"I want your wife writing for my son, Cole," Stuart told my husband. "I always know what's happening in Tristan's world." (Guilty, as charged).
Aside from the fact that A) I am an incredibly proud mother, B) the Piedmont High School team is having an amazing post season having just qualified for the North Coast Sectional FINALS (!), and
C) baseball, as a general rule, provides great analogies for life, it's been my experience that the more accessible the stories, the more you relate, and the more likely you are to actually read the pieces I write.
And yes, my family has learned to live with the exposure . . .
The parallel with respect to cheering at a ball game or successfully marketing a home is that they both benefit from shouting from the roof tops, but without aggressive marketing by way of enticing descriptions, excellent photography, well-attended Broker Tours, and a strong Internet presence, it's far too easy for your home to get lost in the crowd (and what are you paying your agent for, if not to create real BUZZ ?). My job IS to sing your home's praises, and at the risk of tooting my own horn, I've honed this skill to a fine art.
This isn't always as easy as it sounds (not all homes are created equal) nor do they all attract the same level of attention. Some homes are more emotionally appealing; others have benefited from artful renovations and creative landscaping; while others, have commanding views or highly coveted locations, making them much easier to sell.
Even so, there is an inevitable "cooling off" that ultimately takes place with respect to both timing and pricing as spring gives way to summer, and vacations take priority over house hunting. AND as more inventory becomes available, we are quickly reaching what my Broker, John Karnay, astutely refers to as "cruising altitude."
Plainly speaking, there's only so much appreciation the market can accommodate, thus the line on the graph, doesn't move steadily upward, but rather, it levels out, corrects, and moves up again. So while the Bay Area is experiencing the most dynamic marketplace it has seen in many years (and the largest single jump year-over-year according to national reports) many of the unbelievable results have been cleverly engineered through aggressive pricing, buoyed by lack of good inventory.
That's the piece both Sellers and their agents need to keep their eyes on - available inventory. But what often happens as prices steadily climb, is the false assumption that listing prices should steadily climb as well. In other words, should the "floor" be raised substantially in order to better reflect market results?
Not necessarily. In many cases, the surprisingly high selling price of a specific property came about because the house was intentionally and strategically priced well below "market" value.
Do I believe unrealistic pricing is misleading? Yes. Is it frustrating for Buyers who have to realign their expectations in order to compete? Yes. Has the list price essentially become the "opening bid?" Yes ($1.7 is the new 1.3). Do experienced agents prefer this pricing? It depends on ALL of the moving parts. Is this strategy benefiting Sellers in a meaningful way? Yes!
Which isn't to say that "realistically" pricing your home doesn't make sense as it did on a recent sale of mine where the Sellers were unwilling to roll the dice and part with their home for less (purposely underpricing isn't without inherent risks). But if you are content with one or two qualified offers, than by all means, consider pricing your home "realistically."
However, let's concede that nearly EVERYONE covets the perceived "deal," even when it doesn't ultimately play out that way. And under no circumstances, should you ever price your home on the high side - even in today's super charged world. Chasing the market, as opposed to setting it, rarely ever plays out in your favor.
Finally, "strategic pricing" works in this day and age, BECAUSE Buyers have renewed interest in owning real estate, the cost of borrowing is at an all-time low, there is a tremendous amount of equity at play, and there is too little inventory to meet demand. Obviously, this strategy wouldn't have worked in 2008 when the markets had all tumbled and Buyers were running scared. (You have to correctly assess - and play - the market you are in.) Either way, buying a home any market, especially in a very aggressive one, requires great faith in the future.
Hey, I'm just the messenger and I am here to provide my experience, (strength, and hope) but ultimately, you will decide which path best serves you. In the meantime, I WILL keep heralding your beautiful home and making sure the market finds its way to your doorstep - post haste. And yes, Stuart, I will keep telling stories and doing my best to grab your attention. (I'm so pleased to count you among my growing readership.)
Would you expect less? Now, how can I help you?
"I'm challenging you to post your first 'Instagram',"my sister's text message said. "That way we can 'follow' each other."
(Ugh, do I really I have to learn another piece of technology?) Jill has been after me to "get with it" for months now. Having essentially given up on Twitter and Facebook as too "me-centric" (my feelings - not her's - and certainly not our kids' ENTIRE generation which seems to have abandoned all privacy at birth) she's encouraging me to skip right over to Instagram, Houzz, and Pinterest - sites that appeal to instantaneous gratification and operate in the here and now. Together, they are a veritable smorgasbord of visual stimulation.
"You will stay better connected to your clients and in return, they'll get a better sense of your personal style and who you are," she instructs. (Gee, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of that already . . .)
