"Which color sample do you like?" I asked my husband as we gazed at a color chart and the larger boards our contractor, PJ, had kindly produced. (Who knew stucco had so many options?)
"I like the medium grey sample third from the left and the smoother finish," Cliff opined.
"Me too," I agreed.
(Although between you and me, that smoother finish costs A LOT more money. Of course it does.)
"Not that it matters much," Cliff said, "I know this was just your way of making me feel like I get a vote." (OR what we laughingly refer to in our marriage (for better or worse) as the "Empty Magnanimous Gesture." For short, the "EMG!")
It's the disingenuous offer, offer.
Okay, maybe I'm guilty as charged, but after 25 years of marriage, this semi-transparent social tool has come in handy for us both on more than one occasion.
"Honey, we should invite your mother to join us for dinner."
"She can't, she's got that thing with my brother's family tonight, remember?" (Ah yes.)
"How 'bout we both sneak away from work at noon for a movie?" I"ll text my husband, knowing I really don't have the time, but neither does he.
"That won't work, I've got a mock court commitment in the city today. I told you about it the other day." (Oh right, I forgot, wink, wink.)
And so it goes . . .
Not that Cliff walks higher ground. (He doesn't.) In fact, Cliff considers himself the inventor of the "Empty Magnanimous Gesture," (along with the much-loved "Preliminary Dessert") if not by deed, than by name. (Cliff amuses himself to no end.)
"I can cancel tennis and go to the flea market with you this Sunday if you want me to," he'll kindly offer.
"That's sweet, but you know I'm meeting up with girlffriends this weekend and we are leaving VERY early."
"Oh right, have fun, " Cliff responds, knowing he escaped a bullet as he grabs his racket and heads for the door.
What can I say, the "Empty Magnanimous Gesture" has kept our marriage alive for nearly three decades. It extends a courtesy without having to do anything but extol one's good intentions. Hey, you are welcome to give it a try - my good advice comes at no cost to you.
Still, you'll want to tread lightly when utilizing this ace in the hole. The "Empty Magnanimous Gesture" isn't intended for every occasion and most especially isn't appropriate at the workplace, especially as it pertains to the world of REAL ESTATE.
When it come to Real Estate transactions, Buyers and Sellers should say what they mean and mean what they say, especially in a market that demands much and leaves both sides feeling a little used and abused, to say the very least. Despite the rapid pace (or more precisely, because of it) and precedent-setting results, instability and chaos of any kind tend to breed insecurity and fear . . . which, not surprisingly, can lead to second guessing and less-than-stellar behavior.
Did we sell too quickly? Should we have taken the first offer? Did we pay too much? Where will the market be next year? He wants what? YOU TELL HIM I SAID . . . !!!
In fact, I'd suggest that Buyers and Sellers should bend over backwards for one another to meet the reasonable requests of the other party. Forget common decency and politeness, OR the terms spelled out in the contract, OR the letter of the law, OR what your agent is pleading with you to do(!), Being fair and reasonable to one another just makes practical sense (and cents) when millions of dollars are on the line.
But even if we weren't speaking to six-figure results, the transfer of ownership flows much more smoothly when we extend ourselves to one another. While each party is typically (and ideally) represented by their own REALTOR, buying or selling a home should never be an adversarial process, or you're very likely to see the deal come crashing down around you and NO ONE wants that.
I'll never forget the Buyer who early on in my career, walked away from a purchase because the "vibe was bad" and she didn't want to live in a home with "negative energy." The house had been a difficult sell and once we were in contract, we certainly knew why.
OR the Buyer who walked away when his lovely offer was finally responded to . . . two days later. The Sellers had wanted more and the Buyer might have given it had they simply countered on time. (Folks, there's a reason we put an expiration time and date in an offer. Please pay close attention. )
On the flip side, I've known Sellers who had so endeared themselves to the new Buyers, that when a giant redwood tree needed to be removed almost immediately after moving in (to the tune of several thousand dollars!) the Buyers didn't blink at the unexpected costs, but took on the responsibility as the new stewards for the home. Certainly, this could have resulted in a law suit for "lack of disclosure," but didn't. No one even considered it.
