My computer is stalking me. It knows I've been on the hunt for wallpaper and lighting so when I showed up this morning at 6:30am to write The Perspective, there was a lovely little prompt on my home page: "New Patterns!" and I was off to the races, spending the first half hour at my desk ordering swatches. (My boss doesn't pay me by the hour so no, I wasn't stealing company time.)
It should probably make me uncomfortable to acknowledge that my computer KNOWS that my home is currently under construction; that I'm in need of attractive bicycle shorts (a misnomer is there ever was one - NOBODY needs to wear shorts that tight); that I don't sleep as much as I use to, and that Cliff, Case, and I are headed to New York to settle Tristan in for the next four years at Colgate and to say good-bye (sigh). Thus, like many newly-minted empty nesters, I'll need to readjust my interests and priorities seeing as both my boys have now growu up, and are on their way. (It was inevitable, I suppose, but it doesn't mean I have to love it.)
So with little invitation, my computer has begun sending me suggestions . . .
Invasive? Possibly. Useful? Absolutely. Hey, I get that it's a little "2001, A Space Odyssey," but I'll gladly trade some loss of privacy for the convenience and direction in its place. (A mother without a child is a bit untethered. Bring on the distractions. As it turns out, I really can look at Pinterest all day.)
With virtually thousands of choices available online, this type of consumer-specific spam is both time saving and time consuming all at once, but more to the point, "it's the new, NEW," as my boss DJ Grubb, is fond of saying. Between our Smart Phones, our I-Pads, and our laptops, we're spending more time in front of our screens than ever before and often our computers are leading the way . . . (Let's face it, our gadgets are much, MUCH smarter than we will ever be.)
As computers pertain to Real Estate, that means that much of our paperwork will come to you via Docusign (a program that's truly changed the way we practice Real Estate); your disclosures will be sent via e-mail; and your hunt will undoubtedly include more time on your favorite search engine than in your car. Property flyers will be sent over the Internet and with respect to my own listings, each property will have it's own dedicated URL. That's as is should be in an ever-changing, evolving world. We want to utilize the gift of the "World Wide Web" and embrace it fully. Spam? Perhaps, but it's only "spam" until it's what you're looking for; then it becomes necessary information.
While I'm still sending The Open Home Guide out to my Buyers on the weekends (old school), it's more likely that my clients will shoot me an email with an inquiry about a house that's "popped" up on their screen well before then. Gone are the days when REALTORS carefully guarded this information and spoon fed their Buyers the properties they felt met their specific criteria. Now YOU are clearly leading the charge. Again, that's as it should be. Your active involvement creates a far more collaborative working relationship and I'm all for that.
However, there's a fine line between a partnership and micromanaging and as a gal, who's been known to micromanage herself (guilty as charged), I'm here to tell you that such a process changes the outcome not one bit, but undoubtedly, adds to the overall stress of the transaction. In fact, we micromanagers tend to get in our own way - well intentioned as we are - with all the baggage that accompanies our fear and trepidation.
"No," we won't need that. (Yes, you do.)
"Nobody's going to really care about . . . (Yes, they will.)
"Why should we agree to that?" (Because it DOES make a difference.)
I get it, this stuff is hard. Our homes don't just represent a roof over our heads, but the culmination of years of memories and experiences. When one hands over one's house to a REALTOR, it's truly an act of faith and trust and I for one, am honored. I know that your home has a story to tell and it's my goal to tell it. It's also my job to deliver the best result which often means, I'll need to change the narrative . . .
Going back to my love of wallpaper, nothing probably dates a house more, as do tiles, and colors (avocado? gold? mauve? They won't do in today's Restoration Renovated muted world.). If your home is very stylized, saturated in color, or highly specific, chances are, I'm going to recommend that we change it, which is why professional staging has become the norm, - and not the exception. When we sell our homes, we need to be willing to let go and neutralize the backdrop so that the next family can place themselves in the house instead of focusing on the memories you've left behind. The family photos of your fantastic trips and your adorable kids are great, but please pack them up for the time being.
Here's the upside. When we truly let go, we get to create NEW PATTERNS, and that's as it should be in an ever-evolving world (whether we like it or not). So please, feel free to offload some of the stress you may be feeling about selling your family home, secure in the knowledge that I have your best interests at heart. Remember, I'm only getting paid when I bring you a satisfactory result (aka: a happy ending) so I have a vested interest as well.
You, me, life, new journeys, and the computer . . . we're all in this together!
How can I help you?
"Your paint is ready," said the salesman on the other end of the line. "You can pick it up whenever you like." I put down the cover stick and eyeliner (my personal paint) and headed over to Dunn Edward's on Broadway so that I could finish rolling the dining room, having just run shy on the last few feet of wall space. I stood in a sea of largely Hispanic men in dungarees and overalls waiting for my turn at the counter; the lone lady in high heels and a suit.
