Scratch, scratch, scratch. An unfamiliar noise had abruptly woken me from my sleep. There was a deeply disturbing ruckus emanating from inside the wall. Scratch, scratch, scratch . . .
"Cliff - wake up." I urgently whispered; poking my sleeping husband in the ribs. "There's something in the kitchen."
"What?" he mumbled, still in a stupor. "Can't you hear that? " I said. "I think it's a mouse - or a rat - or maybe a raccoon." (This uninvited guest was getting bigger by the second.) Silence. "Cliff." (poke, poke) "Cliff!
"What do you expect me to do about it?" came the sleepy reply.
I was clearly getting nowhere fast. To be fair, my husband was in a deep Vicodin-induced coma, having gone to bed right after dinner with a painful toothache (a root canal was definitely in his impending future). Still, I was stone-cold sober and sleep wasn't returning to me any time soon what with the unwelcome critter gnawing away inside the walls of our home. Scratch, scratch, scratch . . . Whatever it was, the noise was growing more insistent. Scratch, scratch, scratch. "Cliff!" (Snore.) Jeez, who sleeps through a crisis?
PLAN B . . .
"Buck!" I whispered to my slumbering dog fast asleep on the couch at the foot of our bed. "Buck, come!" (No response. An unfortunate pattern was developing.) "Buck!" Grabbing the bedside flashlight and dragging my poor pooch off the sofa, we tip-toed into the kitchen together, my frightened dog in the unwilling lead.
Scratch, scratch, scratch . . . "GRRRRRR." The hair on the back of Buck's spine stood straight up. This was getting downright creepy. Thinking fast, I grabbed a broom from the closet (I needed a gun) turned on the lights and banged on the cupboard doors, hoping to scare the darn thing away away while Buck barked in chorus. That should do it. Scratch, scratch, scratch . . . $%*&I$!!! The only scared occupants were the dog and me and whatever the hell it was, it sounded as if it was building a freakin' timeshare for its relatives (I've heard of carpenter ants, but carpenter rats?) SCRATCH! SCRATCH! SCRATCH! . . . Buck turned tail and took off for the safety of the bedroom. Now it was just me and the rodent. Code red. Time to battle.
PLAN C . . .
Scouring under the kitchen sink, I pushed aside the Pledge and grabbed the can of Raid, two mouse traps, a box of rat poison and four tar strips and strategically placed them throughout the kitchen, under the stove, on the counter and in the cupboard. This was war. (It takes what it takes.) Sorry PETA, there's a mouse in my house! While I would have liked to resolve this outcome differently, when Plan A doesn't work and Plan B goes by the wayside, you have to regroup and move on to Plan C. In other words, life demands a great deal of flexibility.
So does Real Estate. Often a buyer won't get the first house they bid on, nor the second. There is an educational progress that takes place while buyers learn the ropes. Sometimes, this takes losing a few houses before buyers truly understand the process, or frankly, are ready to place a winning bid that outstrips the competition.
Sometimes, it is worthwhile to formulate a few positions on a single home, based on the level of interest in the property and on the motivation of the seller. As emotional as buying a home is for buyers, selling a home is often more so from the seller's point of view and it is important to recognize how strongly their emotions and expectations play into the final calculations. For sellers, it is rarely a simple mathematical equation - even when the market might demand it.
Is this a family home? How long have they owned it? Did they do work on the house? Is this an inherited property? Where are they headed? Why are they selling? In short, what are the seller's motivations? And how badly do you, the buyer, want the home? Sometimes, it takes what it takes.
So look at all your options, make the most of what you have, prepare accordingly, stay flexible and then attack! Or to quote the poet, Ogden Nash from his book, Zoo -
"You get a wife,
You get a house,
Eventually, you get a mouse . . ."
That about sums it up, although I might have reversed it to say: You get a wife, you get a mouse, Eventually you'll get a house!
