Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered. "Yes, Piglet?" "Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you." - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh Yes, you've got your Socrates, your Platos and even your Dr. Phils, but few philosophers speak the truth as plainly as do Piglet and Pooh. "I just wanted to be sure of you." That's honestly, the TEST every time I meet with a new Buyer or Seller, and often, even after we've worked together for weeks on end. I'm constantly working to gain their faith and trust and more importantly, to keep it as we trudge along. That's no small order when we're talking BIG stakes in a market where almost anything can happen and a small miscalculation can mean the difference between getting a house or losing it. No matter how well intentioned, there's only so much we can control and wouldn't you know it, it's the stuff we can't that keeps us tossing and turning. (At least it keeps me up at night, and I'm certain I'm not alone. )
"What happened?" "What can we expect?" "How much should we offer?"
In a market that keeps delivering surprising results - both good and bad - the plain truth is that there's no surety around much of what we do. Sometimes the answers are: "I don't know." "What are you comfortable with?" "How much are you wiling to risk?" And then I need to explain thoroughly what those risks might entail. "Should I have . . . ?" "Could I have . . . ?" "What if I had . . .?"
That's water under the bridge. Unfortunately, sometimes the best strategy is to regroup and move on. However, you might imagine. that's not information most Buyers or Sellers wish to hear, nor news we Realtors want to deliver. "I'm sorry, this wasn't your day . . . A higher offer trumped yours . . ." AND whether you're Buyer or a Seller, know that the other side is feeling exactly the same emotions, in one form or another. Strip them away, and they're almost always about fear.
Often times, the best I can do is just nod and listen to your fears, your uncertainty, and your anxiety and then metaphorically, hold your hand.
"I just wanted to be sure of you." (That's fair. I understand and I'm here.)
If it's any consolation, the fears we fret over the most, rarely come to pass, or if they do, they look nothing like we expected. (Those pesky expectations can really be our downfall.) BUT when we can set aside our expectations and move towards our best intentions, we are, undoubtedly, better served. There's also something to be said about creating our own reality (perception is everything). That's been my experience anyway - in this - or any market for that matter. If we believe things will work out for the best, they will. Perhaps Pooh said it best -
"When . . . you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very ''Thingish' inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it." - A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Maybe we all just need a simple, but profoundly thoughtful bear to guide the way.
It couldn't hurt.
How can I help you?
Last Saturday, I dropped my husband and son at SFO bright and early. They were headed to the east coast to check out colleges and take in a baseball game or two along the route. There was both some excitement and anxiety around the trip; the unknown, the many miles they'll need to cover, the college campuses they hope to see, and the cheap hotels they'll need to find along the route; only to be followed by exhaustion, no doubt, on their return.
Doesn't that sound a lot like house hunting? It can literally consume every waking hour as one pours over the Intranet, meets their agent throughout the week, heads out on Sundays, learns the communities, reads the disclosure packages, gathers information for their lender, and prepares for battle. (Whew.) Quite often, it can begin to feel like a full time job! "I really need to get back to work." I've heard on more than one occasion. I understand. For those selling, it's even more time consuming as they purge, clean, pack, store, paint, garden, mulch, meet with their Realtor, interview moving companies, search for a replacement property, keep their home picture perfect for endless showings, and try to hold down steady employment in-between these time-consuming demands. It's truly, both physically and emotionally draining. Whether it's buying a new home or prepping an existing one for sale (for many of you, it will be BOTH simultaneously) I'm often counseling my clients to hang in there, trust the process, AND get some professional help wherever possible (I didn't mean therapy, but that's not a bad idea either. I meant painters!) AND I am also reminding them that regardless of the support we gather, "anxiety" IS part of the process.
Let me repeat that: "ANXIETY" is part of the process! There's no getting around this, so accept it and by all means, please don't feel the need to apologize to me for your feelings. No one (not even your Realtor) knows your home better or your goals more deeply than do you. Just understand, that feelings aren't facts, they're just feelings - nor are you alone. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE struggles with change. Change, under the best of circumstances, is still change. As I've often repeated, buying or selling a home is an emotional journey - not a pragmatic one.
I've bought and sold a fair number of houses through the years, both personally and professionally, and there's almost always some degree of angst, some second guessing, and some concern over the outcome. Were it in my power to control the unknown, and neatly lay out every scenario for you, I would happily do so, but unfortunately, it's the outcome, we don't get to control, no matter how well-prepared.
However, there are a few things we can control, such as our actions and our intentions as we proceed. So while you can't control the marketplace or how it responds, you can certainly maximize on it. Like those prospective college kids gathering their transcripts, writing essays, and visiting campuses, Buyers and Sellers really should begin the process early. If you know there is a move in your future (even if the timing hasn't been identified) start working with a Realtor NOW. An experienced agent can refer you to all manner of resources and help identify those things that should be addressed before bringing your house to market.