Why not? Because when we behave kindly and respectfully towards one another, no one ever need feel defensive, taken advantage of, or worst of all, 'RIGHT' at any point along the way which makes the hurdles (and there are ALWAYS hurdles) that much easier to jump. When we work together, as opposed to against one another, lovely things can happen - and often do. Cliff honey, I can meet you tonight for that movie. Oh that's right, you're off to see the Yankees play the A's. Ah well, maybe tomorrow.
How can I help you?
"Congratulations, you have been accepted into the Oakland Speaker Series," the email stated, "please send us an updated credit card."
FINALLY! I've been trying to get tickets for the last five years and have been politely rejected each time due to the long waiting list and the process of seniority (of which I have none). Thus, I'd nearly given up all hope at ever securing these highly-coveted seats and consequently, was nicely surprised when I received notification last week that at long last, I had made the cut. Isn't it nice to know that perseverance pays off in the end? (Yes, it is.)
For those of you who've never had the good fortune to attend The Oakland Speaker Series, it's a forum for the nation's most relevant and engaging speakers: former white house staff, retired presidents, world leaders, captains of industry, tech geniuses, policy makers, and your not-so-average newsworthy movers and shakers! Thanks to friends who have graciously invited me when a spare ticket presents, I've rarely ever left an event without feeling that my IQ had just been elevated a point or two.
Man, it's hard work being intellectual . . .
The fact is, that in a market that's increasingly difficult to navigate, being smart about the choices we make, can be a difficult line to walk. Don't tell my broker, but I'm just as often trying to talk my clients OUT of a house, as into one.
At a recent escrow closing, my darling Buyers joked that they were signing the papers, in spite of my frequent protestations (guilty as charged).
In my defense, I know it's your money, your risk, and your decision, but because I've had enough experience to watch the market swing in both directions, I not only need to encourage you to be brave, to give you permission to buy, and to bid aggressively, but to be smart about the choices you make and to consider them carefully. (In the end, these buyers followed their heart, which was really the most persuasive factor.)
I'm not suggesting that now is the time to pull back and get conservative (it isn't IF owning a home is the intended goal) but when you consider a home purchase, you need to look at this investment not only as a Buyer, but as a Seller as well. Thus if you end up paying a premium in a hot, hot, HOT marketplace (and you most likely will) you' wil be far better served IF the home you buy in today's world, has comparable value down the line for the next prospective owner to come.
(Footnote, if you plan on staying in the house 10-20 years, what you pay in today's world is almost irrelevant, BUT if you think it is very likely you will move again in less than five, the price you pay TODAY is HIGLY important.)
Even so, buy high or buy low, you still want to make a smart decision, no matter the purchase. As I explained to one hopeful builder looking for the "bargain buy" - "$10,000 for an unbuildable lot is just expensive dirt."
Or to another: "I know this fixer property seems like a good deal by comparison," my email began, "but beyond a fair amount of space, it's lacking natural light, a good floorplan, a usable yard, and a desirable location. I just don't think there are enough check marks in the plus column to make the savings worthwhile." (Happily, they walked away.)
Which isn't to say that I don't love and encourage a "fixer" purchase - I do (I'm the queen of fixers; renovationriptide.com) but that smart Buyers select the TLC home with clarity and care and at the very least, a "fixer" home should start with good bones because renovation is exceedingly expensive under the best of circumstances (take it from one who knows) AND rarely pencils out unless you're a professional flipper by trade.
Conversely and under much different circumstances, I have no problem fighting for a house and challenging my Buyers as to their concept of "value" when appropriate, and have often done so!Given that I have tracked the market for years on end - not weeks - it's a fair bet that I have a better sense of where a home will ultimately trade and where the current market value lies.
"I'm going to encourage you to bid more as I believe this home is well worth it and here's why. . ."
However, whether a "fixer" or a "turn-key" opportunity, the old adage, "location, location, location" has never been more true, but with one interesting, new caveat - upcoming and transitioning neighborhoods may in fact, provide the greatest value in upside potential and future returns. As an example, The Temescal neighborhood in Oakland is enjoying an unprecedented boom in property values that only a few short years ago would have been unimaginable. "Walk-to," commuter neighborhoods such as these are highly, HIGHLY desirable and in much demand.
So how do I know what's worth pursuing and what isn't?
