Each week, Jordan Gunn, editor of The San Francisco Chronicle's "Sound Off" column, sends out a question to local Bay Area Realtors looking for answers and insights. Invariably, it's a race to "yes," but this week, his inquiry was spot on, relating directly to my own experience last weekend with new Buyers, so I decided to participate just the same. (Thank you, Jordan.)
ACT ONE, SCENE ONE:
Exedera Park, Piedmont: Off to one side, there's an active playground with a climbing structure, swings, a slide, monkey bars, and mounds of soft sand. Young kids are happily playing. A huge Magnolia tree shades the lawn and a majestic fountain flows musically nearby. The benches are lined with doting parents and one lone Piedmont Realtor (that's me) who's meeting her new clients for the first time.
The Clients: fantastic, dynamic dual-professionals with two children, a healthy budget, a working knowledge of the marketplace, flexibility with respect to style and condition, and most importantly, realistic expectations. (Those are my favorite kinds of Buyers!)
The Goal: Excellent public schools, a welcoming backdrop, diversity within the greater community, 3-4 bedrooms, approximately 3,000 square feet, a guest space for visiting parents, and a doable commute to downtown San Francisco. (I speak your language.)
So with adorable kids in tow, we set off around town, and I began the fifteen-cent tour:
"This is Central Piedmont," I said, "it's ground zero for the schools, City Hall, the police and fire departments, the Community Center, the public pool, Haven's Elementary, Piedmont Middle and High Schools, Movie Night in the park, and Mulberry's Market." (Quite possibly, the epicenter of it all.) "When Buyers seek a 'walk-to' location, this is generally what they mean.
It was a beautiful sunny day, the tulips were in bloom, Piedmont's teens were out and about, there were baseball games underway, the market was bustling, the view to the City was crystal clear and everything that's GREAT about Piedmont was on full display. What's not to love? But I digress . . .
Jordan's question had asked: "How do I determine my priorities before I search for a home?" (I assume the question was actually meant for Buyers, not their Agents.)
And while I rarely ever disagree with Jordan (I know where my bread is buttered), his question misses the most important component to the Buyers' search, which is that Buyers shouldn't determine their 'priorities' at all without FIRST determining their budget and financial avenue.
In other words: "How much can you afford?" Have you factored in closing and carrying costs? How much cash will you bringing to the purchase? Will you be receiving help from a parent or family member in the form of a 'gift'? Are you an ALL-CASH Buyer or will you be procuring a loan? If so, who is the underwriter? Do you need to sell before you buy? AND if I were to show you the perfect property today, could you put in an offer tomorrow?
Realtor (me): "Okay, that changes everything."
ACT TWO, SCENE TWO:
A mid-sized SUV, two car seats hold a toddler and her older sister securely in place. Both are beyond adorable. Mom squeezes in between the two. Dad carefully drives the car. The Realtor sits up front navigating while rapidly expounding on Halloween trick-or-treating, school activities, sleep-away camp, the Fourth-of-July Parade and on and on . . . . The car moves through the streets of Piedmont and stops at a big Brown-Shingle with a sweeping front lawn.
Realtor (me again): "Let's look at a few house just to get the lay of the land with the understanding that anything we see today is likely going to be sold by next week. Between now and then, I'm going to send you the names of three local lenders I've had excellent results with and please get in touch with them immediately. You'll want and NEED to compare rates before we get into a contract on a home - not after."
Hey, I'm not trying to burst your bubble, your house-hunting dreams are very important to me and I'm looking forward to hearing all about them, but given the speed with which our market moves, unless you're on the same page of the play as everyone else, there's almost no point in looking at homes other than to familiarize yourself with the marketplace for context. (Make no mistake, I'm thrilled to be a tour guide but we're bringing the curtain down before the final scene.)
Moreover, getting preapproved for a loan can happen in as little as a few days and once "preapproved," we can legitimately set to work on your "priorities," which are going to be different for everyone depending on their stage of life and their immediate needs.
How you "determine your priorities," once the financial avenue has been explored, will depend entirely on what you and your partner are willing to compromise on - and just as importantly, what you are not! (To Jordan's point, there are several ways to actually measure your needs and wants and I'd be happy to give you some tips.) BUT your priority should be getting a loan, or if planning to buy with cash, liquifying your assets.
Buy UP, buy down, or buy your neighbor's house around the corner, it's all going to require good financial planning, so before we start fine-tuning your search for things like a "fabulous kitchen," "open concept," "big backyard," "walk-to school," or "commuter friendly," let's make sure your set up for success from the opening line and then begin our search in earnest. Remember, no one wants to find you the perfect home more than your Realtor (uh, 'nearly perfect;' there's no such thing as 'perfect'), but if the second act comes before the first, the play's not going to make much sense.
ACT THREE, SCENE THREE:
A big, beautiful house on a tree-lined street. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, out front, neighborhood kids ride by on their bicycles, laughing merrily. Our camera pans onto a tired, but catalogue-gorgeous family unpacking their boxes as their children play with the bubble wrap in the background . . . a bottle of champagne sits on the table near the sofa and everyone is smiling. It's the start of a new chapter. (Footnote: their Realtor dropped off a pizza and some homemade cookies earlier in the day.)
FADE OUT . . .
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 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.