The same can be said for the financing piece as well. Unless you are an ALL CASH Buyer, DO meet with a mortgage lender as soon as you are thinking of entering the marketplace and get a pre-approval letter in place - just in case. There's no worse feeling than finding the house of your dreams on Sunday only to realize that the Sellers are taking offers on Monday! (BTW - a good mortgage lender can not only qualify you, he/she help clean up any financial discrepancies in your credit history and set an aggressive course of action that makes you truly competitive.)
"Should we or shouldn't we . . . remodel the bathroom, paint the house, replace the counter tops, strip grandma's wallpaper, move the tenant out, remove the illegal kitchen, replace the roof, address the sewer lateral, put in a new lawn, refinish the floors, etc., etc., etc.???" That depends.
Any fatal flaw should be addressed proactively (believe me your Buyer WILL discover it). An unclear easement, a cloud on title, a leaking roof, etc., may easily derail a deal. An ugly counter top? Probably not. However, if you are not going to "cure" the issue, you will certainly want to gather bids for the corrections (roof, foundation, chimney, furnace, etc.) Remember, any improvements you make at this point, should be fairly neutral in nature, which isn't to say - CHEAP. I can't count the number of times when I have met with a client and wished the prospective Seller or Buyer had called me before putting in metallic tiles they'd bought on sale. Really?
So use us; we're here to help. While your local Realtor can't necessarily remove ALL of the anxiety which accompanies these life-changing moments (for better or worse), we can certainly diffuse some of the pressure you are feeling and help organize the process along the way.
At the very minimum, your Real Estate Agent should be explaining the laws surrounding the purchase or sale of a home, ordering inspections, overseeing preparations, creating a marketing plan, setting expectations, and guiding you through negotiations and the escrow process. They should also listen, empathize, and care. Even so, you are still going to have moments of doubt. That's part of the process as well. Hang in there. This too shall pass. Tristan and Cliff didn't board the plane without a thoughtfully orchestrated plan - nor should you. Identify your goals, your timeline, and your expectations and then let's get to work bring your a successful result, whatever it may be and whenever it may be. How can I help you?
Last Sunday Cliff, Tristan, and I met with a college counselor my good friend, Andrea, had highly recommended, to explore Tristan's post high school options come 2015. We hadn't done this with our older son, Case, but in retrospect, probably should have. (Happily, Case will graduate from college this spring just the same.) It's just that Tristan's hoping to play college ball and as a result, may have several more options from which to choose. As it turns out, MORE choices don't always make the decision - or the journey - any easier. Let's back up just a few decades - or three . . . . My husband, Cliff, attended private school on the east coast, where the exalted "Ivy Leagues" were an attainable part of the equation, while I was the product of public education in Sacramento, where it was assumed that those moving onto higher education would be well served by the UC, state, or city college system (period). With the exception of a very few legacy families, I didn't know any kids who were heading east . . . north . . . or south, for that matter. That's not true anymore, where even the brightest and most talented seniors are all too often being turned away by the UCs of their choice and looking outside the state to other more welcoming institutions that want what our Piedmont graduates have to offer (thank you very much). It's a brave new world - and a highly anxious one (both for these kids and us doting parents). "We need a road map," I explained to Retta over coffee. "Something that outlines what we should be doing, when we should be doing it, and how to go about it." Nodding empathetically, she pulled out her yellow pad, began taking notes, and started asking pointed questions: "What's important to you, Tristan?" "Where do you see yourself going?" "Do you want a large, medium, or small experience?" "Would you prefer an urban environment or a closed campus?" "Do you want BIG sports including a football team?" "Is a Greek system part of the equation?" "How rigorously academic would you like the program to be?" And so it went . . . "I don't know. "Not sure." "It depends." "I hadn't thought about it." "Probably." "I guess." "Hmmm . . ." (Well, that narrows the field considerably!?!) "That's okay. you don't need to know the answers right now," Retta kindly explained, "but you're essentially in sales (we all are to some extent) AND at this stage of the game, HOW you sell yourself is going to be incredibly important with respect to your choices moving forward. Which means, I want you to think about your intentions from here on out." ("Now that's what I'm talking 'bout Willis!") Buyers take heed. Clarifying what you want and what you can afford are really critical to the home buying process (as is understanding what you DON'T). Where would you like to live? What can you afford to spend? What is your timeline for purchasing? Do you want or need to be near public transportation? Are good public schools part of the equation? What style of home do you prefer? And so it goes until we refine and hone your intentions. So here's my 'road map' for Buyers as you navigate the murky waters of our highly competitive marketplace . . . 1) Define your timelines, goals and expectations. 2) Speak with a Lender and get pre-approved (you'll need to circle back periodically as interest rates change).
3) Meet with an experienced LOCAL REALTOR (your cousin in San Jose isn't local unless you're planning on moving to San Jose.)
4) Visit Open Homes regularly and familiarize yourself with the different communities and neighborhoods in your price point.
5) Refine your search (style of home, neighborhood, price point, etc.) and provide detailed feedback to your Realtor on Monday mornings.
6) Track the available comps and the closed transactions in your preferred neighborhoods to better understand the going rate.
7) Request a Disclosure Package and highlight any concerns or questions you may have.
8) Pre-inspect when possible (but only with the Sellers' or Agents' permission).