The "value proposition" of any home is ultimately up to you (not me). For some it's a bay view, for others it's public transportation and for still others, it's good public schools; the value and worth of one's home are as varied as the properties themselves, but this does brings us to the discussion of 'inherent' vs. 'correctable' flaws that I am asking you to carefully consider . . .
Starting with the premise that NO home is perfect, let's acknowledge that a home that sits on the BART line is ever thus (inherent flaw), but a home that is short a master bathroom might reasonably rectify that shortcoming with relative ease (correctable flaw).
Ugly paint colors and old carpet? That's a no brainer and a relatively cheap fix. (Correctable!)
Lack of light? Skylights, windows, and tree trimming might be your answers. (Correctable.)
A wonky floorplan? A good architect is a powerful ally as long as you have space to work with. (Correctable.)
No yard? That may be tougher. If the lot drops away, you may be limited to decks, but if there's land to be grabbed, think front or side courtyards, moving a fence, or building strategic retaining walls. Yes, creating a yard by moving the earth is doable, but it's a sizable investment to be sure. (Maybe correctable, maybe not.)
Fifty stairs to the front door? Sorry, you'll need strong thighs and a hearty soul. Short of an elevator, that's nearly an impossible fix. (Inherent.)
"But Julie, we're going to live in our home forever."
Okay then, problem solved.
Listen, all homes - no matter their flaws - sell under the right circumstances and gratefully, nearly everything is trading with multiple offers in today's marketplace. But just because you've lost a home, or two, or three, OR four . . . avoid the temptation to get seduced into a purchase that's going to be expensive or difficult to either "fix" or sell down the road should the market shift.
When it comes to your home purchase - with patience, diligence and perseverance, we are going to find the right "fit." I'm certain of it. While it may be difficult to believe so after losing a house you had your heart set upon, there will absolutely be another option soon and more often than not, it proves the better choice. Let's play it smart!
How can I help you?
"Give me five sets of jump rope, 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off." Dave instructed.
"Head over here for jump squats, 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off," he commanded.
"Now, hit the floor and do five sets of modified burpees, 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off!" A sadistic exercise if there ever was one. (I think Dave likes his job too much.)
Can I just say that modified or not, I REALLY hate those things and 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off sounds really easy until you hit round three and then those last two sets turn your legs into rubber. Frankly, burpees are for younger bucks with sculpted abs, not middle-aged women who just want their waistlines back.
Stoically, I complied with his directions even though I have to admit that my best jump roping days were in grammer school. (that's right, I ruled at recess!) But here's the good part, after each exercise, Dave walked over to the chalkboard and made a check mark by each completed callisthenic!
After several months of working out together, Dave, a former track star and Cal graduate, has figured out that I'm a gal who's motivated by a list. I love the organization of it, the way it clarifies the tasks at hand and especially, the check marks as I get each event accomplished and head toward the last.
"Do you sometimes put things on your list, you've already completed just to check them off?" my husband, Cliff teased.
"Yes," I admitted, "I do!"
"So do I?" he laughed. (Clearly, I'm not the only nutcake in the family.) There's something incredibly satisfying about the tangibility of those check marks on so many levels. The days I like BEST are the ones when I get everything checked off with time to spare. (Say what?)
What's a typical list look like for a Relator on a daily basis?
Today's list begins with:
It's jammed packed to be sure, but gratefully, I don't work alone. I have fantastic support from my own assistant, in addition to the dedicated in-house staff here at The GRUBB Co., which is why last night, we gathered together to show them our love and appreciation with a man-pedi, cocktail party. (They earned it - especially the cocktails!)
However, my list pales in comparison to the checklist I received yesterday from my clients' mortgage lender, which seems nearly insurmountable by comparison. Unless you're like my OCD dad (a Quicken aficionado) you're going to have to start digging through your files to quickly gather the necessary documentation a bank requires in order to fund a loan!
For those of you who are self-employed (and I share your pain) the requirements to simply qualify for a loan are nothing short of Herculean and far more stringent than for those who collect a W-2 on a regular basis. Long gone are the days of "stated income" and so they should be, but truly, getting a loan is no laughing matter.
You want what?
In order to avoid their previous mistakes and in what may be an over swing of the pendulum, lenders have created new ways to extract a pound of flesh. They're not exactly burpees per se, but they're the financial equivalent. In addition to the reasonable inquires, you'll need to answer questions like, "Where did this $35 deposit come from?" (Really?) and "Did you know you paid your gas card late? (No, I didn't.)