Painting isn't foreign to me, nor are paint stores. My sisters and I grew up cleaning and painting nearly every weekend. A Realtor & Broker by trade, my father had a penchant for the "fixer" and a slew of children to employ (he paid $1 per hour) and each of us mastered the art of edging and rolling as we grew, until we could take the lead - or run away from home!
A good paint job is a skill that requires more than meets the eye - it demands tons of elbow grease (preparation is everything) and more patience than I personally ever developed. So there's an easy argument - in my mind anyway - to be made for hiring a professional. And happily, I now know many dependable and skillful painters I can call upon (and do).
Don't tell anybody, but I hate painting. After 40-plus years of it, and five major renovation projects, I believe I've reached my quota - and then some. As for Cliff, our marriage stands a much better chance when I DON'T put a paint brush in my husband's hands and ask him to do the impossible. (Clearly, his parents had higher ambitions for him.)
Still, painting is a topic that comes up almost immediately whenever I am invited to tour and potentially, list a home.
"How do you feel about painting out a few rooms?" I will casually ask, trying to get a read on the emotional attachment the homeowner has to their house.
To which they often reply, "Our decorator carefully picked these colors to match our home specifically. It'd be a shame to paint it out." (Okay, here we go. I'm already swimming upstream.)
No, it wouldn't and here's why . . .
Today, my colleagues and I toured a home that would have fared better in Florida (or the 70s). With its too-bright palette, busy walls, and a ton of bric-a-brac, I honestly couldn't see the forest for the trees (and I'm used to looking past the personal items to the bones beneath). Once the packing gets underway and the pictures come off the walls, there are likely to be nail holes and fade marks in place of family photos and the artwork that previously hung there. Imagine how the average home buyer views such a property? (NOT favorably!)
In its current condition, this over-stimulating house is likely to get 20-30% less than the newly painted and staged house down the street. And in our affluent marketplace, that's not exactly chump change.
This may not accurately describe your beautiful home (and probably doesn't) but if you have lived in a house for even a few short years, your walls (and floors) will bear witness to fingerprints, chipped woodwork, and furniture marks. AND if you've ever lived with teens (as I have) you know that their rooms can be officially classified as archaeology digs, with their floor-to-ceiling boy band posters, Sports Illustrated pictorials, and clothes that quite literally, have never met a hanger. This might just describe my kids, but teenagers are harder on a house than cats and dogs - or earthquakes for that matter . . .
More to the point, getting top dollar for a house (that is the goal, correct?) demands a fresh face, gleaming floors, professional staging, and yes, a neutral palette so that the new Buyer can begin to place themselves in the house, as opposed to focusing on your life in it.
Finally, as preparations go, painting is a relatively inexpensive fix that offers a potentially much larger return on your investment. Short of getting rid of your children, your pets, and your things (no, I'm not actually advocating that, EXCEPT when you decide to sell) OR, living like a monk, none of us live in a pristine house (nor should we; that would just be sad and lonely).
So get out the roller and paint brush, or better yet, hire a professional to quickly get the job done for you. These skillful trades people are well worth their weight in gold.
Hugo, can you come finish my dining room, please?
"Can I help you?" the pretty, young salesgirl politely asked, clearly recognizing the confusion in my eyes. (I'm sure I'm not the first.)
"Yes!" I gushed, handing off the few shirts I had already selected, grateful for the rescue. "I desperately need some new clothes for work."
Here's the thing, take me to the Alameda Flea Market with literally row upon row of antique vendors as far as the eye can see, and I haven't a problem quickly identifying what I want or negotiating for it, BUT if I wander into any large department store, I'm utterly lost; as if I haven't a clue (I don't).
With all due respect to April, I'm not fooling, I really have NO ability to filter through the sea of clothes as most of my fashionable peers can easily do (or any 16-year-old girl for that matter). Accessories? Uh . . . what are those? I wear a pair of earrings until I lose one and then I might purchase another (or not). Purses? I own just two. "
You're not really wearing those baggy jeans?" my girlfriend, Teresa, has critically scoffed as I've arrived for an outing. (Not anymore, I'm not.) Teresa is the mother of three daughters - she always looks stylish.
Maybe it's the boy thing. Frankly, neither Tris nor Case could care less about what either one of them is wearing, let alone me, but after 20-plus years, I'm clearly out of practice and waaay out of my element. Maybe it's the fact that I spend more time at the ball field than at the shopping mall. OR, maybe there's a chromosome missing in my DNA?!?
