It's hard to believe that today marks my 300th edition of The Piedmont Perspective! (Where has the time gone?) As such, I'm feeling rather nostalgic about the journey we have all taken together.
In essence, I've invited you NOT only into the world of Real Estate these past several years, but into my family's lives as well (often to their great surprise and consternation). Some of you have come and gone, and come back again, to see if there was still something to be said, and more importantly perhaps, to see if the information was still relevant. (It seems to have been; thank you for your timely comments.)
You've followed: baseball and football games, high-school graduations, college admissions, my dog, my kids, my husband, my BOSS, my mother-in-law, my parents, my friends, up-sizing, downsizing, reevaluating, and romance (we've shared a love affair with homes).
With respect to to your insights, you've resonated with teen challenges, household challenges, economic challenges, work challenges, life challenges, all kinds of unexpected challenges, and more happily - their resolutions. In fact, the more personal my stories were, the more likely you were to respond.
You've offered suggestions, contributed ideas and events, and supplied a kind word on more than one occasion. You've referred family, friend, and neighbors and entrusted me with your most intimate journey. Together, we've watched the markets expand, contract, and expand again, as financial institutions collapsed, the stock market fell, and housing prices corrected, only to have the U.S. economy rebound with record growth and renewed faith in the "great American dream" once more.
Whatever lessons I've learned along the way - both personally and professionally - I have hopefully passed along to you, tied up with a bit of humor and empathy, and some timely information for your consideration. In every piece, I have spoken from my heart, but in truth, was probably teaching myself more than I was teaching you with each passing week. Certainly, I was gaining real clarity around the issues we all face, both in life and in real estate!
So this morning while walking the dog, I was wondering exactly what more to say on what feels to be a rather momentous occasion (at least to me, anyway). Adventure, sacrifice, discovery, escape, rivalry, transformation, pursuit, temptation, love . . . they've all found their way into The Perspective with regularity. However, if there's anything I have learned in my MANY years of sales, it is that good marketing requires repetition before it eventually sinks in.
In any case, Buck and I mulled it over as we wound our way through Piedmont at dawn (actually, Buck just looked for tennis balls while I sought to be profound) down into the park, through the redwoods, past the tennis courts, and eventually stopped at Mulberry's Market for a quick refreshment, before attacking the long uphill climb back home ("over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go . . .")
What to say? What to say? WHAT TO SAY?
Hmmm . . . Here goes . . . I love to walk and because I used to jog through the Presidio in San Francisco (in days gone by) and I am entirely comfortable with the up and down topography that forms the Oakland Hills, and Piedmont in particular. Even so, I like to consider myself a "downhill specialist," preferring the easy breath the descent brings, as opposed to the huffing and puffing that takes place coming back UP. (I'm not looking to break a sweat here, I just want to get some exercise, if you please.)
Which strikes me as a metaphor for life, I suppose. Who doesn't prefer the 'easy' instead of the 'difficult'; a 'victory,' as opposed to a 'defeat;' 'glory' instead of 'humility?' (Or put another way, another valuable "life lesson!") Wouldn't be nice if everything just went our way and we never had to break a sweat??? (Yes, I suppose it would.) Wouldn't it be great if our kids, our families, and our clients never knew a moment of discomfort, of loss, of pain? If only we could always run interference on their behalf and provide the perfect answer? (Maybe not.)
While there's still so much to learn, here's what I know to be undeniably true after LOTS of years on the planet, and more than a decade in Real Estate. (Drum roll please . . .)
Each of these unexpected "life lessons" creates an opportunity for growth, for evolution, and for change - and often for the better. Or as Tom Hanks character so perfectly puts it in the movie, A League of Their Own, "If it were easy, everyone would do it. It's the 'tough' that makes it great."
It's the TOUGH that makes it great! Life's not always easy (certainly buying or selling a house is almost NEVER easy) and composing this column week after week, hasn't been particularly easy, but's it's always been a privilege, and a tremendously rewarding and creative journey, for which I am completely grateful.
