I slowed to a stop at the corner as the young boy wobbled up the small hill on his shiny new bicycle. Helmet and elbow pads in place, the little boy huffed and puffed, a big smile on his face while his dad drove slowly alongside him in the family Volvo, making sure other drivers on the road gave his son the right-of-way. (You gotta give this kid credit - it's not easy learning to ride a bike in the hills of Piedmont).
Waiting for him to pass, I flashed-backed to my own protective mother teaching me to ride a bike many years ago on a warm summer evening in Sacramento. She ran beside me, her steady hand on the seat and handlebars of the Schwinn until she felt I was secure enough to let go. A gentle push and I was off - until I tried to make a sharp turn and . . . CRASH! A few tears, a skinned knee, a quick hug and some assurance from my mom and I was up and pedaling once again, pigtails flying in the wind.
When my turn as the parent came, I taught my kids exactly the same way, trying to navigate the delicate balance between holding on and letting go. I've been thinking a lot about that balance of late.
My older son, Case, left for his sophomore year of college at the University of Arizona six weeks ago and since then, I've spoken to him only twice - and both times I initiated the contact (no surprise there).
"How's it going? I cheerfully asked.
"Fine," Case answered.
"How's the new house and the roommate situation?" I pressed.
"Good," he replied.
"How are your classes?" (C'mon Case, throw me a bone.)
"They're okay. I gotta go now mom." CLICK!
(Other knowing parents tell me I'll have better luck if I "text" him. I'm questioning just how much I'm paying for college!)
I think back to when I moved down to Los Angeles at the tender age of nineteen with little more than my dreams, a futon, and a dance bag crammed into my used Toyota Celica. Rarely did I ever phone home. (Sorry about that mom and dad.) I'd left college to pursue a dance career - foolishly and fearlessly perhaps - but my parents hadn't tried to stop me. I was the fifth in a long line of children and they'd already mastered the art of letting go.
After running alongside buyers and sellers - often times for months - there comes a moment in every transaction when we have to simply surrender to the process and "let go." It's a point at which the outcome is no longer ours to steer. That's when suddenly the idea of selling and leaving a home you've loved and cherished for years (or decades!), OR buying one that's in need of major work, OR changing towns, OR changing jobs, OR changing lifestyles - can literally be overwhelming. At these moments, there's often a natural push back, when strong emotions begin to surface and second guessing comes into play. If we don't carefully reign in our objections or expectations with respect to the buying and selling process, this tipping point in negotiations can literally "crash" the deal.
The truth is that even the most reasonable of buyers or sellers are likely going to have a moment of doubt as the finish line approaches and it's important (necessary even) to acknowledge and honor that process. A good night's rest, some thoughtful introspection, a great deal of careful consideration, and a bit of understanding about the stakes involved, and buyers and sellers are generally back up and pedaling once again.
With a steady hand, a gentle push and some keen guidance, the ride gets easier with practice!
"You don't suppose I could just quietly sit downstairs during the Open House?" my client plaintively asked. "I'd love to hear what people are saying." (Uh, no you wouldn't.)
It's not that I don't understand your desire or your inclination to be a "fly on the wall." After weeks of purging, cleaning, and preparing your now fabulous home for the market, it's only natural that homeowners want some well-deserved feedback. (Of course they do!)
"Absolutely not," I replied, as sternly as any second-grade school teacher, as I handed them their bags and gently pushed them out the door. "You need to enjoy an afternoon OFF while I take care of the prospective buyers and their agents." The truth is there is nothing more off-putting to buyers than having the expectant sellers remain in the house while they walk through it. Take it from me, there's a host of good reasons why homes are sold via third party negotiators and why agents do their best to keep buyers and sellers APART until AFTER the property closes escrow. Once the property has transferred ownership, by all means, feel free to meet and discuss the drip irrigation system, the combination for the alarm code, and the wild turkeys that visit the property each fall. (Just don't do it before then.)
The fact is that no matter how beautifully appointed your home, or how meticulously you have worked to make it darn near "perfect," the new buyers are very likely to repaint the walls, refinish the floors and start mentally tearing down walls. It isn't at all uncommon to hear them speak about "gutting the kitchen," "changing out the baths," and "ripping out the organic garden," even when - and especially if - the sellers have just put them all in! I have a very good friend who lives by the credo: "What other people think of me is none of my business." And from where I sit (guiding anxious buyers and sellers) I think it's a philosophy well worth embracing. No matter how much time and care you have invested in your spectacular home, it won't reflect the taste of the next buyer - nor should it (the home represents your life story - not yet theirs). It's almost a foregone conclusion that the new owners will move in and quickly start changing . . . just about everything.