And then she went in for the kill . . .
"Nobody reads anymore, we live in a visual world. It's all about the photographs." (So I've been told.)
Here's the thing . . . Jill is the mother of GIRLS, so she's able to take advantage of the X-chromosome; which includes sharing, shopping, and often, sharing about shopping. (I'm exhausted already.)
Whereas, cracking the "cone of silence" that constitutes my boys' worlds, would require heat lamps, a two-way mirror, and hours of rigorous interrogation and even then, I'd probably only get a name, rank and serial number. I swear, Case is going to call me one day (strike that, TEXT me one day) and report that he got married a few years back, is now a parent himself, and oh by the way, lives in Spain! (Can you please send money?) Meanwhile, Jill's girls have essentially created a veritable photographic diary, whereby they send their mother artistic photos of intriguing scenes that catch their eye throughout the day. Ensconced in Seattle for college, Anna consistently posts photos of the trees in bloom, the boats on the bay, her semester abroad in Amsterdam, and a lovely little sweater she's admiring . . .
"We've never been more connected," Jill sweetly proclaims.
(Okay, that's just salt in the wound . . .)
Try as I might, it's incredibly difficult to stay on top of each new wave of technology that has outpaced my generation and my meager Internet abilities by leaps and bounds (Remember, I'm over 30, make that 40, okay 50). And just exactly when does one find the time to post, post, POST (!) each moment of their day (and do you really care)?
But I will concede that my sister is right; "visual" mediums are where it's at, which is why I continually push for professional staging and photographs when it comes to any of my listings. Listen, if you expect your property to compete and to bring top dollar in this increasingly "visual" world, paint and STAGE your home. In fact, I feel so strongly about this point, that I recently turned down a listing that refused to follow my advice.
According to the National Association of Realtors, 93% of Buyers now begin their search on the INTERNET. Thus, good staging and great photography have never been more important, as is a dedicated property website ( www.18Sandringham.com).
"But my own things are much nicer," one very well-intentioned Seller and dear friend recently informed me.
No doubt - but it's also beside the point. The blunt truth is, most of our homes aren't close to "camera ready" (we simply have too much "stuff.") Moreover, as lovely as your things are, I want the Buyers to focus on your house, not on the beautiful things within it. So while I know it's difficult to let go of your carefully orchestrated environment, try and push past your objections so that we can ultimately achieve the best and highest result with respect to the sale of your home.
Hey, I know all about "objections." That's been a bit of my challenge as well as I struggle to drop my objections and gain new skills that ultimately keep me better informed and much more relevant, not only to my current clientele, but to an up and coming generation with entirely new expectations and skill sets. (Talk about a dynamic future. They've just begun to scratch the surface.) So at my sister's urging, I am jumping on the bandwagon and I now have my own Instagram account (I'd already succumbed to Pinterest and Houzz months ago and yes, they are are a feast for the eyes). And because Jill knows I can't keep all these accounts straight, she registered me as: 'instagardn3r" (lest I forget my new purpose in life). No, I won't be posting every house I visit, but I'll certainly throw in some lovely architectural details, a bloom or two, gardens I admire, homes I LOVE and for good measure, a bit of the community that makes our neighborhood so special. Sound good?
AND if, along the way, I also end up MORE connected to my boys and to my readers (aka: "followers") then that's an end game well worth taking a run at (although I'm not fool enough to believe either Case or Tristan will send me a picture of a jaunty little polo shirt they're considering . . .).
BTW - if you're already on Instagram, let me know so we can "follow" each other.
"How was the anniversary weekend?" Ed sweetly asked me. "Was it all that you expected?"
Umm, yes, and no . . . After watching our son's baseball game at Witter Field, my husband and I hit the highway on a warm Friday evening and made it down to the Carmel Valley Ranch in good time. Cliff had been asked to speak at a professional seminar of appellate lawyers and I was tagging along for a rare weekend off, with intentions of strolling Ocean Avenue and the beach, stopping at the nurseries in the valley, and meeting back up with Cliff for lunch and tennis; the perfect day. We'd elected to drive down in his mid-life crisis convertible (but who's judging?) to take advantage of the weather and the fact that we would be childless for the weekend, eliminating the need for my much roomier wagon. Truth-be-told, I've never much liked that car, but Cliff does and indeed, it was a gorgeous "top-down" kind of evening for which convertibles were made. On Saturday, we woke early, sunshine streaming into our room, and as Cliff finished his early morning gig, he tossed me the keys and I headed off to Macy's for a quick errand, while he stayed behind to attend another session. When I emerged an hour later, I discovered a nail in the wheel and a very, very FLAT tire. What? No worries, a call to AAA would set things right.
