It's only taken me 22 years to get Thanksgiving right, but I think at long last, I finally did it . . . not the turkey and fixin's part, mind you (although that too, took several years) but the concept of "Thanksgiving" as a whole. You know the part where one is truly grateful for all they have, all they have been given, and all they have to share? (Yeah, that part.)
Instead, I have wasted far too much time anguishing over what I felt was required of me, resenting the burden of a too-LARGE gathering, and losing sleep over the unrealistic expectations I placed upon myself to achieve "perfection" at the table. Between moving furniture, setting tables, polishing the silver, and ironing linens, I always managed to work myself into quite a frenzy.
No wonder I really dreaded the Thanksgiving holiday altogether. It was a ton of work and ultimately a BIG let down, primarily of my own foolish making. (Help!)
If that isn't a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is.
This year I took an entirely different approach . . .
"Let go with both hands," a good friend reminded me as the holiday approached (a tough concept for one who craves "control"). "Who cares if everything is 'perfect?' You're guests are coming for the company and the stuffing anyway." (An "ah ha" moment!)
And the miracle for me at least, is that I actually listened to her advice and as a result, had the BEST THANKSGIVING EVER ! (Thanks.)
Perhaps it's the tryptophan in the turkey, but it's amazing how well things fall into place once we let go of our expectations, give up on "perfection," and adjust our intentions (this works with our children as well). Once we let things fall where they may, life has a way of working out for the better - even when it isn't necessarily the outcome we might have planned, designed, or even desired. (Wow!)
What's this got to do with Real Estate? you may be asking.
In a nut shell (a pecan shell, a chestnut shell . . .) let go of "perfection."
It doesn't exist at any stage of the game. If we spend the bulk of our time looking for the flaws, we are bound to find them. That doesn't mean throw caution to the wind, but for those of you who can be more flexible and open to the journey, you'll undoubtedly have a much better result in the end (certainly, you will have a more pleasant one).
OR as my friend Dan wisely says, "Cease fighting everything and everyone. It's all going to work out one way or another." (Dan lives on a much higher plane.)
For the rest of us mere mortals, sometimes this kinder, gentler, philosophy requires Herculean efforts, especially when we enjoy a rip-roaring debate, followed by a good fight so very much (who doesn't?).
"It's not the money, it's the 'principle,'" my best-intentioned (and smartest) clients have been known to say.
To which I can only reply the old adage, "Do you want to be 'right' or do you want to be 'happy?'"
With "happiness" in mind, for those parties interested in resolution, rather than conflict, some give and take must usually take place in order for the goal to be achieved (aka: "compromise"). When we let our egos drive the event, that's very likely, "a recipe for disaster." No matter how "personally invested" we are in our homes or in the hunt, when it comes time to buy or sell, we need to leave room for the unexpected to occur (and then we need to let it).
Having "faith" at such times can be difficult to come by, especially if we don't have a clear idea of what we are moving towards, or when we are disappointed with the results thus far.
I get, it. I do, but sometime, it's the sheer possibilities that provide the most magical moments in our lives. When we make room for new opportunities to occur, life can surprise us in wondrous ways. (Wow!)
When I stopped trying to control Thanksgiving (and everyone involved with it) redirected my intentions more selflessly, and focused on the meaning rather than the result, a miracle took place: I was rewarded with untold joy! From the Turkey Trot here in town, all the way through to the pumpkin pie at my house after the evening's feast, the day could not have delivered more enjoyment. Does life really get any better? (No, it doesn't.)
Who knows what next year will bring? (It's anybody's guess.) BUT today, I can give "thanks" and be incredibly grateful for all that I have, all that I have been given (except for the ten extra pounds the stuffing and desserts invariably bring) and all that I have to share . . . .
And thanks to all of you for making my year so complete. I look forward to continuing our journey together. I hope your Turkey Day was every bit as loving and memorable.
Now if I could only carry these feelings through Hanukkah and Christmas. More turkey anyone? (I swear it's the tryptophan!)
"Can you turn everything into a Real Estate column?" friends have often inquired . . . (Why yes, I pretty much can).
