"Mom, you'll never believe what I'm doing," the young man earnestly said into the telephone. "I'm gardening at The AIDS Grove in San Francisco with my friend, Cory."
Beat . . . "No I didn't get arrested, I volunteered!" he shouted back in exasperation. I chuckled, imagining his mother's incredulity on the other end of the line, her mouth hanging wide open. We don't necessarily expect our teens and young adults to willingly give up their weekends to pull weeds and spread mulch when they would undoubtedly prefer the warmth of a bed and a few extra hours of sleep instead.
No wonder she thought her son was fulfilling some mandatory community service requirement imposed by the courts. Who volunteers on Saturday mornings without so much as a gentle (or a firm) push? So much for assumptions.
"Assume nothing," a very wise mentor once told me, "and you'll never be disappointed."
That's a heavy bill to fill and probably unrealistic, but I get her point and it's valid. The "assumptions" we make often lead to expectations that usually aren't, or can't, be met. (For example, I assume my son, Tristan is going to unload the dishwasher and he assumes it will eventually get done by itself. Hmmm . . . ) Moreover, our "assumptions" often aren't true. So, the less we assume and the more we explicitly define our expectations, the better off all parties will be. Agreed? (Agreed.)
Lately, I've been running into a LOT of assumptions with respect to Real Estate from both Buyers and Sellers. Buyers expect the market to make good sense and Sellers expect to get what they want. In both cases, they are often disappointed while I'm left to explain that not every house is receiving multiple offers; that negotiation is part-and-parcel of every transaction; that the winning bids don't necessarily align with the rest of the marketplace; that Bay Area sales don't reflect the rest of the nation (or even the state); and that it is the exceedingly rare escrow that goes off without a hitch.
Suffice it to say, that if you EXPECT a blip along the way, you will be much more likely (and willing) to roll with the punches as they come (that's the ONE assumption I'll concede.) This isn't to say that every transaction is fraught with unexpected difficulties, but the truth is that most home sales require quite a bit of work that needs to be navigated beyond the accepted offer.
For every email, text, or phone call you receive from your Realtor, chances are, several others have been generated between the relevant parties behind the scenes. We aren't just working with you, we are coordinating the responsibilities of your lender, the appraiser, the inspectors, the Agent on the other side, his or her Broker, our individual transaction coordinators, the escrow & title officers; etc., (just to name a few). If there are "fixes" to address prior to the close of escrow, add in vendors and contractors as well. Phew, it's a lot to juggle!
In addition, we are often dealing with misunderstandings, complaints, and surprises, after the close of escrow that require tremendous diligence as well. Our jobs don't stop once the final papers are signed. (Often that's the most challenging part of our jobs.)
Try and understand that to a certain extent, those spinning plates are NORMAL. Both Buyers and Sellers have "expectations" that they would like met, especially if the Buyer feels they paid a premium for the property and the Seller feels they got less than they anticipated. (Market realities can be a real disconnect for them both.) It all goes back to assumptions once again. In other words, set aside your expectations and assumptions and you'll be better served.
Try not to get attached to what doesn't work and instead, focus on what does. The more amenable we make ourselves to the changes that come about and the more we focus on solutions as opposed to obstacles, the more likely we will be to reach the close of escrow in harmony and with a positive result.
That being said, "Tristan, this is your mother speaking. Please unload the dishwasher and start a load of laundry before you leave." How's that for harmony? (I'm done making assumptions.)
Howdy! We're back from vacation, having just visited our elder son at the HF Bar in Wyoming, where Case has hitched his wagon for the summer as a seasonal employee at one of the oldest dude ranches in the West. The HF Bar Ranch has been in operation since the early 1900s and sits on more than 8,000 pristine acres that back up to the beautiful Big Horn Mountains.
Having spent last summer at home, Case was determined to try something "out of the box," this year instead, so signed on as a part of the grounds crew where he's responsible for a whole host of chores that he's never attempted at our home here in Piedmont. From slopping pigs, to mowing lawns, to making ice, to chopping wood, Case is spending countless hours unplugged from technology and learning how to work with his hands. (Gee, there's a concept. Yee haw!) In short, these visiting college kids are kept purty darn busy tending to the guests, the animals and the property at large.