Try not to get flustered. It's the PROCESS and entirely unavoidable unless you're an ALL-CASH Buyer. But even if you are, you're going to probably put a loan into place after you close escrow to take advantage of cheap money and the work will be much the same. If a loan is what you seek, you'll need to bare down, take a deep breath and just dig in.
Hey, there's a reason I work on this side of the transaction and NOT on the lending or escrow end where the paperwork is just too cumbersome for even my controlling personality, but I'll happily refer you to an excellent mortgage lender who will walk you through this process from beginning to end, so that's one item down. Go ahead, check it off your list. Doesn't that feel great?
How can I help you?
Forget the challenges on Survivor. You know, the ones where the scantily clad contestants have to swim out to a buoy, dive for sunken puzzle pieces, scramble back to the shore while tied to one another, navigate eight million knots, and then solve the jigsaw in order to raise the flag and win immunity for their team?!?
Granted, that's difficult to be sure, but it's got nothing on the challenge of trying to put my 89 year-old mother-in-law's freshly laundered, too tight, white slipcover back on her couch - while she looks on and gives directions!
"The seams aren't lined up correctly," she insists, "they're supposed to run straight across the front."
"It's pooling right there, try and smooth that wrinkle out on the arm."
"My cleaner in San Rafael would have done a better job."
"My housekeeper could whip these on in a minute and a half. She never had any trouble . . ."
And so it went until at long last, the job was completed to her satisfaction. For a gal with cataracts, she sure sees A LOT!
Hey, where's the "slip" in slipcover anyway?
My sister, Jill, and I pulled, pushed, prodded and manipulated those damn cushion covers (and their seams) into place for nearly 40 minutes before all was right with the world. Not since wrestling with a wet suit that was two sizes too small, have I experienced anything so difficult to squeeze into. (Actually, getting the wetsuit OFF after the dive was just as bad, but I was in my 20s back then and had more stamina.) In other words, it wasn't easy. But whether its a slipcover or something more daunting, there are persistant household chores that need attention on a regular basis. Following are just a few action items to keep in mind as you look around the house. Granted, these seem like no brainers, but it's precisely because they are "no brainers," that they are often overlooked and taken for granted as if they'll somehow get accomplished on their own. (They won't.)
1) Let's just start with light bulbs. If your house has grown dark, it may be as simple as burned-out bulbs. Replace with new energy efficient ones and they'll have a much longer life and you'll need to pull out the ladder less frequently.
2) Change the filters twice a year in your HVAC system. Some people never change these and as the air in your home is filtering though them, it's a task that's not only well worth your time but significantly improves the air quality of your home. This really is a "no brainer."
3) Change the batteries in your smoke and CO detectors annually - unless you now have the new 10-year detectors.
4) Clear the gutter of debris at least once a year. You'll need to do this more often if you have large trees above your roof line as I do.
5) Power wash pathways and exterior surfaces as needed. Bricks, especially, can become mossy and slick over the winter and slippery pathways are dangerous!
6) Wash windows inside and out. Nothing feels as fresh as sparkling windows. Frankly, I'd do this quarterly if the budget allows.
7) Caulk cracks in and around the shower as they appear. Water does more damage than anything else to a house. Small cracks in the grout can add up to thousands in repairs left unattended. This is a classic example of how an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
8) Touch up and paint as needed. Hallways really should be repainted every few years as they take the heaviest beating but painting a room is very affordable and delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
9) Remove dead plants and mulch beds in the fall and spring. Few chores are as rewarding as the garden which gives back in spades with new growth and colorful blooms and mulch is the botox of the garden!
10) Vacuum out the lint in your dryer vent. This is the number one cause of home fires in America.
11) Purge your closets and donate any unused, unworn or unwanted items so that clutter doesn't begin to rule your home. Anything your children have outgrown can find better use elsewhere.
12) Consider a pest or home inspection on a tri-annual basis. If you catch small problems early on, they won't become BIG, unwelcome surprises later on.
AND if you really want to get your "TO DO" list accomplished, throw a party and hire a handyman prior to the big date. We've become so specialized that these fairly basic chores aren't so basic for many people (like my husband) but trust me, nothing gets you moving quite as quickly as inviting guests over, and believe me, a good handyman is cheaper than a marriage counselor by far!