There are moments, I will admit, when even I am more than willing to throw in the towel on homeownership. (Yes, even me!) Last weekend, was one of those rare lapses. Seizing upon a few hours of free time I decided to trim the camellia bushes that had grown above the roof line of our home. I retrieved the extension ladder from the storage shed and promptly set to work. With heavy garden shears and loppers in hand, I navigated the steep ladder and began to work from the underside of the shrub, which quickly proved to be both frustrating and inefficient.
"Wouldn't this be easier from above?" I thought to myself, climbing the last few rungs of the ladder and pulling my tools up and on to the shake shingles - never mind the rubber gardening clogs; they would have to suffice. Of course, once there, I discovered that the roof was heavily littered with oak branches, pine needles, acorns and a few errant tennis balls the boys had misfired while playing catch with our Labrador retriever, Buck. Moreover the rain gutters were completed impacted with debris. This just wouldn't do. (We've already had our first light rain of the season so there was no time to lose.) This is the point at which any sane person (or right thinking middle age woman) aborts the mission and calls in someone much younger (and more spry) to complete this daunting task - for instance, my teenage son who claims he wants to earn some "extra money." But NO . . . the aforementioned teen was nowhere to be found and clearly, I was looking for immediate results!
Grabbing the electric blower, I attached my longest extension cord to the plug and then spent the next hour and a half bent over those damn gutters, clearing out the gunk, while thinking some very unkind thoughts about my husband who had quietly sneaked off to watch the U.S. Tennis Open -names that can't be repeated here. (Cliff is either smart enough or oblivious enough to avoid my "most productive" moments and he often responds by making himself scarce.)
Here's the thing I discovered last Saturday afternoon (and I'm sharing it with you - free of charge) climbing UP a ladder is A LOT easier than climbing down! With evening falling, a huge amount of dirt and debris littering the patio bricks below, and no one at the bottom to hold the ladder in place, I was having a very difficult time figuring out just how to step backwards onto this deathtrap without slipping (I now regretted those clogs); visions of a broken leg, or worse yet, a broken neck, swirled prominently through my brain.
"Cliff!" I yelled.
"Cliff! I need help!"
"CLIFF, I'M STRANDED!!" (My volume was increasing exponentially.)
Cl-i-if!!!" (Now he was in BIG trouble; his name had gone from one syllable to three . . .) I was literally stomping on the roof, unsuccessfully trying to get his attention. The whole neighborhood had surely heard my desperate pleas - except my errant husband (par for the course).
Silence. Dead air. NO RESPONSE! (Here is where I began cursing under my breath, reconsidering the joys of homeownership - and to be quite frank - the joys of marriage.)
I had two choices: I could either stay up on that darn roof until my son discovered me long about dinner time OR make a decision to descend (this wasn't Mount Everest after all - just my roof). Nothing to do but take a breath, turn around and back down. And to my great relief, the ladder didn't move, didn't slide and didn't budge, and my unfounded fears of broken bones didn't materialize either. (And happily, Cliff arrived with barbecue in hand so while he doesn't sweep, he does cook!)
How's this all relate to real estate? Well, here's what I think. Many of you have tough decisions to make and the outcome is very often unknown. Whatever you are facing, whatever fears you are projecting, in all likelihood, the reality is something altogether very different. Sometimes, our fears are nothing more than our disjointed perceptions; they have little to do with what is really going on, or to be more accurate, what we think is going on. Take a breath and proceed . . .
The media excels at reporting stories full of doom and gloom and negative headlines almost always result in temporarily dampening any momentum the market has gained. But look behind most of these stories, put them into context, and you will find little real change in today's market vs. last year's. In fact, our activity is fairly typical for this time of year - and so is our market. Yes, you should proceed with care and diligence, but you should also keep the market in perspective. Certainly, before taking any risks (like stranding yourself on a roof) make sure to gather relevant and material information from sources you trust, create a plan that makes sense and meets your needs, listen to your inner voice, weigh the pros and cons carefully, and then put your ladder in place with facts - instead of assumptions or hearsay - and you will very likely, avoid unintended "risks" from the start. Whether the journey is up or down, a thought-out and well-executed plan of action is likely to hold you in good stead and keep you safe!