As I've reached out to you, you've reached back. What I found there was love and laughter, fear and uncertainty, willingness and faith, but above all else, persistence, tenacity, and solutions. As it turn out, those damn hills are the Grand Canyon of life, OR what are hiking boots for anyway, if not to tackle the hills that come our way? (I hope my soon-to-be college grad is listening - I love you Case.)
Thank you ALL for listening. It's been a real honor for me. Here's to the next 300!
(Trivia question: Who plays the lead character in "A League of Their Own?" Complimentary lattes and treats for everyone who responds correctly - or who responds at all, I'm feeling celebratory.)
This is the time of year when I start gearing up for next season. I'm not exactly hanging out early Christmas decorations like most retailers already have . . . (are stores just skipping Thanksgiving altogether now?) but I am certainly preparing for what lies ahead in the New Year, Real Estate wise.
In some cases, I am meeting with bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Buyers, newly entering the marketplace for the first time and wondering what they will be facing in 2014? (In a word: Competition!)
In other instances, I am consulting with long-time Sellers who are prepping for the Spring Market and preparing to finally let go. (Shall I introduce you to some of my Buyers looking to find a way in?)
Not surprisingly, both Buyers and Sellers are wondering what's in store as they move ahead? (Good news, the Spring Market looks to be incredibly robust.) AND in both cases, there's a bit of "Speed Dating" going on as Buyers and Sellers meet with REALTORS to decide if both parties are a "good fit," and how and when to best proceed . . . (Match.com?)
While I like to think that I have been married long enough to have bypassed the adventurous world of Internet dating, I might be fooling myself. In fact, I'd venture to say that shopping for a REALTOR is a lot like dating online. According to industry experts, I've got only four seconds to catch your attention before you move on to someone else. (Oh dear, how's a girl to make a good impression?)
In ALL cases, there's a fair amount of trust and chemistry that needs to develop in short shrift. (Love at first sight? Not always, but that doesn't mean we can't still be very good friends.) Still, the idea of speed should never be far from our intentions. Both when it comes to selling your home, or when it comes to buying one.
The simple truth is that the sooner we get on with the business of the day, the better your outcome is likely to be. As much as we enjoy one another's company, you really don't want to remain in a long, drawn out affair with your REALTOR (although I did once have a client who I'm pretty sure thought we were dating and found it impossible to commit to a house. Eventually, I had to break up with him.)
Early this week, I met new Buyers and explained the buying process like this: Choose a REALTOR, meet with a Mortgage Broker/Lender, set a price point and timeline, visit Sunday Opens regularly, narrow and refine your focus, identify a home, revisit it with your agent, write an offer, negotiate on price and terms, ratify the contract, open escrow with a Title Company, undergo inspections, renegotiate when appropriate, establish homeowner's insurance, remove inspection contingencies, remove loan and appraisal contingencies, sign escrow papers, fund the loan, record title, and pick up the keys!
Congratulations, you are a new homeowner! (Whew, try saying that in one breath.)
For Sellers, it goes more like this: define your goals, your timeline and your expectations, gather information pertinent to the sale of your home, purge closets, attic, and the garage, pre-inspect the property, repair where indicated, install smoke and CO2 detectors, strap the water heater, paint and professionally stage your home, power wash decks and patios, clean windows inside and out, landscape the garden and freshen pots, AND hire a LOCAL REALTOR to guide you through these many steps and to thoroughly explain the costs of selling your home. ( BTW - your agent shouldn't come last on this list; he or she should come first. Remember, we are here to help you navigate these murky waters, not drown in them.)
Whether Buying or Selling, may I encourage you to commit to ONE REALTOR - unless you are looking at several different geographical locations (San Francisco, Marin, the East Bay). In that case you just may be better served by meeting with a neighborhood specialist in each community - with the caveat that you let them all know you are playing the field . . .
Listen, no one wants to waste anyone's time here; time being a commodity of which there never seems to be enough of. But if you are looking for quick results, the more preparation and clarity upfront, the better I can meet your needs and expectations.
Plus, you've probably got a bird to stuff, or some decorations to hang. Yes, the holidays are definitely upon us.
