I live with teenage boys so at my house there are select words they can't - or shouldn't use - even though mastering the art of the "expletive" seems very grown up indeed. Unless one of the boys has hit his hit his thumb with a hammer, their dad and I prefer a more refined vocabulary. On certain days, I am more successful at winning this battle than on others (especially when their peers are plentiful and so is the testosterone!).
With respect to real estate, my vocabulary is even more limited than my boys' language. Not only am I always mindful of my word selection (or as my mother use to say "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.") I'm legally barred from using descriptions that are in fact, often the most accurate. While it seems counterintuitive, it's the law!
As any loyal Perspective reader knows, I write nice thumbnail descriptions of my favorite listings each week where I am trying to convey (to the best of my ability) the feeling of a home in three or four sentences. But here's what you probably don't know: HUD (The Department of Housing and Urban Development) prohibits me from using words like "family," "walk," or "children," without running the risk of a hefty penalty being levied my way!
Because these words are considered to be discriminatory by nature. And while I have a very liberal definition of the concept of "family," those who choose to remain childless, might feel otherwise. So while I can wax poetically about a "panoramic bay view" or a "babbling brook," I can't suggest that one might actually "walk" somewhere without getting the ADA upset.
This becomes a very slippery slope.
At the risk of offending anybody and everybody, Realtors must often speak in code to convey the best or most practical use of a property. The fact is that "live/work loft buyers" typically differ greatly from "Crocker Highland's traditional home buyers" or "Hiller Highland condominium buyers" and why wouldn't they? Each of these residences offer very different amenities. They're not just apples, and oranges, but apples, oranges and pomegranates in the fruit bowl of life.
So when you read "spacious home with level garden, near Piedmont schools," you should know that what I'm really trying to say is: "terrific family home for kids and pets and walk to school!" Read between the lines - you'll soon get my intended meaning.
BTW- reading between the lines applies to adjectives and phrases such as "quaint," "first time on the market," and "all original," as well . . . if you get my drift.
Now I've got a few choice words for the HUD!
Halloween is just around the corner and things are beginning to look frightening. Graveyards are popping up all over Piedmont and the ghosts are flying on Dracena Avenue once again. My younger son, Tristan, loves this time of year (What kid doesn't? Costumes and candy corn? Seriously, it's a winning combination - even for me).
Unlike my sister's darling daughters who tend to dress as flappers or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, no saccharin cartoon character costumes will do for Tristan. If it doesn't involve a medieval weapon, a black-hooded cape and a scary mask, he's just not interested.
Recently, I had quite a scare when I called my local mortgage broker, Melissa Milton of LaSalle Financial, and asked her to do a credit check on me! Like many of you, I am keeping my options open and wanted to know: "Would I qualify for a loan in this "more conservative lending climate" - OR did I have some heavy housework ahead with respect to my "credit worthiness?"
While I never miss a mortgage payment, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I am occasionally tardy on the PG&E bill and there was that one accidental overdraft last year . . . so I was legitimately worried. In the absence of any real knowledge, I had forecast all kinds of spooky scenarios!
This is where fear and denial walk hand-in-hand.
For the last few years, I had been putting off obtaining a credit review even though I believe it's the smarter choice - especially now. Still, I imagined the Grim Reaper delivering the bad news (not that Melissa's the Grim Reaper. She's more like Glenda, the good witch).
Would I be heavily penalized for my few brief lapses in time? Would my husband? Truth be told, I really had no clue. Invoices come in and payments go out (typically in a timely fashion) but how do I stack up where it really counts?
No, not St. Peter (I'm hoping Heaven's gates are more forgiving). I'm talking about the big three credit bureaus; I'm talkin' FICO SCORES!
So with courage in hand, I gave Melissa a call and guess what? After all that senseless worrying, I qualify as "good to excellent" and so does my husband (no sense in obtaining only half the equation). While neither of us is perfect (who is?) we are both in the UPPER range. Yoo hoo! (Credit scores, like SATs, range from a low of 300 to a high of 850.) Now that's just good to know. Turns out, knowledge is a powerful sleeping aid.
While a move isn't in my imminent future (college tuition is) perhaps, it is in yours. My advice is that you follow my lead, pick up the phone, obtain a credit history and line up your lending options BEFORE identifying the home of your dreams. Put your bank representative or your favorite mortgage broker to work for you. That's part of the service they provide.
IF there is a problem, any experienced mortgage broker worth her salt (or sugar) will help you navigate the hurdles and rectify any outstanding concerns. (This can involve a few letters or it can be more complicated, but the sooner you have the information, the better off you'll be.) Whatever the outcome, it can't possibly be as scary as your imagination might lead you to believe!
Now break out the candy corn and let's bob for apples. Boo!
"What did you think of the Prius?" the young Toyota salesman eagerly asked me after our test drive last Saturday morning. "It's quiet and it handles beautifully and I know it's the smart choice ," I thoughtfully replied, "and if buying a car were just about making the 'smart' choice, hands down, I'd be excited about the Prius and we'd be signing a deal right now."
But I wasn't.
The very un-PC truth is that I felt as excited about that Prius as I feel about my old washer and dryer - which is to say, uninspired! My first car was a beat-up Toyota Celica that my dad helped me purchase for $3,000 from his friend's used car lot in Sacramento when I was just 17 and about to head down to Great America for my first 40-hour a week dance job in The Bugs Bunny Review. (Now that was exciting! ) I'd spent my entire senior year working the McDonald's drive-through to save up my half and its purchase represented my first real independence (Yes!).
