"Eleven, 11, 11 . . . (Bueler, Bueler . . .) 12, 13 . . . " I sat at the Berkeley Planning Department last week waiting patiently for number 17 to be called. Jumping the line, a busy young couple hurriedly rushed in and ran to an open window. Without missing a beat - the desk clerk said. "Excuse me, there are people waiting ahead of you." "But WE just need this one thing!" they insistently implored. Scanning the room (her patience slightly tested) she pointed to the rest of us and deadpanned, "So do they. Now take a number."
Thank you! I wanted to applaud her (and that's not how I typically feel about city employees). Experience has taught her that everybody has needs waiting to be met and they are equally important in turn.
Ain't that the truth? Whether working with buyers or sellers, each has an agenda that they feel should receive immediate satisfaction. Of course, your needs should take priority. (Of course they should!) These are important decisions. I know you come first, but remember that the other side might have needs that are important to them as well. To put it ever so gently - not - "Take a number!"
Everyone has a goal; a truly pressing and often time-sensitive objective they seek. That's the nature of the beast. Figuring out what that is and how to get there without polarizing the other party is the art of negotiation. The best agents know how to keep their clients focused on the end result instead of getting mired in the sometimes challenging, here and now. And admittedly, negotiations can turn tough on occasion. While both parties want to transfer ownership, understandably the seller and the buyer don't always agree on just how to get there gracefully (and sometimes, their agents don't either).
Here's the good and bad news. The current marketplace neither favors nor rewards Buyers more than Sellers (or Sellers more than Buyers) which means that both parties are in a position to negotiate for what they want - and do! Furthermore, they should. Despite the fact that this is your home, this is a business transaction first and foremost. "It's not personal - it's business."
This bears repeating: "it's not personal, it's business" and as such, you should expect some lively negotiations along the way. Just keep in mind that although you may ask, there are no guarantees that you will receive ALL, part or any of your requests. (Sounds a little like my marriage come to think of it.) Sometimes you will come to a meeting of the minds quickly and sometimes slowly; requiring protracted discourse, lengthy give and take, and painful tit for tat (no giggling please). In other words, roll with the punches. It is very likely you will be asked for some concessions along the way (and that you will in turn, do the asking).
Above all, don't personalize it. Even when we believe we have all the pertinent facts and have asked the right questions prior to making an offer, to quote the late great Paul Harvey, we rarely know or fully understand "the rest of the story." Has there been a death in the family? An impending divorce? A loss of income? Is this move being met with excitement or deep regret?
If we avoid making assumptions, the negotiations stay more easily on track and one's feelings tend to get hurt a whole lot less. (While unavoidably human, 'feelings' don't contribute constructively to the process - unless they are emphatically positive.)
Now here's the really tough part. Even when the other side is making demands that feel "unfair," I'm going to ask you to take the high road and be "nice."
Because I believe in being nice. It may not sound like the shrewdest business advice I have ever given, but trust me, civility is, in fact, the smartest course of action - especially in business! Or as my wise mother put it, "You get more flies with honey."
If we all go into a transaction with good intentions, real WILLINGNESS, integrity, a lack of assumptions and a just little bit of well-placed kindness and compassion - the resulting outcome is bound to be much more satisfying for everybody involved.
"Fifteen, 16, 17." (FINALLY!) "Here I am!" I said.
"Have you got your number? Great. How can I help you?"
While I was frantically typing away last week (polishing up The Perspective - what else?) a very gracious and supportive colleague stopped by my desk and said, "You really should give up real estate and write The Great American Novel." (I'm flattered - were it only so easy.) Ha! "Forget the Great American Novel," I replied, "How about a good compelling 'beach read' instead? I'd be more interested in appealing to the masses, than in creating a great work of literary art!" (Really? The perfect sidestep for someone writing a weekly blog.)
Not that I didn't truly adore The Great Gatsby or that I don't aspire to the profound experience attributed to reading The Grapes of Wrath, it's just that when I find time to read for pure pleasure (what's that?) I am much more inclined to pick up Jodi Piccoult or Kelly Corrigan than F. Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck. Literary masterpieces aside, I'm really most content with a good compelling beach read. (And I'm not ashamed to admit it. For me, it's all about an interesting story line . . .)