Whatever it is, I am the first to admit that when it comes to fashion, I don't know where to begin.
Thankfully, I don't have to.
"I'm a personal shopper," Sabrina explained as she escorted me into a private changing room. "If you ever need me, here's my card." (Need you? Can I adopt you?) "I'm just going to select some options for you . . . just wait here, I'll be right back." (Relief.)
One hour later and I walked out of Macy's with three new shirts, a blazer, two skirts, a pair of pants, and a sporty little pair of Espadrilles - and they all mix and match. I'm set for the next several months. (Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!)
Relying on others with more experience, doesn't just make common sense (and cents) it's often times, the wisest course of action, and the most expedient as well - especially when it come to Real Estate.
Why reinvent the wheel when others more practiced, can better steer the way?
I can't count the number of times, when potential Sellers bring me in after they have painted or made repairs, when they'd be much better served, inviting me in before (don't mind the mess, I've seen much worse.) The truth is, there's a very different aesthetic for marketing your home for photos online, than for decorating it to meet your own personal taste and style.
AND before you spend those hard-earned dollars that I will, in all probability, ask you to respend, PLEASE CALL ME. (Think Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn catalog and you're on the right track.) And yes, it's very likely, the design will embrace a very neutral palette - and for good reason. We want potential Buyers to place themselves in your home, not get sidetracked by the photos of your darling children and their colorful artwork on the walls.
So for those of you contemplating selling your home in the next few years - or in the next few months - may I offer a few suggestions as someone who's got a great deal more experience than the average home seller typically does?
If a move is in your future, here's my Top Ten 'To Do' List:" (no charge)
Can I help you?
"You'll need to remove the wallpaper, replace the garage door, and repaint the entire exterior," my intrepid colleague matter-of-factly stated. "Also, it couldn't hurt to update the kitchen with stainless-steel appliances, stone counter tops and a new sink," she continued. "Oh, and what do you plan on doing with that hallway bath?" Ugh!
To be fair, I'd invited several people from my office over for an assessment of my home's recent remodel, aka: "current market value." I had explicitly asked my fellow Realtors to treat me like "any other client" and to their credit, they HAD! And while their frank and unvarnished comments came as no real surprise, given my own experience with such meetings, I hadn't realized just how brutal the process might actually feel from the Seller's perspective, or that it would sting quite so much.
Oh Holy Night!
Like many of you, I have carefully crafted my decorating style over many years and it has taken me countless trips to the flea market and endless hours with a paint brush to create an environment that is uniquely "moi." So imagine my discomfort when fellow GRUBB professionals assessed my "work product" in a matter of mere minutes and found it somewhat - uhhh, lacking? (At least at a Sunday Open, you're not present when Buyers do the same.)
Never mind the many compliments; it was the solicited negatives that were tough to hear - if not downright painful! Unfortunately, if there's an easy way to tell Sellers that their homes would benefit from the trained eye of a professional stager, that they have too much furniture, that they need to put away the lopsided ceramic pots they received as Mother's Day Gifts, and that they should hire a professional cleaning service, I am still struggling to find it. (Even the kids' precious art projects? Yes, even those.)
To which I can only say, "I am sorry to be so blunt. Now start purging!"
Would it soften the blow to know that my advice is under laid with tremendous respect, for I know that the results you seek are largely dependent on my ability to be entirely truthful with you - if not always tactful? (It doesn't? Not even a little?) These observations aren't meant to be hypercritical (although they often seem like it in the moment). They are intended to bring you the best and most profitable response.
"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices . . ."
The fact is, I have yet to meet the Seller who doesn't want top dollar for their home. No one says, "Just get me whatever you can for the place; that'll be fine." So with that in mind, my goal is to orchestrate a plan that makes the most sense for you, displaces you the least (as if that were really possible) and meets your budget and time restraints.
Short of moving you out entirely (and even then) selling a home is going to be completely, utterly, incredibly inconvenient and disruptive - not to mention an investment of both time and money! As such, wouldn't you like to know that my suggestions have proven to be successful time and again? (Whether or not you choose to take them, is entirely up to you!)
So forgive my frequent intrusions, my not-so-gentle critiques, and my bulldozer-like suggestions and know that I too, have been reminded that our accumulated "things" represent an inventory of our lives - not just evidence of one's clutter. With great efforts and good intentions (a broom, a box, and a beginning . . .) we will eventually cross the finish line together.
Geeze, I'd better get busy. According to my colleagues, I've got some tiles and a new bathroom vanity to order.
"For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn . . ."
"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!
I love the look of fresh mulch in the garden. Proudly surveying my hard work last week as I was obsessively preparing my home for the Piedmont Neighbors and Newcomers Annual Progressive Party, I suddenly thought, "mulch is the Botox of the garden!" (Profound, right?)
