There's nothing that brings a smile to my face as quickly as Christmas lights. I'm giddy as a kid on Christmas morning (although my family celebrates Hannukah) as I drive the blocks taking in the bright strands of colors. I am especially thrilled when I discover new additions to the streetscape that light the night sky.
Even the tackiest of displays brings me great joy. You have to admire the passion that goes into every gaudy plastic Santa or snowman. There's real pride in each of these holiday displays, be it Martha Stewart or Jed Clampet. Even the cemetery dresses up in full regalia (really - drive through it with your kids) and this year, we have snow in Tilden Park to add to the wonder. All of it is a reminder to me of the celebration of the holidays and the overwhelming love of home.
In a year where turbulence has ruled the day, not a week goes by that a friend or a client doesn't worry out loud about the value of their home. You've approached me at soccer matches, football games and school events; at cocktail parties, fundraisers, and the grocery store, at the bank, the gym and the hairdresser's; while pumping gas, dancing salsa or walking the dog. Suddenly I've become very popular!
In short, almost every homeowner has some concern about the current value of their home and why wouldn't they? In a climate that seems to serve up disconcerting news almost daily, it follows that people would worry about a deepening recession.
Given that many of us have a tremendous amount of equity invested in our homes and that many more of us are counting on their significant appreciation to supplement our retirements, we ALL have legitimate cause for concern. Don't we?
Weren't we lead to believe that the ever-increasing equity of our homes would allow us to take our families on Safari, educate our children at Harvard and provide for our futures? (Yes, we were.)
Which isn't to say that your home won't provide these admirable ambitions in the end, but here's the thing - the value of your home is only relevant when you go to sell it! One more time because it's important - the value of your home is only relevant when you go to sell it! (It's like your weight is only important when you go to the beach!)
Like many of you, I bought my current property near the top of the market and in retrospect, I wish I had paid less (who doesn't?).
Am I regretting my decision to buy? No.
Because I am planning on staying in my home for another ten years or so, which makes today's value essentially irrelevant. I'm not in the market!
For those of you that are in the market, the value of real estate is relative. You may be selling for less, but you are also buying for significantly less as well. This makes valuable sense (and cents) for those of you moving up and especially for those of you who are currently renting and don't have a property to sell in the current marketplace.
Believe it or not, there are sound arguments for taking advantage of this buyer's market (and the lowest interest rates in four years)! Even if you are losing on one end, you are more than likely gaining more on the other. Increased appreciation over time on the "up leg" should more than offset the losses on your current property.
Finally, the best advice I've heard is to stop thinking of your home as an investment . It's your home, first and foremost. As one smart friend (and savvy commercial real estate investor) insightfully stated, "I don't think of my home as an investment, I think of it as a proposition. It's where my kids live. It's where we gather as a family." (Thank you Peter, I couldn't have said it better myself.)
So save your anxiety for your stock portfolios (and for bathing-suit shopping). Your home provides a unique "emotional value" that's hard to quantify and vastly different than the value of your stocks and bonds.
But if it's peace of mind you seek, may I remind you that "Main Street" has historically outperformed "Wall Street" over and over again.
So string up a few more lights and honor your home - leaky skylights and all. You are one of the lucky ones. Tidings of comfort and joy!
"Do you still make your bed every day?" Molly laughed, poking fun at me after a crisp morning walk along Crissy Field a few weeks back. (Molly and I met when our 17-year-old sons first entered the same kindergarten class many years ago and we've only grown closer over time.) Having garnered the well-honed reputation as a bit of a "neat freak" back then (doesn't everybody arrange their children's toys by alphabetical order and animal phylum?) it didn't surprise Molly in the least when I answered that I did.
"Training from my dad," I replied, taking a sip of tea, "He didn't allow us downstairs until our beds were made."
With six active kids under one roof, I suppose it was my folks' way of keeping some small (very small) semblance of order in the house. You made your bed every morning or you didn't eat breakfast!
Some habits are indelibly ingrained. Thanks to my dad, I never leave the house without tightly tucking in the sheets, pulling up the comforter and neatly ordering the pillows. The rest of the house might look like the epicenter of an earthquake, but I always make the bed (which is slightly problematic when my husband is still in it . . .) To me, making the bed each morning is a sacred ritual.
The sacred ritual in real estate is what's commonly known as "Broker's Tour." Broker's Tour takes place every Monday and Thursday mornings. In the East Bay, it geographically encompasses Oakland, Piedmont, Montclair, Rockridge, Berkeley, Albany, Kensington and El Cerrito. At The GRUBB Co., we also preview each other's listings every Tuesday mornings as well. (Whew, that's a lot of ground to cover).
Broker's Tour is an agent's opportunity to see any new listings that have recently hit or are about to enter the marketplace. This critical "sneak peek" allows us to view many properties in a condensed time period and it is the best way to stay on top of the inventory. It isn't atypical for me to visit between 10-15 homes on any given tour day (that's approximately 30 homes a week and 120 homes a month for those of you who are counting).
While touring is the surest way to stay current, it isn't the only way. Many agents rely instead, on The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to provide daily analysis and updates. While the MLS is an extremely valuable tool, to me, a "virtual tour" can never replace the importance of physically visiting a home.
Experiencing a home in person is the surest way to define whether or not a property meets my clients' criteria and needs. It tells me about the particular style of a home and its surrounding neighbors. It shows me where the sun comes in and how the garden grows. It informs me as to the quality of the craftsmanship, the age of the home and its care. It gives me the opportunity to question the listing agent as to the Seller's motivation and needs. Touring, tangibly highlights a home's specific story and it allows me to see a property through my Buyers' eyes. By previewing a home, I know what it has to offer and just as importantly - what it doesn't.
Here's the piece that's significant to you (oh good) - not every agent tours.
In fact, I can say with assurance that only a small minority of agents do! If you are counting on an agent to be your first line of defense and your eyes and ears, doesn't it make sense to work with a representative who tours on a regular basis and makes it part of her weekly practice?
The obvious reason is that those of us who tour religiously know the inventory better, but the less obvious and more important piece for you is that we understand the bigger picture and how it affects your potential outcome.
We know which properties sold quickly and why; which ones faltered and needed to be reduced; which ones compare favorably to recent sales and which ones are vastly different or unique. We know the area's geography, its nearby shops, parks and schools and its closest BART station or freeway on ramp.
In short, we've done our homework and are better prepared to save you valuable time and money as a result (or did you really want to see 120 homes in person?).
So before aligning yourself with an agent, it might benefit you to find out if he or she tours regularly; which areas does he/she tour most often, and which homes has he/she recently seen? Ask him/her if he/she has bothered to preview the property before taking you to see it and if not, ask yourself, "what value does this agent actually bring?"
For top professionals, there is a time-tested reason why the weekly Broker's Tour is considered one of our most sacred rituals. While admittedly, touring is time consuming (which is why many agents skip them altogether) it is simply one of our best and most important educational resources.
Now whether or not it's important if we make our beds is entirely up to you!
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.