Three hours later I was still wrestling with the unexpected detour, having made it form the parking lot to a nearby gas station where I was told that the wheel was too badly damaged to be repaired. (Evidentially, the car doesn't like me either.)
Sigh, the best laid plans . . . In the world of Real Estate, good planning constitutes the bulk of any agent's duties. Personally, I start with a calendar outlining inspections, marketing deadlines, open houses, Broker's Tours, Sunday Opens, advertisements, cleaning, window washing, gardening, etc., etc., etc., and build from there.
Nonetheless, even with good intentions, a carefully crafted marketing schedule and day-by-day planning, there's rarely a home that doesn't surprise along the way; a conclusion that often comes to the surface as inspections get under way.
"We fixed that." clients will adamantly state as they read the recommended reports that frankly, leave the Seller often feeling very vulnerable and exposed. Indeed, you may have fixed the problem, but perhaps the repairs only mitigated the issue, instead of eliminating it entirely. (Note to Sellers, please don't hire your "relative" unless he/she is licensed.) It's important to understand that all Inspectors must take a fairly neutral stance when writing reports - as they should. Therefore, if they see something suspect, they WILL call it out. So knowing that, why exactly, would one invite criticism to the party when the goal is to show the house in its best light? (Good question, I'm glad you asked.) I've often referred to this as "controlling" the information, when in fact, we don't "control" the findings, as much as we provide them. In fact, we should welcome them. Any "control" that follows, comes in the form of either correcting the issue prior to marketing, OR fully disclosing any defects so that the Buyer knowingly and willingly assumes the responsibility. To that end, we want to fully inform prospective Buyers as to the condition of the house so that they don't "discover" the information on their own and then hold the Seller accountable by way of a MAJOR price reduction once in escrow! Make sense? I hope so. (Truly, I'm on your side.)
Although many of us like the idea of surprises, the truth is, we are really better served with good preparation. Thus, I'll encourage you to inspect, disclose, and inform so that all parties have a good understanding of the condition of the home. NO ONE, absolutely no one, like surprises once they get into contract. Thus, my best guidance after years in the business, is to avoid surprises and then prepare to roll with the punches. As carefully as we try and construct the outcome, none of us has that much control over the future.
As it turns out, I didn't much like being surprised either, and I suppose it's the last time Cliff will ever let me drive his Jaguar (which was kind of fun if I'm being totally truthful). However, if one has to suffer a flat tire, the Carmel Valley is a very pretty place to be stranded. In fact, I was hoping we'd have to stay another night. No such luck, I've got too much work to do. (I think I'm owed another weekend.)
Back to planning . . .
My younger son's baseball experience this Spring has been fairly anticlimatic. One of only five sophomores on the high school Varsity team, he's spent more time on the bench this season than I've come to expect, both as his mother and as his biggest fan. (Okay, his father might fight me for this honorary title.)
Not that I haven't been here before - I have. My older son LOVED the game of baseball and never missed a practice, but wasn't as naturally predisposed. Which meant that I often watched uncomfortably from the stands, wondering when - or if - his coaches would put him in (if only passion could have made up the difference). Clearly, coaches aren't mothers or all the kids would have equal playing time. (What's with them anyway? You'd think that "winning" was a priority.)
But for Tristan, it's been an entirely different journey; a gifted athlete from the start, he's always batted at the TOP of the order and has often made magic happen at the plate. Now, he's been relegated to a few late innings, or worse yet, none at all, as he adjusts to a quicker, more mature game and the reality that as a sophomore, he'll have to earn his stripes all over again. Wow, it's been a lesson in humility (for us both) and a dramatic learning curve - from star player to designated whatever. And just between you and me, I have to admit that it's much easier to watch the game as a parent, when your child is actually playing in it.
Last week; in a show of great power, Tristan CRUSHED the ball at Witter Field sending the pitch sailing over the left field fence and beyond, into the Wildwood playground for a rare home run that ignited the Piedmont crowd. Unfortunately - or fortunately - I arrived just in time to hear their cheers and see my son cross home plate with a grin on his face that ran from ear-to-ear. At long last, vindication. (Put that in your pipe and smoke it.) By Saturday, Tristan was back on the bench, again. Sigh . . . (Sometimes life just ain't fair.)
Buyers know the feeling all to well. They come up to bat, swing their hardest, and often fail to get on base. With multiple bids on nearly every home, the odds are suddenly stacked heavily against them as they face curve balls, sliders, and sinkers at every turn. A few short years ago, they could have casually walked up to the plate, put in a bunt, and likely make it safely to base. Not so this Spring, where even the offers that should be clear winners, are coming up just short of the fence. "You're out!"