Hey, I know, that you know, that it's only ground cover, but that thick carpet of fresh loam makes all the difference in the world. While mini bark is a whole lot cheaper than Botox, it works pretty much the same way - it beautifully hides flaws and smoothes out the imperfections (um, not that I would personally know anything about that).
And let's not underestimate the value of smoothing out the imperfections in the sale of a home - or of addressing minor flaws for that matter. I'm not talking smoke and mirrors here, just a little bit of effort, a good deal of muscle and some well-orchestrated touch ups!
So aside from mulch, here's a list of some of my other easy suggestions for getting your home in good order and in quick measure, prior to marketing it for sale - or when having a hundred of your new friends over for sangria and wine (nothing says "organize and clean-up" quite like an impending party . . .) .
After all that gardening (and company), I could use a good manicure - and I am probably overdue at the dermatologist's as well. (At my age, I need heavy mulching. . . ).
"I need a tux." My son matter-of-factly said into his cell phone. "Me and the guys are going to San Francisco tonight." (TONIGHT?!?)
"Sure," I gulped, "no problem," hoping Case could fit into his father's tuxedo as I hit the gas and raced up the hill in a near panic (clearly, my son was clueless with respect to the concept of tuxedos and timing!).
As luck would have it, my husband had purchased a formal tuxedo from Nordstroms a few years back and while our elder son is slightly taller (and slightly slimmer) than his dad, I thought he might just get away with it. If only I could remember where the studs, cumberbund and cufflinks were located, before packing away the bulk of our closet contents prior to the remodel. When was the last time I had actually seen those items and where?
But first, I needed to be picked up off the floor . . .
Is this the same kid who skipped his senior prom, wore basketball shorts under his graduation gown and hadn't yet mastered the effortless flair of Khakis and a sports coat? The same kid who struggled to tie his shoe laces, who never combed his hair, and to whom the idea of tucking in one's shirt was a totally objectionable concept - even when visiting his grandmother's house? (Yes, it was.) Were we really jumping from one extreme to the other with little to NO notice? (Apparently, we were.)
Forty-five minutes later, a trip to Selix downtown (I didn't find the studs) and shaved, showered and dressed to the nines, I have to say Case looked downright handsome and more than just a little bit grown up. He'd even succumbed to my insistence that formal attire also requires one to wear stiff patent leather shoes and black (not gym) socks. And with the help of YouTube, we even had mild success tying the bow tie after only a few clunky attempts. Standing before me, tall, elegant and just slightly awkward, I had a glimpse of the man my son is bound to become.
"Is this really what everyone else will be wearing?" the man-child suspiciously inquired, surprised by his own stately appearance in the mirror.
"Yes, it is," I replied proudly, "You look absolutely great"
(and he did). "Quick, get the camera," I instructed my husband, fearing we might never see him dressed formally again.
"No way! You're not taking my picture." Ah ha! There's the boy I know and love.Good staging is like wearing a tuxedo to a fancy winter ball. One simply can't arrive at the St Francis Hotel dressed in blue jeans and a Wildcats T-shirt when the rest of the participants are in formal gowns and dinner jackets. In the world of real estate, an unstaged home is the the equivalent of underdressing.
Compared to staged properties nearby, your home is bound to look like yesterday's news - no matter how tidy you keep it. Regardless of your fabulous possessions, your antique collections and the level of your taste, it is the rare home that doesn't benefit from a trained eye, SIGNIFICANT editing and a designer's touch.
Here in the Bay Area, it's almost standard practice to stage a property - prior to selling it. Typically, you will also need to paint, prune, and purge your way to Pleasantville. You may need to replace old appliances, address the long overdue "To Do" list, blow leaves from the roof, wash the windows, clean out the closets, and spit shine your home from top to bottom. Curtains come down, photos get stowed and all traces of personal style are shelved. Prospective buyers need to envision their own family in the home - not yours.
With mixed emotions, sellers often discover that their home has never looked better than when they go to sell it. Buck up, you're not alone - everyone's does! Without a trace of mail in sight, a used cereal bowl in the sink, or an open kitchen cupboard, the house is very nearly picture perfect - as it should be when selling.
Selling a home almost always has a fair amount of theater involved in the process and smart sellers sign up for "the show." Your home should look its best when it comes to market - absent the items that make it quintessentially you. (Think Restoration Hardware catalogue and you will be on the same page as every trained Buyer shopping in today's market.)
With one opportunity to make a first impression and with 93% of prospective buyers now beginning their search on the Internet, photos have never been more important - so get it right.
Unlike my son's refusal to take a photo, there will be plenty of pictures for posterity.
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.