Last Saturday, I dropped my husband and son at SFO bright and early. They were headed to the east coast to check out colleges and take in a baseball game or two along the route. There was both some excitement and anxiety around the trip; the unknown, the many miles they'll need to cover, the college campuses they hope to see, and the cheap hotels they'll need to find along the route; only to be followed by exhaustion, no doubt, on their return.
Doesn't that sound a lot like house hunting? It can literally consume every waking hour as one pours over the Intranet, meets their agent throughout the week, heads out on Sundays, learns the communities, reads the disclosure packages, gathers information for their lender, and prepares for battle. (Whew.) Quite often, it can begin to feel like a full time job! "I really need to get back to work." I've heard on more than one occasion. I understand. For those selling, it's even more time consuming as they purge, clean, pack, store, paint, garden, mulch, meet with their Realtor, interview moving companies, search for a replacement property, keep their home picture perfect for endless showings, and try to hold down steady employment in-between these time-consuming demands. It's truly, both physically and emotionally draining. Whether it's buying a new home or prepping an existing one for sale (for many of you, it will be BOTH simultaneously) I'm often counseling my clients to hang in there, trust the process, AND get some professional help wherever possible (I didn't mean therapy, but that's not a bad idea either. I meant painters!) AND I am also reminding them that regardless of the support we gather, "anxiety" IS part of the process.
Let me repeat that: "ANXIETY" is part of the process! There's no getting around this, so accept it and by all means, please don't feel the need to apologize to me for your feelings. No one (not even your Realtor) knows your home better or your goals more deeply than do you. Just understand, that feelings aren't facts, they're just feelings - nor are you alone. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE struggles with change. Change, under the best of circumstances, is still change. As I've often repeated, buying or selling a home is an emotional journey - not a pragmatic one.
I've bought and sold a fair number of houses through the years, both personally and professionally, and there's almost always some degree of angst, some second guessing, and some concern over the outcome. Were it in my power to control the unknown, and neatly lay out every scenario for you, I would happily do so, but unfortunately, it's the outcome, we don't get to control, no matter how well-prepared.
However, there are a few things we can control, such as our actions and our intentions as we proceed. So while you can't control the marketplace or how it responds, you can certainly maximize on it. Like those prospective college kids gathering their transcripts, writing essays, and visiting campuses, Buyers and Sellers really should begin the process early. If you know there is a move in your future (even if the timing hasn't been identified) start working with a Realtor NOW. An experienced agent can refer you to all manner of resources and help identify those things that should be addressed before bringing your house to market.
The same can be said for the financing piece as well. Unless you are an ALL CASH Buyer, DO meet with a mortgage lender as soon as you are thinking of entering the marketplace and get a pre-approval letter in place - just in case. There's no worse feeling than finding the house of your dreams on Sunday only to realize that the Sellers are taking offers on Monday! (BTW - a good mortgage lender can not only qualify you, he/she help clean up any financial discrepancies in your credit history and set an aggressive course of action that makes you truly competitive.)
"Should we or shouldn't we . . . remodel the bathroom, paint the house, replace the counter tops, strip grandma's wallpaper, move the tenant out, remove the illegal kitchen, replace the roof, address the sewer lateral, put in a new lawn, refinish the floors, etc., etc., etc.???" That depends.
Any fatal flaw should be addressed proactively (believe me your Buyer WILL discover it). An unclear easement, a cloud on title, a leaking roof, etc., may easily derail a deal. An ugly counter top? Probably not. However, if you are not going to "cure" the issue, you will certainly want to gather bids for the corrections (roof, foundation, chimney, furnace, etc.) Remember, any improvements you make at this point, should be fairly neutral in nature, which isn't to say - CHEAP. I can't count the number of times when I have met with a client and wished the prospective Seller or Buyer had called me before putting in metallic tiles they'd bought on sale. Really?
So use us; we're here to help. While your local Realtor can't necessarily remove ALL of the anxiety which accompanies these life-changing moments (for better or worse), we can certainly diffuse some of the pressure you are feeling and help organize the process along the way.
At the very minimum, your Real Estate Agent should be explaining the laws surrounding the purchase or sale of a home, ordering inspections, overseeing preparations, creating a marketing plan, setting expectations, and guiding you through negotiations and the escrow process. They should also listen, empathize, and care. Even so, you are still going to have moments of doubt. That's part of the process as well. Hang in there. This too shall pass. Tristan and Cliff didn't board the plane without a thoughtfully orchestrated plan - nor should you. Identify your goals, your timeline, and your expectations and then let's get to work bring your a successful result, whatever it may be and whenever it may be. 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.