However, I was truly stumped after returning home from the Grand Canyon last week as I sat down to write this week's piece. As many of you know, I had been invited to join a group of 10 incredibly dynamic women who were determined to trek to the bottom and back in a 36-hour period. Like many of us, I had only seen the Grand Canyon in picture postcards, and I certainly had never contemplated making the round trip on foot prior to receiving my friend's unexpected gift: "This has been on my 'Bucket List' for years," Jan's e-mail began, "please join me . . ."
This was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Still, I had nagging doubts . . . . Truth be told, I was concerned about my ability to keep up, in spite of several challenging, warm-up hikes here in the hills of Oakland and Berkeley that had proved otherwise. But between a painful, recurring foot issue and a persistent, hacking cough, I had begun to question my abilities (not to mention my health) and had even considered bowing out of the trip altogether.
"Go," my husband had gently and lovingly encouraged me, "You'll regret it if you don't." (Thank you Cliff, you were right.)
The thing is the Grand Canyon is so vast, so awe-inspiring and yes, so very "GRAND" that words prove to be woefully inadequate. Perhaps Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th President, said it best after seeing it for the first time: "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."
How true. So how could I possibly take such a profound experience and turn it into a light-hearted column about Real Estate? (Hmmm . . . ) But after a few days of reflection, here is the lesson I took away from this AMAZING journey that I am ready to now share with you (and yes, there IS a "Real Estate" parable; bear with me): No matter the challenge, the solution begins with a single step.
There, that's it.
It's not earth shattering by any means and nothing that you don't already know, but it remains forever true. We make headway by steadily putting one foot in front of the other, OR as my sister, Jill, often reminds me, "Set your intentions and then proceed." In otherwords, it's not enough to move forward without good intentions as well.
Sometimes that's easier said than done . . . .
By mile eight of the return leg to our oh-so-comfortable hotel and comfy bed, and with the toughest part of the trail still largely looming ahead of us, I would have welcomed a well-placed mountain tram, a convenient chair lift, or even a rustic-rope tow to take me the rest of the way up (no such luck). Forget all this painful walking; aren't we there yet?
While the morning miles had leisurely woven their way along a stunning, picturesque canyon stream, artfully dotted with autumn leaves and a family of deer so tame you could quite literally reach out and touch them, the afternoon was proving to be downright grueling as the unrelenting switchbacks continued up, up, and UP (!) the sheer walls of the canyon with NO respite, save for the occasional pause to catch one's breath, peel off a layer of clothing, or take a cool drink of water. (There, that's better.)
It's at this point that I began to pray, "Grant me grace, grant me grace, grant me STRENGTH . . ."
Never mind the magnificence of it all, the layers of rock had lost their charm hours earlier and I was now ready to finish. The only consolation was that I had more trail behind me, than ahead; however, IT WAS FAR STEEPER!
For several of you Buyers and Sellers, that may be your journey as well.
After months of being in the hunt, you may be more than ready for the end. You may even have grown incredibly weary (that's only natural; hang in there) and certainly, I understand your "pain." It can be downright exhausting. Perhaps you have written on many houses, only to find the climb steeper than you might have imagined. OR, you are preparing to sell your property and the amount of work involved seems to be rather grueling (it can be). In both cases, it's about clarifying your intentions and then setting one foot in front of the other as you complete the necessary tasks.
Here's my best advice:
DO meet with a Mortgage Lender, schedule your inspections, purge the attic and garage, give away stuff you no longer need, repair items you've put off or neglected, paint and refresh your kitchen cabinets, woodwork and walls, organize your closets, find the light: wash the windows and remove old drapes, plant the garden, stage for photographs, set a marketing plan, define a timeline, etc., etc., etc. (Yes, the list can be endless, but you'll have better results, and of course this is where a Realtor can be incredibly helpful - we are very familiar with this terrain.)
DON'T put off until tomorrow what you can do today. (Our mothers were right.) Get started right away as time has a way of becoming very limited. Before you know it, the Spring Market will be upon us.
As previously mentioned, it's about putting one foot in front of the other until you achieve your desired goal and doing it with the best of intentions! No matter the climb, take it from me, it absolutely can be done.