That leather-tufted wet bar downstairs you love - they hate. The floor plan that works so beautifully for your family - is problematic for theirs, and the views that provide unbelievable serenity - are way too far up the hill. Groan . . . (and that's just from my perspective).
It's not hard to imagine just how well these "keen observations" go over with emotionally attached sellers who have recently spent a fair amount of time (and money) prepping and staging their lovely home for sale. Selling a home is emotional enough without overhearing these off-handed, "constructive" criticisms and remarks, isn't it? (Yes, it is.) Yet here's the essential element sellers need to understand (are you listening?): buyers cannot begin to place themselves in the home without these conversations taking place. AND what's more, they can't speak freely with you in the home. So do yourselves a favor and plan an afternoon at the movies, go shopping for your new residence or taking some well-deserved time off! (Trust me, I'll take it from here.)
Kiss your house goodbye, wish me a successful Open House, and save your desire to meet the buyers until the day you hand over the keys and the remote controls. Take your memories with you and thank the house for all it has carried you through. If you can do that, you are bound to have a much better (and happier) result!
I'm officially two-hundred! Wow, that's kind of amazing when I stop to think about it. With fifty-two weeks in a year (except for a few vacation breaks each summer ) I suppose that means I have been penning "The Piedmont Perspective" for a little over four years now. (Don't I look good for my age? AND more to the point, just why haven't I been discovered by Hollywood yet?)
Along the way, I hope I've made more friends than I've lost. Perhaps the greatest compliment is when I meet readers for the first time who declare, "You don't know me, but I know all about you!" (That's a gift.)
It's true, I've poked, prodded, and pulled my family and friends into the column on more than a few occasions (often without their permission) and have used this platform to work out a few issues of my own (a revelation I suspect, doesn't surprise any of you). "The Perspective" hasn't only been a sounding board for all manner of Real Estate topics, it's also served as my therapy and master class as well (albeit a whole lot cheaper).
Gratefully, I am surrounded by friends and family who support and nurture me, but more importantly, have the ability to laugh at themselves in turn. If you've found yourself in a column or two, consider it the ultimate compliment (you've inspired me!) OR as my husband Cliff is quick to point out, "If you're speaking with Julie, you've effectively waived your right to privacy."
That's not entirely true (I hold your confidences sacred) but it is true that I do tend to see a real estate analogy in almost every opportunity (and admittedly, I borrow liberally).
Still, there's an important distinction between what should and what shouldn't be shared with the public, and I hope I've done my best to respectfully honor this fragile line. Rarely, and regretfully, there were a few observations that may have caused offense. When I did so, you quickly and emphatically let me know. Thank you for your astute observations and willingness to be equally vulnerable in the moment. You've provided me invaluable opportunities to grow - for which I am ever grateful.
My goal first and foremost, has always been to make The Perspective interesting and compelling (why else bother?) and to that end, I've not only shared my truth, but a bit of my personal journey along the way. For those of you who wrote to say, "I get a lot of industry Blogs, but yours is the only one I read," know that you made my day - I can truly think of no greater compliment.
While honing this weekly column, I'll admit that on more than one occasion, I have argued with my broker, rankled a few colleagues, and come up against deadlines I struggled to meet, but I also discovered that the more I wrote, the easier the stories came. Experience has provided an endless stream of material and you've shown me that personal anecdotes are more colorful and "graphic" than graphs will ever be. (People are complex - as is Real Estate.) After hearing from hundreds of you over the years, it's rewarding to know that it's the stories you connected to: "I loved the one you wrote about your son catching the ball in the outfield . . . my son loves baseball too . . .".
Some of you "got me" right away, while others, took more time to warm up and still others, decisively hit the "unsubscribe" button with little fanfare and NO apology. That's okay, no offense taken - I'm not everybody's "cup of tea," but happily, enough of you read "The Perspective" on a weekly basis to encourage me to continue to voice an opinion that not only found a home but seems to be highly sustainable as well. (Subscribers have grown from 250 to more than 1300 and climbing - I'm honored.)
While writing is a solo journey, publishing requires many eyes and ears. Many thanks to my bosses at The GRUBB Co., DJ Grubb and John Karnay, who started out as my harshest critiques, but proved to incredibly patient and astute mentors. To my generous colleagues, Karen Starr and Dana Cohen, who consistently offer fresh eyes each week as my proof readers, and to Tricia Swift who never fails to send me kudos and compliments every Wednesday (the definition of "grace"). You've been enthusiastic cheerleaders from the very start and I will be forever indebted to each of you.