This same philosophy holds true for each of my listings as well. When prepping a home for sale, my intention is to appeal to the masses - not the few. As much as you love the photographs of your sun-kissed vacations, your unique Renaissance mask collection or the kid's colorful art school projects, your home really should be less a reflection of your lifestyle and more an invitation for current cultural dreams, desires and expectations. (You wouldn't wear blue jeans to a fancy dress ball - would you?)
Dress balls aside, keep in mind that your home is competing against other "staged' properties and it will be measured against them. Will it lead or follow the pack? Let me gently encourage you to pack away those stuffed animals, gymnastic trophies, avant-garde sculpture and your beloved collection of Mickey Mouse memorabilia. Perhaps you will need to change your daughter's lavender and lime green walls, take down the floral wallpaper in the bathroom, remove the swag curtains and dismantle the science projects in your son's room. (sorry kids).
Quite often, I may encourage you to paint, garden and fully stage your home so that it's barely recognizable to you or to anyone in your family (even the family dog). Let's face it - the entire home sale process is incredibly invasive and inconvenient at best.
Take heart. It's only temporary!
Once a ratified contract is in place and ALL of the contingencies have been removed, you can put your children's pen-and-ink drawings back on the walls, return the La-Z-Boy to it rightful location in the den and pull out the X-Box once again.
In short, you can resume life as you know it - after the sale is complete.
While your home has a great story to tell - it probably needs some good editing (even Hemingway had an editor). Take my word that the outcome will be much more advantageous toYOU when the story I portray relates to the open-and-airy floor plan, the lush inviting garden, the impromptu dinner parties, the close-knit community, the easy commute, the access to fine dining, the nearby running trails, and the craftsmanship and quality of your home - as opposed to your personal memoirs and the attachments you have developed to them.
When the stager and I create an inviting backdrop (the compelling beach read!) prospective buyers can begin to envision their life in your home - and that's the goal. Once they mentally move in their furniture, you are well on your way to a sale. Conversely, when buyers can't place the flat screen TV, the Queen-sized bed or the French armoire in a room, you have probably lost them. With all due respect to your history and how you have occupied the home, this mental move is more easily accomplished without your grandmother's portrait or your collection of early Americana proving to be more interesting than the house itself.
While you undoubtedly have lived the Great American Novel, the final outcome and result is typically far better when we create a compelling, page-turning story instead; the kind a buyer can't wait to finish - or put down!
Who's ready for the beach now?
I know Spanish tapas are all the rage, but I have to say that I have never quite "gotten" them - even when I visited Spain! The idea of spending $12 for a plate of olives or a small sampling of salt cod goes against my middle-class, hard-working values. If you aren't careful, $60 and two hours later, you can leave the restaurant still feeling hungry.
On the other hand, I purchased 12 "day-old" bagels for only a buck-twenty ($1.20) at the market next door to our GRUBB Co. offices in Berkeley last week and felt as if I had won the lottery. (Score!) Growing up in Old Land Park, my dad used to send my twin sister and I down to Marie's Doughnuts ("Home of the six-cent doughnut!") to buy a dozen glazed on Sunday mornings (Yum!). Total cost: 72 cents - now that was a deal AND they threw in the 13th doughnut for free. There's something about securing a bargain that makes my heart sing. Whether it's the flea market, an estate sale or the bakery, I am a gal who likes a good value! (Who doesn't?)
Sure, there are still the exalted few who never bother to compare prices (even in this economy) but for most of us, understanding "the value" in any purchase is key to actually committing to it. In my experience, this holds AS TRUE for the $450,000 condominium as it does for the four million dollar home. Regardless of what one can afford, "value" is very much a part of the calculation.
However, "value" isn't just reflected in price per square foot or the desirability of the street. In order to accurately speak to "value" I need to also address "costs," which are often more important in establishing real value to the buyer.
Really? (Yes!) Here's why . . .