It's spider season. (Have you noticed?) All of a sudden these small furry arachnids are everywhere and taking advantage of any opportunity to nest. I mistakenly left my car's passenger side window down the other day and came back one hour later to find a perfectly formed web in its place. Sweeping the spider aside, I watched it crawl over to the flower bed where it would undoubtedly, begin again, to spin a new home. Many of us, are a lot like these industrious spiders, creating and recreating "webs" time and time again, as the seasons allow.
I'll be recreating my own home this fall,with the creative talents of my good friend and architect, Piedmont resident, Ahmad Mohazab, and my favorite contractor, Ben Rogne (who has capably overseen our last five home renovations). We will put out collective brains, skills, and experience together, to weave an attractive web in which Cliff and I will nest for several years to come. In preparation, I have been purging closets, cupboards and whole rooms, as I ready the lower floor for demolition, which is scheduled to take place in the next few weeks. It's a process I clearly enjoy as Cliff and I have remodeled every home we have purchased during the last twenty years - hopefully for the better (this will be our fifth!).
Happily, for a REALTOR, I'm not the only spider out there. Lots of you enjoy it too, purposely choosing homes in need of major renovations from the foundations to the roofs and moving more than once. For others, kitchen and bathroom remodels are the extent of your desire to upgrade your home, while still others prefer to move into what we in the business describe as "turn-key" and stay happily ensconced forever. Even those of you who insist on obtaining the "perfect" home, will more than likely change the color of the paint and open up a room or two as your needs and lifestyles dictate. (The nursery becomes a home office and the basement a media room and wine cellar . . . ).
I think we are all a little hardwired to leave a unique imprint within our own four walls and to reflect our own creative styles. I'm not a spider expert (an arachnologist) by any means. In fact, I am a bit creeped out when I find these hairy arthropods in the bathroom shower (in the bushes outside - no, in the shower inside - yes). But I wonder if spider webs aren't slightly unique to each spider, much like the human fingerprint? Certainly, the structure has to be fairly dependent and attuned to the surrounding foliage (or window frame for that matter). With respect to our homes, the environment often plays a key role in dictating the type of house that works best. Thus homes in the southwest are low to the ground to offset the heat while homes in the mountains have steep pitched roofs to counteract the weight of the snow. Here in the Bay Area, where the weather is fairly temperate, we're not limited by the whims of Mother Nature, so you'll see every kind of architectural style in our marketplace. (Lucky us!)
Still, it's fair to say that some homes are inherently more unique than others. The "track" home in Modesto doesn't quite lend itself as easily to a reinvention as the turn-of-the-century Traditional in San Francisco, Piedmont or Berkeley. However, desires come in all shapes and sizes (as do webs). There is, and always will be, a solid audience for the well-appointed home, whether it is a stately Traditional, a sophisticated Contemporary, a worldly Mediterranean, a storybook Tudor, a historic Victorian, or the much-coveted Brown Shingle. As long as your home is thoughtfully designed, your choices are fairly mainstream (avoid purple tiles please) and the decisions make sense, from a utilitarian perspective, you are sure to capture interested buyers in whatever "web" you weave.
Spider Trivia: All Spiders produce silk, but not all spiders spin webs (That's a bit like people as well. Everyone needs a home to live in, but not everyone will buy one.) Ahmad can be reached at Ahmad@tecta.com .
"What tree is that?" I asked my dad. "That's peach, " he replied
How 'bout that one? I said.
"And those?" I asked.
"Apple," he responded, matter-of-factly.
Driving down Highway 5 in my dad's company-issued Impala, plaid thermos tucked cooly beside him, life seemed fairly uncomplicated to me at the time. My father was a good old-fashioned traveling salesman and his territory covered much of central and northern California. He left early Monday mornings and returned on Friday evenings - sometimes with surprise "swaps" he had made with other traveling salesman along the way.