I owe my heart to my husband, Cliff, my boys, Case and Tristan, and my gratitude to my parents, siblings and friends (too numerous to list) who have willingly allowed me to peel back the onion on our respective lives in order to reveal lessons and humor from our collective pain and laughter. (No experience is ever wasted and luckily the boys rarely read their mother's writing!) They've supported me, indulged me and encouraged me with few exceptions and even fewer complaints (that's love).
Finally, thanks to all of you, who have followed my ramblings week in and week out, debated my observations, played the trivia games when asked, responded to my questions, submitted events, suggested ideas, and referred friends and clients my way simply because I had managed to earn your TIME and your TRUST. (I can think of no more precious or valuable commodities.)
So I ask you, "With support and love like that, who needs Hollywood?"
Still, if you happen to know Darren Starr, please send him my way. I envision "The Piedmont Perspective" as the Real Estate equivalent of "Sex and the City" - except with no sex and no city. (Why let details get in the way ?)
Cut to: a hardworking, yet very sincere (and also attractive) Realtor in a tree-line, picturesque hamlet (near a BIG city) who writes a compelling weekly Blog. She's busy typing at her computer . . .
Hollywood, here I come.
"Can I help you find anything?" the hip, young salesman at J. Crew eagerly asked. "Yeah, you can help me find my youth," I thought as I beat-feet out of there. It took only a quick glance through the racks for me to realize that the J. Crew fall collection was NOT designed for my middle-age demographic.
First of all, there was nothing above a size four in the store, and second, there was nothing above a size four! The same can be said for the majority of other "women's" shops I visit these days that seem more suited to pre-teens than to any of the women I see or know. (Just who are they designing for anyway? Not me!)
While I'm not yet ready to surrender to elastic waistbands and drawstrings, let's get real - the days of mini skirts and hot pants are well behind the majority of us forty (plus!) gals. With the rare exception of Jennifer Aniston, I find that looking good as one ages, is more and more about creative draping and skilled tailoring.
Mind you, this isn't necessarily a size or weight issue, but candidly speaking, clothing tends to hang a little differently than it did when we were younger (and hadn't yet given birth). The truth is that no matter how well we women keep it together, there comes a point in time at which we should adjust our personal style and donate what no longer accentuates our best features (uh, that would be my ankles). With respect to "flaunting what you've got," perhaps it's time to pass this mantle on to a younger, hipper, braver generation (also known as our daughters)!
With respect to Real Estate, there are moments in the heart of a deal, when I can literally hear and see my Buyers struggling with the "fit" of a home. They like the house, but they are not quite sure it meets ALL their needs. OR . . . they are in contract and have discovered unwelcome surprises that now make them uncomfortable moving forward. OR . . . they are worried the costs to maintain or remodel the property will be too great. OR . . . they're not really sure the East Bay is really the right move for their family after all - and so it goes . . . .
There are a host of good reasons why a house that initially caught your eye, no longer "fits" the same as it did before and why the bloom has fallen off the tree. At which point, I want to assure you that whatever choice you make about moving forward or exiting the deal, it will be okay. However, if you want to see it through, even the most dire objections can be overcome with a talented architect, a skilled contractor, and some well-intentioned negotiation.
Brick foundation? Yes.
Lack of permits? Yes.
Extensive drainage issues? Yes.
Fear or paralysis? Probably not. The fact of the matter is, if you are squeezing into size four jeans - when you actually need a ten - the "fit" is going to suffer. Not that you can't fool yourself into thinking everything still looks good; it's just that maybe you shouldn't force the fit. If you have to "talk" yourself into a home, it's probably not the right property for you in the long run. Let it go and move on. As hard as it is to say good bye, there will be other opportunities and other homes that "fit" much better (I promise).
On the other hand, if you decide to move forward - despite your initial objections - than you'll have to accept the "unknowns" on the house; "own" the decision and embrace the process. Have some faith, if you love the property enough, you'll work through the imperfections and take on the risks (hmmm, sounds a bit like marriage).
In either case, understand that "the perfect fit" probably exists only in magazines - and even then, those multi-million dollar homes are professionally styled for days before the photographer shows up and points the camera. With no curtains, pillows, or miscellaneous items out of place, these architecturally, perfectly designed homes don't really reflect reality; they reflect our fantasies. Don't get too caught up in the "perfect image" - it isn't real.
Speaking of reality, I'm off to the semi-annual sale at Nordstrom's -they're not exactly fashion forward but at least they have pants in my size!
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.