"I am never planning a vacation again," my husband exclaimed. "There are too many moving parts!"
(Tell me about it. I'm sure it's nothing like renovating an entire house and running several crews simultaneously, while maintaining a very busy practice.)
Ironically, we'd chosen a Bay Area Backroads Bicycle Tourof Normandy and Brittany precisely because they make all the plans; they supply the bikes, set the hotel accommodations, reserve the fine restaurants and the private tours of the battlefields and you simply have to show up prepared to peddle. (Uhhh, right. I'm not sure I'm "road ready" but here we go . . . )
But it's the before and after that have sent my husband sideways. The bicycling adventure and all of the hand holding only lasts five days during the middle of our trip. First, we have to fly to Newark, rent a car, drive four hours, and drop our son off at college in Hamilton, New York and then we've got to make our way back to the city, where we'll spend a few days with our older son, Case, before jumping the pond to France (admittedly, it's a nice problem to have.) After Paris, we make our way by train to the coast to meet up with the rest of the riders and our guides and on day six, we're back on the train headed to Amsterdam. (Poor moi.) All kidding aside, Cliff's been amazing at pulling this together. Honey, thank you. I'd marry you all over again.
With respect to Real Estate, there's always a fair amount of"before" and "after," that takes place as well, as you prepare to plunk down your hard-earned dollars on a new home. Today, I'll focus on the "befores" as the "after" hopefully involves champagne and a sense of relief and success. . .
Before you even begin to work with your local Realtor, you'll want to have a conversation with a mortgage lender to determine how much you qualify for. What you are willing to spend is entirely up to you as everyone has a different comfort level, but understanding what the current lending conditions require and how much money you may borrow, is absolutely key to a successful purchase. In fact, in heavy competition, our lending partners are often the deciding factor between one compelling offer and another.
It should come as no surprise that you'll need to be gainfully employed for more than a few months and have a strong credit history in order to borrow large sums of cash (your FICO score is everything as I remind my 23 year old), but before you meet with a lender, organize your financial papers and gather your old tax returns. You're going to need them.
Other "befores" include: understanding the marketplace beforeyou purchase; reading the disclosures before you sign off and remove those important inspection contingencies; making sure the underwriters have approved your loan before releasing the loan contingency; and moving in before you buy new furniture! (Yikes, don't run up ANY BIG EXPENSES on your charge cards before the loan has funded!)
Before selling, you'll want to purge, paint and prep your home in order to receive top dollar. (That's where I come in.) For many, this is an overwhelming task, especially if you've lived in the home for many years. DO let your Realtor guide you before you decide to paint the master bedroom forest green or navy blue. We'll steer you in the right direction, even if it isn't necessarily yours.
You'll also need to disclose whatever underlying issues may await the next owner before you place the home on the market. If there are glaring issues, you may want to address thesebefore putting the "For Sale" sign in the ground, or savvy buyers will very likely quantify those issues and negotiate them off the price.
Finally, before you begin working with a Realtor to either purchase or sell a home, you want to have a frank discussion about your expectations and your needs. As buying or selling a home is a very personal journey, you should feel comfortable with the person with whom you are placing your trust AND have confidence in him/her before doing so. Remember, we're here to serve your objectives - not the other way around.
In case you haven't noticed, there are more than a few of us Realtors in the game (we're a dime a dozen) and we each have our own style, but we're not necessarily all created equal. As with any profession, there are many different levels of service and care. Chances are you haven't bought or sold a property in several years so you may not even know what your expectations are, or the pertinent questions to ask. That's okay too. There's a definite learning curve to being a Buyer or a Seller and whatever the marketplace, we are here to help. Lay out your concerns and ask away. Before you sign a contract, understand exactly what you Realtor will do for you!
Gosh, I gotta run and pack a bag. Planes, trains, automobiles and bikes? I'll need to take just about everything, including padded shorts before I commit to a bicycle for five days, but I should have some good stories to tell when I return . . .
P.S. I'll be returning on September 8 so will be taking a break from writing The Perspective for a few weeks. In my absence, my assistant, Jill Shortley, will be covering my desk. Jill can be reached at (510) 520-5048 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
My computer is stalking me. It knows I've been on the hunt for wallpaper and lighting so when I showed up this morning at 6:30am to write The Perspective, there was a lovely little prompt on my home page: "New Patterns!" and I was off to the races, spending the first half hour at my desk ordering swatches. (My boss doesn't pay me by the hour so no, I wasn't stealing company time.)
