informed decision.
Clients with a good deal of previous home buying experience may well be comfortable with a MAJOR remodel that includes foundation and drainage work, while those that are newer to the process, may feel overwhelmed by the simple act of selecting new colors for the walls. Imagine then, how unnerving it can be when our friends profess their dislike of the decor and begin to punch holes in our future residence? (It shakes our confidence.)
When we take our friends to the home we have finally chosen to purchase, they haven't had the benefit of seeing the houses you have already eliminated or why. Without the back story, our friends tend to examine that single property under a magnifying glass and let the criticisms fly, often out-experting the experts you have hired to render a professional opinion. However well meaning, they don't pause long enough to understand that what you really may be asking of them, is their support and encouragement to live out your dreams.
To recap: unless you really want your friends' honest and sometimes brutal opinions, leave your "friends" at home until after inspections, or better yet, until after you have closed escrow altogether. THEN you may pop the champagne, have a BIG housewarming party and invite ALL of your "friends" to celebrate together. Whether they love or hate your home at that point, chances are, they'll be polite enough to stay mum about it.
Now that's a true "friend."
"Mom!" my son, Tristan yelled up from the family room downstairs, "Buck has a tick on his neck. You need to get it off!" (EW!) Disclaimer: I can handle spiders (even the BIG, hairy ones) but I don't do ticks! The last time I tried, the displaced bug found a home on me instead. (I'll spare you the gory details). I quickly threw a leash on Buck, loaded him into the back of the Matrix, and headed for the local veterinarian clinic on Telegraph Avenue. Waiting patiently to see the doctor (evidently, they don't consider parasites to be an emergency!) I marveled at the diversity within the animal kingdom.
Sitting next to my nervous Labrador were an English Bull Dog with a bad cold who could barely breathe, a Maltese that had been abandoned and needed a bath, a highly anxious Jack Russell Terrier, and a shivering toy Chihuahua (as if they weren't small enough already); none of whom wanted to be there. (Uh, neither did their owners.) Still, it's truly amazing to think that each of these critters descended from the common grey wolf over the last 15,000 years (I looked it up). Forget Darwin and the theory of natural selection, it seems that man has been highly instrumental in the diverse engineering of dogs, which is now greater than any other land animal (thank you Wikipedia). Small, large, brown, black, red, floppy eared, stunted tails, long hair and now, through the miracle of science NON-shedding, you're sure to find a species that fulfills your needs and brings you great joy.
"With a knick, knack paddywhack, give a dog a bone; This old man came rolling home."
Houses are a lot like dogs; they come in all shapes and sizes. From a mud hut to a mansion, old-world to modern, there's no end to the diversity in styles the world over. Some of them are "value plays" meaning they offer A LOT of house for the dollar, while others are going to exchange hands at a premium, due to their outstanding condition, their coveted locations, or the highly desirable qualities of the homes themselves. Some are true "starter" houses, while others represent transitional spaces and still others, become the final home you will ever purchase. Whatever you seek, you are certain to find a home that meets your desires, although it's likely you may end up with something entirely different than what you thought. I'm not working with too many of you in search of mud huts, nor is there much call for mansions in this more conservative world nowadays (even "McMansions" have become far less desirable), but for those of you seeking a domicile in between (and that's just about ALL of you) I have a fairly good track record for helping Buyers find and acquire their first, second, or last home - as long as one's expectations are in line with one's pocketbook.
However, I have also discovered that Buyers may not actually know what it is they seek, even when presented with a near "perfect match" on the very first outing. It's a fact that most of you have got to do a fair amount of pecking and scratching before finding the house that feels "right," which is entirely appropriate by the way. For lack of a better term, you haven't quite been "house-broken" yet! That takes a bit of practice and experience and gets easier with time.
In fact, Buyers who stumble across the "right" home on the first outing, rarely recognize it as such. Until they have discounted several rejects and have seen enough properties to form a fair assessment of "value," they'll probably pass it by. That's okay, there will be others and they'll be just as wonderful. (They will!)