So short of wrestling with your slipcovers, how can I help you?
"Wow," was my first thought. Who are the flowers for?
"They're for you," our receptionist, Mario, said; a big smile across his face.
Silly me, it hadn't registered AT ALL that my husband, Cliff, had actually ordered and sent this abundant bouquet (although it should have) to honor our 25th wedding anniversary. It's such a rare romantic gesture on his part that honestly, I'm more likely to get flowers from a satisfied client than from my spouse on any given day. We're both too guilty of taking one another for granted (especially after 25 years).
That's clearly been a mistake.
"A rose for every year," the card read.
Okay, I was shooting for diamonds (I've definitely earned them) but that's a lovely sentiment and I'll happily accept this beautiful bouquet with great gratitude. Hey, who knew Cliff could be so sentimental when the mood struck? Thank you, honey, I'm deeply touched that you went out of your way to acknowledge this very special day. I've truly been "lucky in love."
I have to say that twenty-five years has literally flown by, and I, for one, am looking forward to the next 25, especially now that you've learned to do the laundry and shop for groceries. (Can I say, that you've never been more attractive to me?) As it turns out, you can teach an old dog, new tricks.
When I look back, I'm proud of the things we've accomplished together (house, kids, dogs . . .) AND I'm excited about what's to come (house, GRAND KIDS, dogs . . .) but whatever the journey, I know we're in this together and that there's bound to be a lot of laughter along the way. (Just for the record boys, we're not in a hurry for those grandchildren anytime soon.)
How's this all relate to real estate, you're asking yourself? Isn't this about where Julie segues into some pithy comparison or literary metaphor ("A rose by any other name . . .")?
It doesn't really, but I wanted to gush just a little. However, if I were to draw upon my own experience as a homeowner and serial renovator these pass 25 years, there are a few lessons that stand out with respect to the world of home ownership that I will happily pass along . . .
1) Buying a home is an emotional journey - not a pragmatic one.
2) Although buying a home may seem like a "forever" purchase, it isn't. The average homeowner moves every 5-7 years and the average individual will move 11.7 times in their lifetime. (I'm clearly ahead of the curve.)
3) Besides our children, nothing is truly permanent - not even our homes. Feel free to change the paint, hang wallpaper, remodel the kitchen, and open walls if you see fit. It's your house; make it so. You've earned the right and it's one of the best things about home ownership, as opposed to renting. YOU get to decide!
4) No matter the price point, you are going to want to change something about the house. This is AS true for the $500,000 condominium as it is for the $5,000,000 estate. Stop expecting perfection (no matter the price); it doesn't exist. Homes evolve as lives evolve, and so they should. Make yours a reflection of you.
5) For the majority of us, our homes are our single largest investment, but even if it that isn't true for you (lucky dog), DO take care of this valuable asset. There's simply too much at stake to allow your home to deteriorate over time and remember - "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
6) Truth? Not everyone is meant to own a home. If you don't like the responsibilities that go along with owning and caring for a property, paying taxes, and updating as needed - RENT. It's perfectly acceptable to enjoy traveling more than mowing a lawn. (Most of us do!) If we're truly fortunate, we get to do both.
7) The rest of the world aspires to home ownership. Aren't you fortunate to live in a country that not only honors this concept, but gives you a tax deduction for it? (Yes, you are.) Take advantage of this enticing government-subsidized bonus; it's the only one we receive courtesy of Uncle Sam.
8) Buy high or buy low, in the end it matters very little over
T I M E ! Worry less about what it costs to buy and more about what it costs to carry. (Remember, you're working with leveraged money as opposed to your own valuable dollars.) Today's interest rates are at historical lows.
9) The ONLY time to worry about the value of your home is when you go to sell it! The rest of the time, it matters NOT AT ALL! While markets go up and down, correct and rebound, wax and wane, homes are tangible assets.
10) Love your home, but don't treat it like a museum. The loveliest of domiciles aren't worth much if friends don't gather together to break bread, to celebrate, to share a moment, to make a memory and to dance and sing. No, homes aren't worry free. Like a good marriage, they require time and attention and a fair amount of TLC and sure, there may be a few thorns along the way, but how else can you get a rose? (Ahhh, you knew I'd get there.)
How can I help you?
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.