Each week, Jordan Gunn, editor of The San Francisco Chronicle's "Sound Off" column, sends out a question to local Bay Area Realtors looking for answers and insights. Invariably, it's a race to "yes," but this week, his inquiry was spot on, relating directly to my own experience last weekend with new Buyers, so I decided to participate just the same. (Thank you, Jordan.)
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE:
Exedera Park, Piedmont: Off to one side, there's an active playground with a climbing structure, swings, a slide, monkey bars, and mounds of soft sand. Young kids are happily playing. A huge Magnolia tree shades the lawn and a majestic fountain flows musically nearby. The benches are lined with doting parents and one lone Piedmont Realtor (that's me) who's meeting her new clients for the first time.
The Clients: fantastic, dynamic dual-professionals with two children, a healthy budget, a working knowledge of the marketplace, flexibility with respect to style and condition, and most importantly, realistic expectations. (Those are my favorite kinds of Buyers!)
The Goal: Excellent public schools, a welcoming backdrop, diversity within the greater community, 3-4 bedrooms, approximately 3,000 square feet, a guest space for visiting parents, and a doable commute to downtown San Francisco. (I speak your language.)
So with adorable kids in tow, we set off around town, and I began the fifteen-cent tour:
Despite the rainfall this week, spring officially arrived at 2:58 pm on Wednesday. Of course, here in the East Bay, we didn't need an announcement to tell us the seasons were changing, we could see it in the blooming Magnolias, the sunny daffodils, and the stunning cherry blossoms scattered throughout town. As an avid gardener, watching my roses, hydrangeas, and clematis seemingly sprout overnight and come back to life makes this my favorite time of year. Every day, it's a new surprise; a fresh unfurling, and a not-so-subtle reminder of the cycle of life.
Not only has the spring arrived in our gardens, parks and hillsides, it's also arrived with respect to the real estate "Spring Market" which is typically the most active time of year. Thus, every day, new listings are "springing" up, posting onto the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and then populating to your favorite search engines, whatever they may be. It's also the time of year when new Buyers arrive in force, hoping to establish residency before the next school year.
Working with these fresh new faces, I'm reminded that while Buyers are nearly fluent on searching the Internet for that "Pinterest-perfect" home, AND are surprisingly knowledgeable about the list-to-sales price many properties have experienced, they're often far less well-informed about the costs of buying a home (closing costs) or the ongoing costs of ownership (annual property taxes and maintenance)!
It's not unusual to receive a call from new Buyers moving from San Francisco, Redwood City, Marin, or in some cases, towns and cities much further afield, looking to buy a home in the East Bay. Comparatively, The East Bay is still viewed as highly affordable when placed against these much higher-priced communities (although Oakland's median prices continue to rise).
Invariably, we get around to their "wish list," which often goes like this: "We'd love a house near BART, in a good shopping district, with at least 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and oh, a little cottage out back or extra space downstairs we can rent out for extra income would be great." (Yes, it would.)
"What's your price point?" I ask.
I spent the first 15 years of my marriage in San Francisco where Cliff and I managed to buy and renovate four homes. I also gave birth to both our boys, and held down a busy sales job (not necessarily in that order). As an independent manufacturer's representative who called primarily on commercial design and architectural firms, I could pinpoint nearly every back street, alley and available parking lot in town, but that was then . . . this is now. NOW, I can easily navigate the streets of Piedmont, Oakland and Berkeley just as comfortably; in fact, even better. (That's not a Lyft driver passing by, that's actually me.)
In the intervening 14 years, San Francisco has changed dramatically, the Mission District is one of the hottest places to live, and whole neighborhoods have either undergone transformation or emerged altogether with new housing opportunities that didn't exist when I lived there. In short, there are entire neighborhoods in the City of which I know little to nothing about!
The property had barely been entered into the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), had been on the market for less than an hour, and had only just debuted when I received a phone call from a well-meaning, but slightly naive Agent asking if the Sellers would entertain a preemptive offer. A "preemptive" offer is an offer that comes in prior to the offer date AND only exists in a seller's market when more than one offer is anticipated.
"Thanks very much for your interest, but we'll be accepting offers a week from Tuesday at noon. Please join us then," was my polite response.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 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.