"Thanks for your input," the email said, "but we've decided we're okay with the stairs to the front door, the steep lot, and the hillside location."
That's great. In fact, it's better than great, as long as you've taken all of those components into consideration. Given that real estate is a long-term purchase, AND given that it's likely to be your single-largest investment, AND given that you may NOT want to spend your weekends on home improvement projects, it's important to look at the the pluses and minuses of a property, absent rose-colored glasses.
Additionally, it's important to understand that the less-desirable characteristics you overlooked today, might very well be the hurdles that prevent a smooth transition come tomorrow should you decide to sell.
Still, what's desirable vs. wasn't isn't, isn't always easy to pin down. View homes, once considered the pinnacle of success, have given way way to "walk-to" locations as the coffee culture came to fruition. Now, houses in the flats, are generally preferred, and the prices for properties in the Elmwood have soared. Cut to the world of Covid-19, and yards seem to be the driving force once again, and the bigger, the better. Suddenly, the suburbs are all the rage. Hello Lafayette . . .
With the clear understanding that NO home is perfect, ask yourself if the more negative characteristics of the property you are considering are curable or fatal? (The positives require no debate.) While most things can be corrected with time and money, not all things are so easily addressed, and it's important to know the difference before you take the leap.
Years ago, when Cliff and I first toured our Piedmont home, the dank and musty downstairs had clearly been an afterthought. The furnace and water heater had been walled off in what would have been the basement, and several small rooms were added, connected by a long skinny hallway, which was probably why the house was still available even though the market was incredibly dynamic. Against all common sense, we bought the house anyway. Why? Because we had good vision, we knew what it could be, and this wasn't our first time at the rodeo.
However, any impending improvements were years down the road as we'd leveraged everything we had to get the house. Meaning, we lived with a funky floor plan and dog-stained carpets until we'd built up the bank account and had the wherewithal to tackle the work. As soon as our older son departed for college, we gutted the entire lower level, opened the staircase, integrated the upstairs and downstairs, and changed the flow dramatically. Although it took longer than I would have liked, we "cured" the house.
What wasn't correctable was the location at the end of a fairly unattractive 50's cul-de-sac, down a steep and narrow driveway. Consequently, when it looked as if Cliff's elderly mother would be joining our household, that driveway became a fatal flaw. (She couldn't safely walk or drive it.) What hadn't bothered us at all became a real-life issue for our family, and when we decided to sell, I'm certain it came up as well: "Love the house, hate the driveway." (May I recommend a Land Cruiser?)
Fortunately, we found the perfect Buyers who, in spite of the driveway, valued privacy, potential, land, a pool, a guest house, and the many improvements we had made, which far outweighed any shortcomings the Land-of-the-Lost location presented. Even so, a home's flaws are more easily overcome when you've created a backdrop that's emotionally compelling for the Buyer, AND that part, we'd gotten VERY right.
Which was in sharp contrast to the home I showed Buyers last weekend wherein the Seller had clearly not allowed his Realtor to ply her trade. The home presented with 35 years of accumulated belongings, sloppy beds, filthy carpets, and a Seller who insisted on giving his own tour and family history. Even for this serial renovator, it was tough to see beyond the "stuff," especially as we were asked to remove our shoes and put on gloves. (Nothing says "welcome home" like suiting up and sanitizing.) In short, it was every wrong turn that Realtors have nightmares about, and I'm certain it was against his highly-experienced and respected Realtor's sage advice.
Real Estate 101: Sellers, please make yourselves scarce. Buyers need to legitimately work through any objections about a house before they can make an offer and they cannot do that with you in earshot. (And as an aside, get over the shoe thing. No one wants to walk on stranger's floors without their shoes on.) We know you mean well. We know you know the house inside and out. We know you believe you can do our jobs better than we can, and we know you want to tell your story . . . BUT we're not selling the house to you. Buyers want and need to envision their story, so clean up, clear out, and let us do our jobs. Let us "cure" what needs "curing," or at least, redirect the eye!
That being said, on the scale of good, better, best, or should I say, bad, worse, and fatal, there are inherent characteristics about homes that are worth your careful consideration, flaws that can't be fixed no matter how hard we work to correct them, and situations that are frankly, unavoidable. If the house sits near a freeway, absent a major earthquake, the freeway probably isn't going anywhere, but can an elevator cure interior stairs? Absolutely. Can a remodel eliminate a bad floor plan? You betcha. Is it worth the money to renovate old kitchen and bathrooms? For sure. (In fact, why wait until you sell?)
In the end, it's your house, your money, your risk, and your choice, and it's not my job to talk you out of a home you love, BUT it is my role to suggest that you to consider ALL the ramifications before putting your hard-earned dollars on the line. Because in a marketplace where Buyers are often having to waive their due diligence in order to compete, it's often impossible to change your mind.
How can I help you?
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.