I had never been to an official "dude ranch" (or an unofficial one for that matter) nor have I ever explored Big Sky country, so visiting Case was an opportunity too good to pass up. While the "wild, wild west" may not be so "wild" any longer, it's still pretty untamed by most people's standards. It's also quite majestic. Our well-appointed log cabin was perched alongside a meandering stream and the views of the pastures and hills beyond were incredibly inspiring. It wasn't hard to imagine that herds of buffalo once roamed this bountiful land as Native Americans on horseback followed in hot pursuit.
Each morning after breakfast, we novice "dudes" broke into small groups and took long rides into the nearby mountains and Ponderosa forests. Accompanied by an experienced "wrangler," who safely steered us through rocky creeks and steep mountain trails, we got to experience first hand, the environment in ways we never would have otherwise. Riding the range is second nature to these cowboys and cowgirls where there seems to be unlimited room to roam.
"Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day . . ."
For us, it was strange new territory. City Slickers that we are, Cliff, Tristan and I haven't really been near a horse since the pony rides at the Marin Farmers' Market when the boys were "youngins," and since I'm no Annie Oakley, and Cliff isn't exactly the Sundance Kid, horseback riding isn't second nature to any of us. So let me just admit it here and now that learning to trot and gallop in time with these large, graceful animals was a challenge for us (although I think it was much tougher for Cliff - Ouch!). "Watch the left shoulder," our wrangler instructed us with a pronounced cowboy twang. "When yur horse's left foot goes forward, you want to purty much be standin' up in yur saddle before comin' down in time with the next step."
Okay, that's easier said than done.
Maybe you need an actual cowboy hat to play the part instead of a Yankee's cap? (Apologies to Pam and Larry Baer.) But with some practice, we eventually got it right (well, sort of). Suffice it to say, that when one gets off rhythm, it hurts! That's not unlike our current activity here in the Bay Area, which seems to have a rhythm that's tough to read as well. Get out-of-step, and you're going to pay the price, either by missing out on opportunities that should have been yours, or misjudging the timing altogether (in which case, it's gonna hurt! )
Experienced wrangler or novice rider alike, it's nearly impossible to determine "value" in this quickly escalating marketplace, OR to keep pace . . . So if those of us with years of experience are struggling with the tectonic changes, how then, does the average consumer correctly anticipate the often surprising results? In other words, it's kind of like trying to rope a steer. Shucks, it ain't easy. Unfortunately, last week's sales don't necessarily determine this week's results. OR in cowboy parlance, if you really want the house, ya gotta 'pony up' pard'ner!
Between you and me, it would be a whole lot easier for both of us if this were a matter of simple math; a balance sheet of pluses and minuses that factored out to a neat little conclusion, but that's not the way a market predicated on "supply and demand" works. When there's a whole lot MORE demand, than supply (as there is now) it's a lot more like the Wild, Wild, West!
"But we don't want to overpay for the house."
Nobody wants to "overpay," but if several other offers are competing with yours, pardon me, but you didn't "overpay," you paid what the market would bear. With the understanding that markets move up and down, and that they can (and d0) correct, you can only work in the market in which you are in. (BTW - the concept of "overpaying' is only a consideration once a market adjusts.) When setting an offer price in today's world, it's important to factor in the time you'll likely be staying in the home . . . If you are planning on being in it for years, what you pay today is almost irrelevant. On the other hand, if this is a short-term play, then buying"value" is going to be very key. Got it? Good.
Now Saddle Up and Ride! "Home, Home on the range . . ."
"I still fondly think of our runs through the Presidio and Land's End every time I smell Eucalyptus," my friend Traci said. Traci and I hadn't seen each other in many years - she, having moved to the East Coast with her growing family,while I migrated across the bridge to the East Bay with mine.