(Hey, I'm coming up on Volume 300. I don't know if that's commitment or crazy! Look for a celebration of sorts.)
Last week, several of my colleagues and I attended a seminar at the Golden Gate Club in the San Francisco Presidio, given by Matthew Ferrara, a motivational speaker hired by The GRUBB Co. and its group of affiliated Real Estate partners. The talk was entitled "Igniting Growth; Mixing the Personal, the Professional and the Possible . . ." (Gee, that's an ambitious goal.)
Friday morning emerged as was one of those rare, warm, sunny, fall days in the city and truth be told, I wasn't exactly looking forward to another "self-help" class featuring a looong lecture on the merits of "social networking" and how to better "capture" your audience, while realizing one's full potential. (Who the heck wants to be "captured?" I was just trying to kiss-up to the boss.)
I get it: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, yada, yada, yada. Enough already! Aren't we all exhausted just trying to keep up with our own lives, let alone the comings and goings of others . . . ?(Let's just concede that your kids are ALL very darling in their Halloween costumes.)
Still I had signed up for the event, had offered to drive, and had already plunked down my share of the fee for Mr. Ferrera's "social media" workshop (my middle-class roots prevent me from wasting hard-earned dollars) so I was committed to going, but that didn't mean I wasn't looking longingly at Crissy Field and dreaming of a sun-dappled walk on the beach instead.
Here's the thing about commitment. Every once in awhile - and in spite of our inner cynicism and inherent grouchiness - the process of just showing up, allows some real magic to take place. That's what happened to me courtesy of a fantastic teacher and a timely message. (Thank you Matthew; I think we're on a first name basis now.)
Mr. Ferrara started off the seminar by relating a story about his own work, the roadblocks he had hit along the way, his less-than-seamless journey, and his ultimate destination, and then asked us each to answer a question for ourselves: "What are you really working for?" (Hint: If it's a 'commission', you've picked the wrong answer.)
As the morning progressed, he continued to engage us by encouraging the group to outline a "Personal Plan," BEFORE outlining a "Business Plan," and to develop a "Moral Compass." In other words, Matthew was asking us to truly embrace our "Emotional Intelligence" (EQ), not only in the world of business, but in life as well, and THEN merge the two in a way that is truly organic, and authentic to each of us, specifically. (In short, become a more fully realized YOU!)
Sounds like a VISION QUEST to me.
Now that I get; lightbulb Moment. . . This all might seem a bit touchy, feely for the world of Real Estate, but in fact, the act of purchasing a home is almost entirely about one's dreams, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about helping people transition from one chapter to the next - often under incredibly stressful circumstances. In short, it's about EMOTIONS!
If your Realtor's motivation is just the projected commission he/she hopes to earn, then your Realtor is certainly selling you short. With respect to selling your home - the emotional component is no less important. Undoubtedly, you have entrusted your Broker with the responsibility of guiding you from point A to point B on a path that's not just productive, but creative as well.
You are counting on your agent to bring you the best possible result and that's accomplished NOT by dissecting your house into the sum of its parts (as in: 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, kitchen w/newer appliances) but by "telling the story" through words, photos, video, and especially, through emotion . . .
Finally, Matthew invited us to capitalize on our strengths and rethink our weaknesses, and he offered these alternative solutions instead: A) become adequate at your shortcomings, B) outsource them (what a concept), OR C) rid yourself of them entirely (my favorite). At long last; permission to let go of those skills we don't actually do so very well (or care to learn) and concentrate our attentions on the things we actually do! (This may be true love, Matthew.)
Listen, Real Estate isn't just a business, it's an art, and in my case, it's also a passion. But with respect to you, it's your HOME. Remembering that, first and foremost, and then developing a tool belt that not only provides success, but provides a happy ending as well, was well worth a morning inside, even if the sand dunes and the Warming Hut were calling my name in sea-breezed tones. By the end of the morning, it was clear that by integrating the personal with the professional (and adding a bit of heart & soul along the way) the possibilities are virtually unlimited.