It should probably make me uncomfortable to acknowledge that my computer KNOWS that my home is currently under construction; that I'm in need of attractive bicycle shorts (a misnomer is there ever was one - NOBODY needs to wear shorts that tight); that I don't sleep as much as I use to, and that Cliff, Case, and I are headed to New York to settle Tristan in for the next four years at Colgate and to say good-bye (sigh). Thus, like many newly-minted empty nesters, I'll need to readjust my interests and priorities seeing as both my boys have now growu up, and are on their way. (It was inevitable, I suppose, but it doesn't mean I have to love it.)
So with little invitation, my computer has begun sending me suggestions . . .
Invasive? Possibly. Useful? Absolutely. Hey, I get that it's a little "2001, A Space Odyssey," but I'll gladly trade some loss of privacy for the convenience and direction in its place. (A mother without a child is a bit untethered. Bring on the distractions. As it turns out, I really can look at Pinterest all day.)
With virtually thousands of choices available online, this type of consumer-specific spam is both time saving and time consuming all at once, but more to the point, "it's the new, NEW," as my boss DJ Grubb, is fond of saying. Between our Smart Phones, our I-Pads, and our laptops, we're spending more time in front of our screens than ever before and often our computers are leading the way . . . (Let's face it, our gadgets are much, MUCH smarter than we will ever be.)
As computers pertain to Real Estate, that means that much of our paperwork will come to you via Docusign (a program that's truly changed the way we practice Real Estate); your disclosures will be sent via e-mail; and your hunt will undoubtedly include more time on your favorite search engine than in your car. Property flyers will be sent over the Internet and with respect to my own listings, each property will have it's own dedicated URL. That's as is should be in an ever-changing, evolving world. We want to utilize the gift of the "World Wide Web" and embrace it fully. Spam? Perhaps, but it's only "spam" until it's what you're looking for; then it becomes necessary information.
While I'm still sending The Open Home Guide out to my Buyers on the weekends (old school), it's more likely that my clients will shoot me an email with an inquiry about a house that's "popped" up on their screen well before then. Gone are the days when REALTORS carefully guarded this information and spoon fed their Buyers the properties they felt met their specific criteria. Now YOU are clearly leading the charge. Again, that's as it should be. Your active involvement creates a far more collaborative working relationship and I'm all for that.
However, there's a fine line between a partnership and micromanaging and as a gal, who's been known to micromanage herself (guilty as charged), I'm here to tell you that such a process changes the outcome not one bit, but undoubtedly, adds to the overall stress of the transaction. In fact, we micromanagers tend to get in our own way - well intentioned as we are - with all the baggage that accompanies our fear and trepidation.
"No," we won't need that. (Yes, you do.)
"Nobody's going to really care about . . . (Yes, they will.)
"Why should we agree to that?" (Because it DOES make a difference.)
I get it, this stuff is hard. Our homes don't just represent a roof over our heads, but the culmination of years of memories and experiences. When one hands over one's house to a REALTOR, it's truly an act of faith and trust and I for one, am honored. I know that your home has a story to tell and it's my goal to tell it. It's also my job to deliver the best result which often means, I'll need to change the narrative . . .
Going back to my love of wallpaper, nothing probably dates a house more, as do tiles, and colors (avocado? gold? mauve? They won't do in today's Restoration Renovated muted world.). If your home is very stylized, saturated in color, or highly specific, chances are, I'm going to recommend that we change it, which is why professional staging has become the norm, - and not the exception. When we sell our homes, we need to be willing to let go and neutralize the backdrop so that the next family can place themselves in the house instead of focusing on the memories you've left behind. The family photos of your fantastic trips and your adorable kids are great, but please pack them up for the time being.
Here's the upside. When we truly let go, we get to create NEW PATTERNS, and that's as it should be in an ever-evolving world (whether we like it or not). So please, feel free to offload some of the stress you may be feeling about selling your family home, secure in the knowledge that I have your best interests at heart. Remember, I'm only getting paid when I bring you a satisfactory result (aka: a happy ending) so I have a vested interest as well.
You, me, life, new journeys, and the computer . . . we're all in this together!
How can I help you?
Like many of us in the Bay Area, I've just returned from a brief respite in Tahoe and while the lake was unquestionably low, it's still an incredibly beautiful spot to visit. Frankly, Lake Tahoe is tough to beat when it offers so much in the way of awe-inspiring vistas and activities.