So in the game of Real Estate, what exactly constitutes a "home run?"
Obviously, a "home run" begins with a compelling offer price (I'm talking 25-40% over asking in many cases!) and then heavily relies on aggressive terms. "Terms" are items like inspections, financial contingencies, close of escrow, and rent-backs. The easier you make it on the Sellers to go - or stay a little longer if they so desire - the more attractive your offer becomes.
It's actually not uncommon for higher priced offers to get passed over in favor of more secure ones - such as the "ALL CASH" play, a very short-inspection period (or none at all!), a quick close of escrow, or a generous rent-back, if that's what the Seller really needs. Note to Buyers: don't assume; however, that the "All Cash" offer automatically translates into a discounted price; it doesn't. It merely moves your offer to the head-of-the-line. Sellers will happily wait the few extra weeks for significantly more dollars. Put the best price and terms together, and you've just created the "home run." (Congratulations.)
A few disheartened Buyers have gotten so discouraged, that they've actually taken themselves out of the game entirely (player fatigue). I get it, I do, but I can't in all honesty, predict that next year will be much improved for Buyers who have elected to wait it out. (Last year's savvy Buyers were ALL homerun hitters in hindsight.) All I can do is tell you that the more pitches you look at, the better you'll become at anticipating the speed and the curve. You'll also get better at sitting on the bench when circumstances warrant it (some homes may just be too competitive for your financial limitations). That's okay. Like my son, I believe that with enough practice, you'll better understand the timing and the nature of the game. Pick your pitches.
The truth is, in baseball; in life; and in Real Estate, there's always a learning curve and we each, in turn, go through it. (Is there another way?) As a result of this year's tough lessons, Tristan is going to be better prepared for his Junior and Senior years, and hopefully, for any challenges down the road as well (as will I). That's growth.
"Batter, batter, swing!"
Let's get you a house.
On Monday, Cliff and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. (Happy Anniversary, Honey) That's about half as long as my parents have been married, but certainly enough years to have to have set down roots, to have established a family (the boys are practically grown now) and to have built an incredibly rewarding life together.
Anyone who's walked down the aisle or stood in front of a Justice of the Peace, can tell you that it's not always easy. Marriage is a journey of ups and downs, rewards and challenges, and unexpected turns; it's promises kept and forgotten, commitment and duty, and a great deal of acceptance along the way (okay, I'm still working on that part). Above all else, a successful marriage involves a great deal of love, respect, and compromise.
Truth be told, most of us marry one another on "potential." We don't really have a clue what's in store for us in the long haul, but we take the plunge anyway with faith and perseverance, secure in the belief that love and laughter will pull us through (note to my boys, marry someone who makes you laugh and whom you make laugh, in turn - it does!) Add children to the mix, and it's a whole NEW opportunity for growth . . . Still, on balance, it's a journey well-worth taking. I guess it would be fair to say: I've been"lucky in love."
Nevertheless, "luck" has less to do with love, than do faith and perseverance. The same can be said with respect to Real Estate as well. First and foremost, you have to believe in the marketplace and you have to have faith in the security of your investment; faith in the concept of future appreciation, AND then you persevere . . . Successful Buyers believe in the "potential," whether in the "fixer," or in the "turn-key" opportunity, whether in an UP or DOWN marketplace, and whether in a secure or a volatile economy. They also, believe in the dream, which is why real Buyers are often willing to battle time and again before securing the perfect property. (Well . . . almost perfect.)
As of late, there have been a fair number of homes sold on "potential" and in most cases, they have gone in incredibly competitive situations, which means the "lucky" Buyers weren't just lucky, they were prepared AND to my point, they had also persevered. I've spoken to preparation and perseverance many times before and it has never been more important than it is in today's highly charged, incredibly challenging marketplace. Speak with a local lender, get a pre-approval letter qualifying your credit-worthiness, and be prepared to go to war. (There's no point in writing offers that don't stand a chance.) Meet with a local Realtor, tour the area, identify the communities that you desire, become familiar with the inventory, track the sales prices, and then commit fully to the process. If you need to sell first in order to purchase, start that process right away: prepare your home for sale, investigate, inspect, and disclose (a real act of commitment) and then make your next move. BTW - while the majority of capable owners can handle many of these steps on their own, aligning yourself with an agent UPFRONT gives him/her the legal capacity to aggressively step in and take on much of the stress buying or selling a home entails. In other words, put an agent to work! (We're more than happy to earn our fee and your trust along the way.)
Hey, I'm here to help you set down roots, meet your goals and take the next step. After many years of practice, I've gotten very good at supporting dreams (that's a mother's job). It's also your Realtor's. Please give me a call.
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.