"Congratulations on your new career," my follow-up email said to my good friend, Heidi, "It's the perfect fit!"
After years of staying at home and seeing her first two kids successfully on to higher education, Heidi returned to school herself and earned her credentials in order to help others navigate the anxiety-filled college journey as well. (Where was she when I needed her?) We had serendipitously run into each other up at Village Market and she proudly flashed her new business card, along with her beautiful smile. (Both made my day.)
It wasn't long ago that my second son was facing the college dilemma himself. Now happily ensconced at Colgate University in upstate New York, I'm relieved to report that Tristan finally feels "at home." Still, I have to admit that choosing a college so far away wasn't the most carefree decision, nor the easiest of transitions (for either one of us). In fact, he spent the better part of his freshman year wondering if he had chosen correctly or had made a BIG mistake by not applying to schools in California. (Of course, he should have applied to schools closer to home. I miss him desperately.)
Along with the majority of his high-school classmates, our son agonized over the many decisions facing him: What field of study? What University? And Where? Urban? Country? West Coast? East Coast? Or somewhere in between? Large? Small? Sports? Greek Life? And the list went on and on . . . (Aren't our kids fortunate to have so many choices?)
Yes and no.
Too many choices, as it turns out, can really paralyze a person. (Enter the world of paid decision makers . . .)
Unfortunately, I watched this very thing happen on a modest home last spring. Once escrow had closed, the contractor's sign quickly went up and work began almost immediately on what was to be two new bathrooms, along with a few other minor improvements. A year later, the couple had yet to move in. When I questioned the contractor about what was taking so long, he simply shook his head and said, "That couple changed their minds more times than I can count . . ." (Oh dear, THAT can be expensive.)
Here's the thing about renovations; the internet world has never been more attractive, what with sites like Houzz, Pinterest and Instagram displaying ever manner of luxurious living and making us all feel as if our lives are rather humdrum. (Maybe that's just me?) In fact, there's truly no end to the dizzying array of textiles, lighting, tiles, faucets, fixtures, appliances, stones, furniture, wallpapers, paint, and accessories, that one can choose with which to decorate their homes. Right? So when the entire world is at your fingertips, how does one commit?
Not very easily.
Having faced my own share of renovations, I want to start off by saying that perfection is an elusive goal. Let it go and work with what you have to make it the best you can, then build from there. I've yet to sell, buy, or renovate the "perfect" house. Believe me, it doesn't exist, no matter the budget and furthermore, once we come to terms with letting go of "perfection," we can stop looking for it altogether. (Say, doesn't that feel better?)
The "right fit???" Yes, Grasshopper, now you're talkin'. From where I sit, that's where we should all aim. Not only does it make more sense, but the "right fit" is far more attainable. (Kids, this is true of your college journey as well. Prestigious schools are all well and good, but if they aren't the "right fit," you're going to be miserable.)
So where to begin? If you use sites like Pinterest (as I do), you'll quickly discover your "saved" photos will often share a similar theme. That's what sets your compass. Now that you've got your style and "wish list" in place, it's time to bring in the professionals. . . A good designer and architect will keep you from making mistakes that are not only costly, but as I pointed out in last week's column, truly tragic, and a diligent, creative and experienced contractor is worth his or her weight in gold.
Ask around, gather bids, follow up on referrals and choose wisely. Your contractor and his team are about to move in for the next several weeks, if not months. (If you thought the relationship with your Realtor was intimate, you haven't seen anything yet.)
And if I can give one piece of advice with respect to creating your dream home, it is to ask each of these professionals "What doesn't your fee cover?" In truth, there is a fair amount of research, last-minute decisions, and loose ends that invariably come about on each and every project. If we aren't on notice about these unassigned elements or tasks, they can easily hold things up and run up the tab! (If you believe your contractor will chase them all down, or cover the cost for any undefined items, you'll be sorely mistaken.)
But as long as you know who does what (and who doesn't), you'll be much less stressed along the way. Be fair minded, be prepared for surprises, stay open to suggestions, be decisive, and be grateful (This isn't the cure for cancer, it's just a remodel, so keep it in perspective.) AND try to cover ALL your bases.
Finally, don't be surprised if you can't wait to kick us all to the curb (and I mean that in the most loving way). At some point, you're going to want the project to be OVER! That's normal human behavior (you're allowed to get grouchy). Renovations that go on too long risk turning into the Winchester Mystery House. Moreover, you're not adopting your contractor - just paying for his kid's college education (see how I did that?)
Define your goals and your budget, and then methodically work to achieve them, AND if your working styles mesh, so much the better. (You'll get there. I promise.)
Now go find the "right fit," and if it needs a bit of adjusting with the help of several professionals to get it "just right," so be it. Remember, you only need to get close. A house doesn't need to be "perfect;" it just needs to serve your needs well. That's how you find your way home. . .
How can I help you?
Check out my Instagram at: piedmontrealtorgirl
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.