While the "value" reflects what's concrete (the price you pay) the "cost" reflects many of the less tangible, underlying needs associated with a home purchase: (the requirements of your family; the proximity to work and to schools; the interest rates in today's market versus tomorrow's; rising private school tuition; the weekends dedicated to searching for a home that might be better spent playing baseball with the kids; your desire to live near a park, a shopping district, a bus line; your need to entertain, to nest, to establish roots, to create memories . . .) the intangibles are endless and as varied as the buyers themselves.
Examined more broadly, there is so much more to the value of a home than simply the price you pay. Once you understand your underlying motivations for any purchase, your goals should become crystal clear; better helping you to identify "good value" when you see it (as opposed to the bargain).
Define both your position (value) and your interests (cost) and you will quickly come to terms on what you need, how quickly you need it and what you are willing to spend for it. Focus on the whole picture (not just the price) and you are much more like to secure the "value" you seek.
That's where the real bargain exists. Ole!
March Madness is over and happily, my family can now return to life as usual.
Let me explain . . .
March Madness brings more than its share of chaos each year, beginning with my husband's self-appointment as "The Commissioner" (a role he takes a little too seriously, if you know what I mean. ) As "The Commisioner," he dutifully prints out the ladder, quickly emails it to his brother's family, passes it out to our two boys at dinner, and then (a bit too gleefully) holds my feet to the fire, forcing me to quickly decide which teams will progress in the tournament.
"Kansas or Lehigh?" Cliff demands.
"Duke or Purdue?"
"Butler or Vanderbilt?" The choices come fast and furious while my protestations are repeatedly ignored. "
I don't know," I respond, flustered and increasingly frantic. "I don't want to play this year. You enjoy humiliating me to much."
"Failure to answer means you pick Sacramento State!" My husband declares. (A team even I know isn't actually in the tournament. After 20 years of living with Cliff, I'm tougher to fool than I used to be.)
"Okay, okay," I say in desperation, "What's their mascot?" Hmmm. . . No wonder I have been repeatedly trounced by my 8-year-old nephew, Noah. Choosing the winners based on the color of the uniform or the furry team mascot probably isn't the wisest course of action.
Who could perform under this kind of pressure? The truth is, I know NOTHING about college basketball and I am the first to admit it. March Madness holds no power over me and will most likely remain ever thus. Without any experience on which to base my answers, I am completely and utterly at a loss; leaving me to essentially pick at random. Having never played, I really have no context and what's increasingly clear to me, is that when it comes to March Madness, "context" is everything (or failing that, a few lucky guesses)!
It's no surprise that "context" is important in the world of real estate as well. With so much money on the line and with so many opinions from which to choose, "context" can be more theoretical than practical for both Buyers and Sellers, especially when the focus shifts from many homes to just one.
With so much written about the topic and with everyone seemingly an expert, it's easy to lose the forest for the trees. Cautious Buyers will often bring in friends or relatives to help them validate their purchase, while protective sellers often single out and elevate their own home from other nearby sales, ignoring context altogether.
Without a "Big Picture" understanding of the market, well-meaning friends may have a great sense of their own local market - but not yours. And Sellers may have a true understanding of what they want, but not a good sense of what the market will actually bring. Understandably, both these assumptions lack good "context."
Here's where a seasoned Realtor comes in. With years of contract negotiations, Broker's Tours, Sunday Opens, ongoing education and successful transactions adding to our vast experience, we ARE in a position to help you gain accurate market knowledge and a realistic expectation of market value - in a relatively short amount of time. Not only do we represent the "Big Picture," we provide much needed context. And with good understanding, the answers should come more quickly and with more clarity.
Leave the madness to basketball ladders and sports-crazed husbands (where it belongs). Your home is too important for guess work.
Which is why, this year, I downloaded the ladder first and went to a colleague to add some much needed context to my answers. (Thank you Gene. It was a noble effort.) While we didn't win, at least I wasn't down and out by the second round and more importantly, I finally beat my 8-year-old nephew! Best of all, a coup d'etat may be in the works next year for "The Commissioner." (Watch out Cliff.)
She shoots! She Scores! (Okay now I'm pushing it).
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.