Traci and I had met at an audition for the Town School musical in San Francisco (a fundraiser for the boys' elementary school) long before college tours were part of our vernacular, and we had immediately bonded. After the play wrapped, we cemented our friendship with long morning runs, while the kids were firmly ensconced in school, learning Latin or something else they'd later hold against us.
That was 13 years ago, but it seems like only yesterday . . . . Traci had texted me that she'd be visiting SF briefly on business and I was determined to see her before she returned to Greenwich so I zipped over the bridge on Saturday afternoon to meet up with her, her brother-in-law's family, and the 12-year-old twins she gave birth to after moving away. (Time flies!)
We met up at the Hilton rooftop swimming pool off Union Square where they had booked a room and were all splashing in the water. Amazingly, after five children, Traci was wearing a bikini and is still as stunning as ever! (I'm trying not to hold that against her.) In fact, it was almost as if no time had passed, but of course, it had. We hugged and laughed and quickly caught up on the story of our lives and our kids' journeys while the fog crept in and the sweatshirts came out. (San Francisco summers - remember to pack a coat!)
Her oldest son, Tyler, has just graduated from Trinity, while Case is away working for the summer at a Dude Ranch in Wyoming before returning for his Junior year of at the U of A. Her daughter, Isabelle, who was Tristan's playmate at Fairyland when they were just three, is now volunteering at an orphanage in Africa this summer, while Tristan is eagerly awaiting his driver's test before heading off to his last year at Camp Augusta. (Sadly, he'll age out this year at 16.) It's all going by in a flash. Life has a way of moving very fast!!!
This is especially true with respect to the Real Estate Market here in the Bay Area in general, and in Piedmont specifically, where homes seem to be trading at lightning fast speeds (11 days on average!) and often, with multiple offers as well. That's not the case everywhere. In fact, it's not the reality in most places.
While in Tahoe last week, I took the opportunity to see a few homes on the lake (yes, even on vacation, I'm interested in real estate - much to my husband's chagrin) and saw several properties that have been on the market for more than two years (now that's a long-term commitment). Granted, these are second homes so the pace is going to be dramatically different, but even so, I think it's fair to say that the practice of Real Estate here in Piedmont is a decidedly different animal from may other cities and towns across America, and even those here in California. (You might expect we'd be a "go, go, GO!" community when you live in a Hamlet where the lawn chairs start lining the street several days before the Fourth of July parade actually happens.) Piedmonters are red, white and true blue!
And once getting into contract, time moves faster still. With 30 days or less to typically close the transaction and vacate, you will want to quickly check off your "To Do" list in short order. (Remember your timelines begin as soon as the purchase offer is accepted and ratified!)
As the Buyer, that includes completing ALL inspections, meeting any new lender conditions, removing any and all contingencies, obtaining homeowners' insurance (you cannot take title without it) contacting a moving company, packing up your household, changing your address, transferring utilities, obtaining loan documents, signing escrow papers, funding, recording, and then taking title. Whew!
As the Seller, many of your responsibilities are the same with respect to packing, cleaning, moving, signing escrow papers, etc., but instead of loan docs, you will have pay-off demands from the lien holders who currently hold your mortgage and equity lines. You'll need to make your home available to the Buyers for any inspections they require which may result in a request for repairs or a deduction in price. (Hmmm . . .) Additionally, Buyers often ask for a final walk-through with the Sellers for a tutorial on the working components of the house (sprinklers, alarms, heater, etc.), prior to the close of escrow. While you won't be scrambling to meet the timelines the way the Buyers undoubtedly will, your pressure may come from finding a replacement property to move into - if you haven't yet done so, and that's no easy task. Take it from me, it all goes by in a whirl.
BUT you want it to. When it doesn't, it's typically because the sale has run into difficulties either with the inspections, renegotiations, unrecorded easements, or with the loan itself (but that's another topic for another day). Today you've sold your house and the sooner it closes, the better.
Congratulations. Now go enjoy the parade. You've earned the right to rest - just for a few moments at least. Tomorrow you'll be packing once more.
Happy Fourth of July!
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.