In fact, our group of four emerged at the head of the pack and in very good time as it turned out (5 hours, 20 minutes - thank you very much.) More importantly, I DID IT despite my reservations ("Don't" psyche yourself out.) AND it was so much more than I had imagined it would be. (Ain't life "Grand?")
Go ahead, take the first step.
How can I help you?
"We are still cringing at the description . . . velcro glove stuck inside the tackler's helmet . . . snap. . . crackle . . . pop . . .YOWSAH!" came the concerned email from my friend, Donna, who had been at the game on Friday night. "How's Tris doing?" (Much better, thank you.)
I'll spare you the stomach-churning details of the evening, except to say that I had probably jinxed things earlier in the day when another mother had asked me about the football season in general, and specifically, my feelings, about watching my son play this highly risky sport? (In a word - conflicted.)
"It's their last game," I had happily responded, while waiting in line for my iced tea at Mulberry's, "I'm just hoping WE make it through intact!"
CUT TO: the ambulance and the Kaiser emergency room. Clearly, I had challenged fate . . ."Hang tough honey, you're going to be okay."
Actually, in spite of this rather unfortunate finish, it had been a pretty thrilling season, watching the Piedmont High School JV team dominate the majority of their games, with an ending record of 9 - 1 (that's 9 WINS, 1 loss). AND as a proud mother hen, it had been especially gratifying to see my own son, Tristan, emerge as a very dynamic player for this incredibly, talented team.
Even so, I would breath a small sigh of relief when it was all over. (Let's wrap up the season already!) Despite a mother's enduring love, I'm not nearly powerful enough to keep accidents from happening (although I truly wish I were) which means that the alternative to "fret and worry," requires a certain amount of "faith and trust!"
Such feigned nonchalance doesn't come easily mind you; it's a PRACTICE that's taken many years to develop and honestly was honed by my elder son, Case, who ultimately taught me much more than I taught him about "letting go" and divesting myself from a predetermined outcome. (Thank you, son.) Now if I could only apply these hard-earned lessons ALL THE TIME (think Thanksgiving Dinner) and to my professional life as well as to my personal one. Gee, what a concept . . . .
The truth is, it can be hard to "compartmentalize" the work one does as a REALTOR (or as a mother, or as a daughter, or as a wife . . .) OR to concede my inability to absolutely and unequivocally CONTROL THE UNIVERSE, especially when it serves our mutual interest so well. Unlike football, where I am frequently, blissfully, and gratefully ignorant, with Real Estate, I generally have a very good sense of what's at stake for my clients and the hopes they have placed in me.
With respect to Buyers, I know how long you have been looking for a house that meets your specific criteria . . . I know the near misses along the way . . . I know how difficult your journey has been . . . and I know the conflicts the struggle can sometimes create between partners. In short, buying or selling a home in our highly competitive and often, volitle marketplace is rarely easy.
With respect to Sellers, I know the expectations you carry and how critical the outcome can be. I know you are looking for assurances when I can't realistically "promise" more than my due diligence, best practices, and hard work. I know you are often dealing with a good deal of trepidation and fear (even when a move is incredibly joyful). And I know that what you really want is a crystal ball to see how it all plays out, prior to signing the listing agreement. (If I could deliver that, we'd both sleep more soundly.)
Given that a home typically represents one's single largest investment, it would be unconscionable of me to be nonchalant about the outcome of your transaction, and truth-be-told, I don't know very many GOOD agents who take such a stance. But even with the greatest of care, ALL agents have to make space for the fact that we can only control so much of the process; there are just too many other parties at play here, which requires a certain amount of faith and trust.
While skilled Realtors certainly make suggestions, help to mold the marketplace, give solicited (and unsolicited) advice, analyze the numbers, offer opinions, negotiate on your behalf, and guide you where we believe you have the best opportunity of meeting your goals and objectives, ultimately, we don't pay down your mortgage, OR live with the choices you make or the consequences they bring - you do.
Part Realtor, part therapist, part mother-hen . . . some habits die hard. (After all, I'm still cultivating the "Zen Master" part of the equation.) For now, my role includes a good deal of listening, and then thoroughly presenting your options in order to lay out a master plan that best aligns with your expectations . . . then I LET GO . . . trusting that you will make the best decision for your circumstances, whatever they may be.