You had to be in kindergarten to accompany him "on the road" and this summer, it was my turn. I'd spend the next five days in the sole company of my father while he restocked the empty shelves and took orders for future shipments in small town pharmacies and drug stores throughout the state. He worked for Breck and his "trade" was shampoo, conditioner and hair spray, but his real trade was a familiar greeting, a friendly smile and a confident manner. When I got very lucky, the manager would treat me to a soda at the ice cream counter or offer up a coloring book and crayons to take back to the motel. Once settled, my dad and I would take a reprieve from the oppressive valley heat in the kidney-shaped pool and he'd catch me as I hurtled down the slide and into his arms! (Good times.) Occasionally, I would try to trip up my dad by pointing to the more exotic crops whose rows seemed to literally "run" on long legs as the car sped past. How 'bout those? What are these? "Do you know that one?" I'd mischievously prod. "Broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes. . ." he'd answer in turn and give my knee a friendly squeeze that resulted in peels of laughter.
Having grown up in and around the rural areas of Davis at a time when agriculture was bigger business than the University, my dad learned early on the difference between a walnut tree and an almond. And he passed that knowledge on to each of his kids in turn on these highly anticipated road trips.
Which did me absolutely NO good at all in Arizona last week. Driving past a field on our way back to the Phoenix airport (having successfully dropped our elder son off at college for his freshman year - whoo hoo!) my husband pointed to an orchard and said, "What kind of trees are those? (And no, they weren't cacti although there's LOTS of cactus in Arizona.)
Quickly scanning the field, I could see that the branches were heavily weighed down, but was it a nut or a fruit? "It's too late for peaches or cherries and those aren't apple trees either. Citrus doesn't grow in the Southwest . . . hmmm . . . I'm stumped. I don't know that tree," I finally had to admit. Once in awhile, I run across a "tree" I don't recognize in Real Estate either. Many of us came to this profession well ahead of the sub-prime misstep and mortgage meltdown, thus we were forced to regroup and master new skills as the market shifted. Like my dad, we often responded with a familiar greeting, a friendly smile and a confident manner, while we quickly learned new strategies to cope with, and to adjust to, unwelcome realities in the marketplace. Along the way, we became better and more creative Realtors, as a whole.
Still, when prospective buyers call me and sincerely inquire as to whether of not I can help them find a "REO" (that's a "Real Estate Owned" property or a foreclosure as it is more commonly known) I refer them (without hesitation) to another agent in the field who recognizes and understands that "tree" a whole lot better than I do; knowing full well that the client is better served with another professional. The same is true for commercial purchases/leases, investment properties and short sales. Each of these disciplines can be a specialty in and of itself. One seasoned agent I know deals primarily in foreclosures and it isn't uncommon for him to carry as many as 40 listings at a time (40!) In very few cases, do these properties actually end up with the "end user" (the homeowner) as opposed to an investor whose strategy often involves a purchase on the courthouse steps and a fast flip! That's truly the needle in the haystack - and you'll need a specialist to find it.
I am also quick to refer the client whose geographical goal doesn't align with my area of expertise and knowledge. Need a house in Piedmont, Rockridge, Montclair, Albany or Berkeley? I'm your girl! Shopping in Alamo, Walnut Creek or San Francisco? Mmm, not so much.
At the risk of being a crabapple, please let me pear you with another agents who is more familiar with those specific communities and can better serve your needs. At the risk of cherry picking, I'd hate to unwittingly squash the deal because I'm unfamiliar with the landscape. Orange you glad I care? (Do I hear a collective groan?) The most successful agents at The GRUBB Co. have deliberately carved out well-defined niches where they easily dominate the field. Having smartly rejected the idea that "one can be all things to all people," they have instead, finely honed and tuned their craft to earn the title of "neighborhood specialist!" (Hey, that works for me.)
Sometimes, identifying the tree we don't recognize, is every bit as important as identifying the tree we do and I can state with absolute certainty that the outcome makes a difference to the buyer as well, in terms of getting a "plum" deal!
(I'm certain there's a produce pun in some of you. Send one back and I'll treat you to a lattee at Mulberry's Market!)
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.