9) Write a brief biography about you/your family and include a photo to have at the ready.
10) Be prepared to write an aggressive offer that can compete in the current marketplace
Once in Contract:
I probably shouldn't admit this, but you know the guest who arrives ON TIME while the hostess is still putting on her make-up, hoping no one will show for another 15 minutes or so? Well that's me. (Do you want to just cross me off your party list now?)
I'm the early bird who shows up on your doorstep, gift in hand, at exactly 6:30pm. (My mother valued promptness.) As it turns out, that socially ingrained habit, while not so welcome at parties, works great in the world of Real Estate where recently, the victory seems to go to the swiftest.
"Do you have an opinion about preemptives offers?" one client recently asked? Why yes, I do. In what has shaped up as perhaps, the most aggressive marketplace we have seen in years, Sellers - and their agents - have figured out that they needn't necessarily wait to put in an offer. In fact, I've successfully utilized this strategy on several homes this spring to beat the competition to the punch. Huh? Let me back up a moment to give you some context, especially if you're from out of town where your home may sit on the market for weeks, if not months, before receiving an offer for less than than the list price, OR for those of you who have been on the sidelines for the last decade or two . . . Because demand far exceeds supply, here's how the scenario usually unfolds for Sellers in the Bay Area wherein a listing has two Sunday Opens and two Broker's Opens before hearing ALL offers on a set date. At which point, several offers will usually present to both the agent and the Sellers of the home. It's an opportunity to sing the praises of one's Buyers in person, and to lay the groundwork for the deal and how they (the agent and the Sellers) may expect the transaction to progress. It's typical these days to hear at least 3-4 agent presentations, not unusual to hear 5-10, and not unheard of to hear 10-20. (Wow!) "My Buyers are a wonderful family with two darling children who absolutely love your home . . . They are preapproved through their lender, have waived the appraisal contingency . . . and can close in 17 days!"
(Warning Mr. Spock, you should only ever waive the appraisal contingency IF you have cash reserves on hand to make up any delta a less than stellar appraisal may create.) And so it goes until all the offers have been heard and the Sellers come to a decision. BTW- the Sellers may reject ALL the offers presented; accept the highest (Winner, winner, chicken dinner!), take one that's lower with better terms (ALL CASH), choose their favorite just because, counter one to match the best at the table, OR counter several. That's right, the Sellers may, in fact, "cherry pick" from the available offers and decide to counter the price on one, the contingencies on another, and a rent-back on the third. If all three 'willing and able' Buyers accept the counter, the Seller has the right to choose which party they prefer the most in what can feel - to the Buyers - like an unfair popularity contest. While home sales are first and foremost, a business transaction, as we all know, they tend to be highly emotional as well. "Julie, make sure to find us a lovely family who will appreciate our home," is a sentiment I've heard on more than one occasion. To bypass this difficult waiting period and the threat of multiple competition, many Buyers are willing to quickly step up upon finding a home they desire and write an offer the Sellers would be foolish to reject, in what's often referred to as the "preemptive offer." I should point out that technically, it is only a "preemptive offer" IF an offer date has been set and published in the MLS (the Multiple Listing Service); otherwise, a quick offer is just an aggressive play by the Agent and their Buyer, and why not? (I'll speak to this in a moment.) The key words here are : "write an offer the Sellers would be FOOLISH TO REJECT!" With multiple offers from which to choose on most well-priced homes, a Seller will only consider this play IF the number presented is high AND the terms are exceedingly strong (well financed, quick close, no contingencies)! "Would the Sellers accept a full price offer today?" I've naively been asked at a Sunday Open. Sorry, no, you'll have to do much better than that. In other words, an early offers has to SERIOUSLY put to rest the idea that a better offer lay in the waiting. Not everyone likes this quicker, faster, highly heated marketplace and that's their prerogative; no one is forcing a Buyer to take an offer earlier than they had anticipated. However, one shouldn't always expect that the Buyer will return two weeks down the road either. A few years back I represented a fantastic family who asked me to present an early offer that was politely declined without so much as a counter. (Fair enough.) By the time the offer date rolled around, my Buyers had moved onto another house and were firmly in contract. (Footnote, the first home didn't receive the anticipated offers and sold for substantially less than our "preemptive" price, proving to be a very costly roll of the dice for those Sellers.) So is the "bird in the hand worth two in the bush?" That's a decision only the Seller can make and one their agent should allow them to make. (It's not our risk; it's yours.) The "Why not?" is that the quick sell can leave money on the table. Certainly, you'll never know if someone else would have paid more had you waited and therein lies the most difficult part of the play; the uncertainty of the "What if?"
Whatever direction you decide to employ, DO understand that the quick or "preemptive" offer may show up on your doorstep as you bring your home to market. So define a strategy with your agent -upfront - with respect to your timelines and whether or not you are willing to entertain an early bid (as my husband and I recently did when selling our own home here in town). In many cases, time won't improve the offer you'll receive today.
Personally, I'm a BIG fan of the early bird and that's the "What's up?"
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 14 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.