"Let's rent some bikes and clock some miles," my husband Cliff suggested as he excitedly unpacked the tennis rackets and other assorted sports paraphernalia. (Cliff is not a sit-on-the-beach and read-a-novel kind of guy.) The two of us have signed up for a Bay Area Backroads bike tour coming up in a few weeks and I'm a little worried that I won't be able to keep up (not that you're really required to) so Tahoe presented the perfect opportunity for some much-needed practice. Regrettably, it's been too many years since I spent any real time in the saddle and boy, did my body feel it. By day three, I wasn't exactly a happy camper. I could barely sit, let alone peddle that bike. Normandy? Brittany? I gotta say that the van is looking exceedingly more inviting to me than the bicycle right now. (What's with those hard seats anyway?)
Still, the old adage, "it's like riding a bicycle" wasn't just a metaphor in this case, it was my reality as I quickly relearned how to manipulate the gears and navigate the ups and downs. (Hint, it helps to change the gear BEFORE you hit the incline.) I'd grown up in the era of the 10-speed and later did my fair share of mountain biking as a young adult so I'm happy to report that it's true; one never forgets how to ride a bicycle. If I take my time and several breaks along the route, I'm certain I'll manage just fine and really, who can complain about a bike trip on the coast of France? (Not me.)
In analogous 'Piedmont Perspective' fashion, I'd like to say that selling or buying a house is much the same; that we quickly get up to speed and back in gear, but it isn't. The truth is that most people only enter the marketplace once every ten years or so which makes for an uphill ride. Many of you may be out of the market for DECADES and rightfully so; that's the nature of the beast, or as one prospective client exclaimed just this week: "We've never sold a house before . . . so we don't know what to do!" (That's where I come in.)
From new disclosures to swinging market trends, to stricter lender requirements, to changes in Buyer and Seller psychology, unfortunately, Real Estate isn't as easy as learning to ride a bike. In fact, it's far more nuanced and multi-faceted. If you react and change gears while going uphill, it's often too late. Moreover, just because you've traveled that road once or twice before, doesn't necessarily make the journey any easier this time around.
"What went wrong with that listing?" Sellers have been known to inquire, while watching a neighbor's property go sideways and sit far too long without any offers. Sometimes nothing. More often than not, a lot . . . From overpricing, to poor preparation, to poor timing, even today's go, go, GO (!) marketplace can be extremely punitive for those who misstep along the way. (Greed is rarely rewarded in ANY market. )
By way of illustration, I stopped at a FISBO in the Temescal last Sunday (For Sale by Owner) and was reminded of just how easy mistakes can be made and how much CAN indeed go wrong. A tattered "Open Home" sign out on the street was the only obvious marketing, a crabby Seller who seemed less than happy to greet me, a very worn house, a shabby flyer, and then the piece de resistance - an unrealistic listing price to boot! (Wow.) Let me count the ways . . .
"My neighbor's house sold for more than a million dollars," the Seller defensively said, as he handed me the Zillow estimate he'd copied off the Internet. (I hadn't said a word, but my look of amazement must have given me away and btw - while I'm a fan of Zillow, the "Zestimates" are rarely accurate.) This guy was certifiable if he thought the two houses compared in the least. (They didn't.)
"Good for your neighbor," I thought. I'm certain the list price didn't start there. I'm also sure that the house was beautifully staged, clean, well marketed, professionally photographed, available to the public, thoroughly investigated, AND represented by a licensed REALTOR.
As I often point out to my own Sellers when meeting for the first time, great results don't come about by accident, but through careful orchestration and strategic planning. Teamwork, hard work, and thoughtful preparation really shouldn't be underestimated, nor should attractive pricing or an emotionally engaging presentation. (It's ALL about the "value proposition!")
Does that mean we get to control the outcome?
Hardly. . . and any agent that tells you so, would be lying. But it does mean we have a much better shot at procuring a result that reflects the true market value of your lovely home and isn't that the result you are hoping to achieve? Sure, you could get lucky, but I wouldn't count on it. Our Bay Area homes are far too large an investment and the transfer of property is typically, too emotionally charged as well. I wouldn't leave such an important transaction up to chance, nor should you. While buying or selling a home isn't necessarily as easy as hopping on a bike, as with riding a bicycle, Real Estate takes good balance - there are a lot of moving parts and miles and miles to traverse.
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.