My current car is an Infiniti G35 (slightly used) for which I paid substantially more and when I get into it each morning, I know what I have worked for. Having suffered through a dozen economy cars and "mommy vans" in the intervening years, I've earned my leather seats and burl-wood dashboard. For a low-maintenance gal who thought I simply wanted an automobile to safely move me from point A to point B, I have to admit that there's more than a bit of vanity in this decision. As it turns out, buying a car is largely emotional!
For most of us, so is buying a home.
Intellectually, we know that we need four bedrooms and two bathrooms but what we want, is often, unspoken or even unidentified until we walk into a house and suddenly, it speaks to us on an emotional level. The sweeping staircase, the big bonus media room downstairs, the panoramic San Francisco Bay View, the scented garden, the warm inviting kitchen, the leaded glass windows or even the street outside may all trigger emotional responses that feel very comforting. Suddenly, we've found "home."
I joke that I bought my current residence for its pretty white gazebo and big brick patio but that's not too far from the truth. I hadn't even gone inside yet, when the decision was practically made. I imagined my boys' garden weddings (mind you, my kids were nowhere near marriage age and its unlikely their future brides are going to supplant their wedding dreams with mine but nevertheless, it was the notion that set me in motion) and I was hooked!
A few months later, when a colleague came down to drop off some papers and skeptically said, "Jeez, what were you thinking buying this place?" I'm not sure I could have articulated my reasons why. Homes are truly personal choices.
That's especially true here in Piedmont, Rockridge, Crocker Highlands and Berkeley where no two homes are exactly alike and even if they were at one point, time and ownership have undoubtedly specialized them into unique commodities. In a day and age where more than 90% of Buyers now begin their search on the Internet, it still remains true that Buyers must actually walk into a home to know if it's "the one" and it's also why we continue hold Sunday Opens in an increasingly INTERNET world. Do all the research you want, there's still "old-school" legwork that must prevail. You still have to get inside, envision your life, move in the furniture and fall in love . . .
Give me a call. I am always available and happy to show you around!
(And if you have any car thoughts, I'm still open to suggestions. BTW a BIG thank you to Piedmont resident, Michael Greening of San Francisco BMW/Mini Cooper, who generously donated the "hole-in-one" automobiles for the Piedmont Highlander's Golf Classic last Monday. bmwsf.com. Now that's something to get excited about! )
"How much is this?" I asked the pretty antique vendor as I eyed the small Stoneware pitcher on her table at the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday. "Twenty-eight dollars" she politely answered. "Hmmm, can you do better?" I inquired as I carefully looked it over. "What were you thinking?" she said. "Eighteen?" I replied. "How about twenty-three?" she offered. "How about twenty?" I responded. "That's a hard size to find," she countered, "you'd pay much more for it in a shop." (very true) "I'll let it go for twenty-one." This is when I PAUSE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT. "OK, I'll take it," I said with a smile (certain I'd just gotten a very good deal). "Terrific," she said (knowing she'd made a few dollars on the sale). "Would you like that wrapped up?" "Yes, please and thank you." Another successful and happy transaction!
Back and forth negotiation at the flea market isn't the exception, it's the norm! There's rarely a sale that doesn't engage in this banter before settling on a mutually satisfactory price. Buyers are looking for the "find" and sellers are interested in making a profit. It's the well-practiced give and take of human interaction. Not surprisingly, experienced vendors are far more likely to become truly competitive by the end of the day - then they are at the beginning.
I'm an early bird by nature and habit-up with the moon and at the front gate with the rest of the flea market junkies before the crack of dawn. For me, there's a significant trade-off. Experience has taught me that the best finds go early . . . the best deals; however, come late! The same is true for real estate. Homes that are highly coveted, quickly sell for close to or above their asking price while homes that languish on the market for awhile, tend to get discounted over time. (If you are looking for the "deal," hone in on those properties that have been largely ignored. Those sellers are likely to be the most flexible as time goes on.) With dramatic changes in the marketplace over the last few years, buyers are quickly becoming much better versed in the concept of offering less than list. Indeed, buyers expect to negotiate on price!
Sellers, on the other hand, are still a bit slow to embrace this Brave New World and tend to object to a realignment of value. Unlike a few years ago, buyers are requesting time to fully inspect their purchase before removing ALL of their contingencies. While a buyer's initial offer price should ideally, factor in any known defects, sometimes a buyer's inspection will disclose new discovery previously unavailable or perhaps, unknown which may give a buyer PAUSE before moving ahead.
When that happens, it may be reasonable to expect some push back from the buyers with respect to the costs associated with new discovery. Expect buyers to seek "to perfect" the deal. This can come in the form of credits to the buyer for the work required or a reevaluation of the purchase price altogether. Either way, it isn't personal - it's business. With some quantifiable discussion, you're very likely to find a middle ground that achieves the goal for both parties.
Whether negotiating with a flea market vendor, a colleague, an agent, a client (or a spouse) I find that the best transactions come with well-intentioned and reasonable give and take. When both sides have left the negotiation table having given and having gained what's truly important to them, you're much more likely to have a happy ending - even if something unexpected should come up after the close of escrow! When it's a win-win for everyone involved, you can look forward to a happy and successful transaction! (The Alamdea Flea Market takes place on the first Sunday of every month at the old naval base in Alameda. Start time: sun up!)
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.