What's your quest and how can I help you? (Hey, I'm coming up on Volume 300! I don't know if that's commitment or crazy! Look for a celebration of sorts.)
In honor of Halloween, I like to tell you a VERY spooky story. Before leaving town last summer to visit my college-age son who'd taken a seasonal job in North Dakota (no, that's not the spooky part) I called our long-time insurance company to make a claim for a broken passenger window, only to discover that they had canceled our car insurance (surprise!) back in January.
Say what?!? "Do you mean to say that I've let a teenage boy drive around for months with NO insurance?" I incredulously asked. (It appears so.)
This carrier had not only covered our cars for years, they had also insured our personal residence, thus the cancellation had resulted from a glitch with cross payments between the two accounts - a recurring problem that I erroneously thought I had straightened out several months earlier.
"We'll reinstate you - again," the agent finally conceded,"but we'll have to charge you for the back payments you missed, and add a 'reinstatement fee'" (aka: a penalty).
"I didn't miss them," I curtly replied, "the invoice is on 'auto-pay'. Billing didn't apply them to the correct accounts; that's on you. Why would I now pay for insurance your company hasn't been providing for months?"
And so the conversation devolved . . .
Frustrated, I finally called a competitor and promptly switched carriers on the cars, AND just to teach my old insurer a REAL lesson, I transferred my home owners' insurance policy a few days later . . . Here's where it gets scary. Three weeks after switching to a new insurance company, they canceled ME!
"Your home has large trees on the site, pine needles on the roof, cracks in the driveway, and sits on a down-sloping lot," the letter stated. "For these reasons, your property does NOT meet the underwriter's current insurance guidelines . . ." Huh?
Concerned, I called our new providers to clarify their position. "Listen, you invited me to move over ALL of my insurance needs," I insisted, "and I did. Certainly, you could have asked me about these specific characteristics when we went through the long questionnaire over the phone, BEFORE I cancelled my previous insurance.
"Some things are impossible to know until we see them," the unsympathetic representative nonchalantly replied. "You don't meet our company's criteria. Sorry." (Nightmare on Elm Street!)
"Redwood trees on a property or a down-sloping lot aren't 'impossible' to know," I spit out irritably. "It doesn't take a site visit to ascertain these restrictions and I would have happily supplied full disclosure had you simply asked the questions. In fact, if I'd known these factors would automatically reject our property out of hand, I WOULDN'T HAVE CANCELLED MY INSURANCE POLICY WITH MY PREVIOUS CARRIER!" (Tough luck.)
Now scrambling, I phoned my previous insurer and much more politely suggested they reinstate our insurance, only to be told they wouldn't, unless we installed a security system on the house and paid substantially more. Wow; "Trick" or "Treat?"
What's the moral of this haunting tale? Look before your leap? A bird in the hand? Restraint of pen and tongue? (You tell me.) All I know is . . . this could have been so very frightening.
Unfortunately, home insurance in the state of California IS getting tougher and tougher to come by. It's why I encourage ALL of my Buyers to shop for home insurance immediately once they find themselves in escrow.
Given California's penchant for unpredictable wild fires, earthquakes, landslides and other such natural disasters, securing home insurance has become increasingly difficult, and in some rare cases, nearly impossible to obtain. (Note: If your home carries a mortgage - as most of them do - you CANNOT close escrow without homeowner's insurance lined up, AND even if you have been lucky enough to buy your house in an "ALL-CASH" play, it would simply be foolish NOT to insure this very valuable asset.)
Long story short? I did manage to finally get insurance with a third party via the help of an insurance broker, but I am paying MORE than I used to and I am less than thrilled with the insurance industry as a whole. In fact, I'm rather peeved (both at myself for not understanding the consequences and at insurers for being less than helpful).
In the meantime, Cliff is diligently keeping the pine needles off of our roof, we are exploring bids to repair the cracks in the concrete, and I am holding my breath that another letter isn't heading our way that blames the down-sloping topography as a reason for immediate insurance cancellation. (There's absolutely nothing we can do about the lay of the land.)
Good thing I've got a fresh supply of candy and chocolate to ease the stress.
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.