Hang tough, you're going to be okay (and I'm going to be here to help you every step of the way - even when the journey is more "eventful" and full of surprises than we might have wished.)
How can I help you?
"We've decided it's too difficult to take the trees out," came the anxious phone call from the Tree Company I had hired. "We think it'd be better just to trim the crowns and take some weight off. Would that be okay?" Uh no, not exactly. I'd noticed a few weeks earlier that a VERY TALL Monterey Cypress was leaning rather precariously towards my neighbors' house, and unfortunately, it had been haunting me ever since. Now that I'd noted the potential danger, I couldn't very well just let it go. If the tree tumbled, the garage was gone, as was the second unit, and more concerning, the tenant inside.
Moreover, it was only one of three Cypresses that were in rather poor health and showing signs of trouble. If Cliff and I were biting off the expense, it made more sense to remove ALL three tress at once, rather than having to redo the job at a later date. (Sigh - my kitchen remodel seems to be getting further away.)
I stood my ground.
"We agreed that you'd remove the trees and I expect you to do so," I firmly responded. " Trimming them won't resolve the problem, I really need them gone."
I get it; it wasn't an easy job by any means and it had gotten off to a rather shaky start. Not only were the trees extremely large, but their location on the property made them difficult to get to. Unexpectedly, halfway down our driveway, the company's crane had began to slip and took out a retaining wall in the process before sliding to an unsettling stop. Now it wasn't just the trees that needed addressing, but a cement wall and a broken rain grill as well. Not to mention the fact that there was a MASSIVE CRANE stuck in my turn-around, with no apparent way to TURN AROUND! (I'm guessing this is about when the foreman rethought his strategy and had the company phone to see if they could simplify the process? No you can't.)
I've had a few of those regrets myself. You're halfway into the project when you discover that it's much more complicated than you originally believed. Typically, this has to do with disclosures that weren't available at the beginning, such as termite or engineering reports that had unexpected and unwelcome news. OR because of missing components that proved to be extremely relevant to the sale, such as multiple heirs that are difficult to track down, or worse yet, are deceased. Or because there are unresolved title/easement issues that are nearly impossible to resolve. OR because there are time- sensitive steps the Sellers/ Buyers (or their lenders) failed to execute in time - like a pending divorce decree or a delayed appraisal report. OR finally, because either or both parties have unattainable expectations that simply don't match market realities. Despite the redundancies, the disclosures,the investigations, and the never-ending questions, make space for the unexpected - it almost always happens! (No one ever said Real Estate was easy.)
What started out as a welcome opportunity, quickly becomes a very spooky tale . . . It's why hiring a professional is so important and why I take great umbrage with the "do-it-yourselfer" who calls me to "pick my brain," but believes they are better served by representing themselves. (Huh? I vehemently disagree.) As licensed Realtors, we are trained for the unexpected and we are here when things get exceedingly difficult. (Just because I know how to use an ax, doesn't mean I have any business cutting down my trees!) Still, in spite of our diligence, experience, and expertise, no matter how well-prepared, we often don't know things have run afoul until dates are missed and we are presented with requests to extend the loan or inspection contingencies. This isn't uncommon, mind you, but when it happens, it helps to present a clear understanding of why a contingency is being extended, when the Seller might reasonably expect the Buyer to perform, and what the underlying problem is (that's only fair). While any Buyer or Seller can run into it an unexpected glitch, the problem requires clarification and resolution. Never mind excuses (who cares who's fault it is?) you want to know what the solution is and how quickly can we get the problem resolved?
Happily, that's exactly what Graham Tree Company did. After removing the troublesome conifers, they towed that IMMENSE crane backwards, up and out the steep driveway and on to the next job. It took them hours and hours, but they did it. Then they sent a concrete team to replace the broken wall, replaced the metal grill, and cleaned up the driveway the very next day - good as new! You'd never know they had been there, save for the open, sunny clearing out by the pool. Now that's service!
It's not about the problem, it's about the solution (which describe just about every real estate transaction I've ever encountered.)
How can The GRUBB Co. 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.