Cliff and I have bought several homes through the years, and they've all been vastly different from one another. When we moved to Piedmont from San Francisco, we had our hearts set on a turn-of-the-century Brown Shingle in the center of town (we just couldn't afford it). We purchased a mid-century barn with a fabulous garden instead. Either way, we've been incredibly lucky. Our home has evolved over time and its nearly where we want it to be (nearly).
As for dogs, my husband has always favored Golden Retrievers, but our elder son, Case, had other plans. He picked out an adorable Black Lab puppy instead, several years ago. Buck (the dog - not the boy) brings us tremendous joy (although the boys aren't bad either) and Cliff loves him every bit as much as the Goldens we've said goodbye to along the way . . . except for the ticks! (Those we don't love.) Like the spiders, they seem to have become my responsibility. I think I'll just keep heading to the vet's "With a knick, knack paddywhack, give a dog a bone, This old man came rolling home . . ." .
It's a New Year full of new hopes, new dreams, and new intentions. For many of us, these "resolutions" may be as modest as losing 10 lbs, committing to the gym, or joining a book club, while others in pursuit of heftier challenges, are attempting to reenter the workforce, to pen the great American novel, OR for the truly ambitious, hoping to sell their homes in what is clearly, a "softer marketplace." (Hmmm . . . Happy New Year?) Welcome to the Brave New World . . . .
It stands to follow then, that the question Realtors are most often asked (by both Buyers and Sellers) as we anticipate the Spring Market is: "If we wait until next year [to buy or sell] will the market improve?" In other words, "Is there more money to be made down the road?"
That's the $64,000 question (quite literally) to which I can only reply, "I don't know." I can't deny that you may, in fact, do better by waiting, but frankly, you could do a whole lot worse . . . (Does that clarify things?) The truth is, NO ONE knows the answer to "when will I profit most?" - including the very vocal "experts" on TV and the Internet. Although economic opinions abound by those more pedigreed than me to predict the future, the reality is that the only market anyone can accurately measure, is the market that has just passed them by, and to a lesser degree, the market in which they are currently in OR to paraphrase my Broker, John Karnay; history is revealed through a rearview mirror.
Regardless of whom you choose to believe, the future is just an educated guess. Depending on the world markets (The euro's uncertain health has huge repercussions for the dollar here in the U.S.) the outcome of the election, job growth, interest rates, and above all else, consumer confidence - the "value" of real estate OR to be more blunt, the value of your home, could move in either direction. While "recovery" is all but certain given previous patterns, WHEN it will happen, is still very much up in the air.
I know that's of little consolation to those of you who are on the fence and I apologize for the ambiguity, but absent a crystal ball, thoroughly understanding today's marketplace, as well as analyzing past performance, is the best any of us can offer. Moreover, "timing" the market to meet your desires is nearly impossible. Adjusting and adapting to the marketplace you are currently experiencing, IS.
AND here's another reassuring note that applies: markets are "relative." So if you sell in a softening marketplace, you are also buying in one. Conversely, when prices soar, they go UP across the board. Make cents?
One final thought for your consideration: perhaps it's time we reassess the concept of our homes as "investment products," and think of them instead, as "security measures;" as a welcoming place to hang one's hats, to safeguard a family, and to lay down memories. IF we return to the paradigm of yesteryear, when our folks stayed in their homes, paid down the principal, and rarely (if ever) borrowed against the equity, then with time and with favorable market conditions, perhaps our real estate will grow to become real investments once again. In the meantime, "There's no place like home." (Thank you Dorothy.)
To recap: markets can be uncertain, value is a moving target, the future is unknown, hindsight is 20/20, adapting to the current marketplace is critical, all markets are relative, and home ownership is a worthy reward. (Whew, that's a lot packed into one week!)
So with that advice firmly in hand, how can I help you (or your friends) make the best decisions in 2012 for you and your families? I'm here to provide answers, but the choice to enter the marketplace or to wait it out, remains firmly with you!
Happy New Year!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.