Last week, I received an unexpected impromptu invitation: "Hey Julie, I'm heading to Tahoe to ski Thursday and Friday, would you like to join me? (Why yes, I would.)
So with Jill manning the ship and Cliff taking care of the house, his mother and Riley, I quickly packed my bag, dug out my old ski paraphernalia, bought some chains for the tires (just in case) and drove up on Wednesday afternoon in the rain and snow. Never mind that the last time I skied was three years ago and I wasn't sure I still knew how; I was banking on muscle memory and taking advantage of the windfall. (Thank you.)
Happily, Thursday gave us clear skies through the first half of the day and Friday provided magical spring skiing with the lake in full glorious view. And while my out-of-shape thighs were certainly taxed on many of the steeper runs, I did manage to get down the mountain fairly unscathed and still breathing normally. (Okay, I had one spectacular yard sale, but the soft snow provided a cushion and there was nary a soul on the hill to witness it.)
After several hours, we packed it up and headed for home - a TRULY STUNNING cabin on the lake - nibbled on hummus and vegetables, and caught up on our grown kids' adventures (or misadventures as the case may be), while tackling a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that had been set up in the corner weeks before.
For me, jigsaw puzzles are fairly addictive habits having grown up in a household where my mother often had one in the works throughout the foggy Sacramento winter months. My sisters and I tackled different sections in turn (and one actually hid pieces so she could put in the last, but I'm not bitter), which means that I'm likely to stop if there's a puzzle in the room (only for a minute or two) but not heading to bed until the light actually becomes too difficult to make out the nuances. (There's probably a 12-step program for this.)
This puzzle was particularly difficult with mottled backgrounds and patterns that were slightly off-kilter, meaning the individual pieces didn't line up logically. Still, we had three evenings in front of us, no work (almost no work, we were still checking email daily), and time on our hands while the snow gently fell outside. It was a perfect, frosty, alpine setting.
"This piece should be easy enough to find," I said to my host, pointing to a missing place in the puzzle, "I've been looking for it for the last half hour, but it doesn't seem to be anywhere."
"That's probably because it's still in the box," she said, matter-of-factly.
Huh? Say what??? Whatcha talkin' bout Willis!?!
At which point, I immediately emptied the box, spread out the remaining pieces and we were off to the races (IF turtles raced). Don't get me wrong; the puzzle was still a challenge, but at least we had ALL the relevant pieces in front of us and we methodically got down to work . . . And while the landscape wasn't yet complete when I finally and regretfully pulled myself away on Saturday morning, it had come a long way and my friend still had two days yet to work on it.
"Take a picture," I said to her as I departed with my thanks and a hug, I want to see how far you get.
What's my point? When it comes to buying a home (or selling for that matter) unless you have ALL of the pieces in front of you, it's impossible to navigate the board. Which means that as Buyers, you need to line up a mortgage lender prior to finding the perfect home, visit Open Houses regularly, scan your favorite search engine daily, follow the sale prices within the communities you've identified, and work with a local Realtor who has a strong working knowledge of the marketplace as well as its past, present, and future indicators.
You need to READ the disclosures, ask questions, pre-investigate when possible, and have a clear understanding of what you are purchasing. You also need to write a love letter to the Sellers, include photos of your adorable children and pets, and be prepared to write aggressively. Oh, and you need to direct a good deal of perseverance and attention to the task.
Are your thighs burning? Are you struggling to breathe? Did you lose your skis and poles on that last run? (Oh wait, that was me.)
No worries, you won't be doing any of this alone. I'm going to be there every step of the way guiding you through disclosures, previewing houses, and most importantly, providing market context, which is why I always tell my Buyers that you'll never be expected to write a number I can't justify OR that you aren't fully informed about before committing. If the proposed offer is setting a new bar (as it often is in this marketplace), we're going to discuss the ramifications of the risks involved and what it means for you moving forward. In other words, ALL the pieces are going to be laid out on the board - in plain view - before I submit your offer.
We're also going to discuss the costs of buying, in addition to the purchase price, the steps you'll need to take in escrow, the escrow process as a whole, transfer taxes, supplemental property taxes, homeowners' insurance, sewer laterals, appraisals, contingency removals, wiring instructions, utility transfers, the Dos and Don'ts moving forward, and all other relevant information to the purchase of a home. (Not the most exciting part of owning, but really, REALLY important just the same.)
Is that a lot of puzzle pieces? Yes, it is, (No one said this was gonna be easy; that's not the nature of puzzles.) but once you get that last piece placed and I hand over the keys, you'll know that your time and efforts were well-rewarded. AND isn't that a pretty picture? (Yes, it is.)
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.