My family is big on board games: Dominoes, Perquacky, Trivial Pursuit - we've played them all and we are all extremely competitive at them (meaning, I'm extremely competitive at them.) I'm especially adept at games involving tiles or cards. It's a tactile thing I suppose. I haven't taken to Internet challenges or the Xbox the way my kids have, save for a game of Spider Solitaire now and again. Give me a good old-fashioned game of cards any day of the week and I'm on board (pun intended).
My dad taught all of six of his kids how to play cards when we were just barely out of diapers and then he taught me and my twin sister the game of cribbage before we entered the third grade - a game I still play to this day (although admittedly, Jill beats me more often than I beat her). Perhaps it's the beautiful hand-carved cribbage board I truly love, but the shuffle of the cards, the rhythm of the count, and the dance of the pegs working their way up and down the board, all work for me.
Last week when I visited my dad at his home in Sonoma, he introduced me to his latest favorite craze called Rummicube. It's a cross between Dominoes and Rummy that manipulates patterns and numerical runs using multi-colored numbered tiles. Bingo! That's a game that's custom fit for me. Suffice it to say that I took to it like a duck takes to water, beating my dad, my sister, Karen, and my mom, in the highest scoring game they've played to date. (Okay Dad. That wasn't very nice of me in your "post-operative" condition but it's the way you taught me to play. You'll beat me next time around.)
If it sounds boring - it's not. The goal is to get rid of all your tiles first, thereby accruing the unplayed points of your opponents, but the skill comes in the form of rearranging the runs already on the table in order to create new opportunities for your pieces. To get there, you might need to change up to half a dozen groupings before making a single move. (It's pretty darn satisfying.) Don't worry if you didn't follow that, my point is, the game is all about numbers and how to shift them in your favor. (Have I peaked your interest now?)
The fact is, Real Estate is often a game of numbers as well, and truth be told, skilled Realtors are very good at manipulating the math. If I need to make an argument for why a home may be priced a bit "overly ambitious" in order to support a buyer's "less than asking" purchase offer, I carefully scan the MLS and pull the sales that support this proposition. Conversely, if I need to reassure a buyer that the home they have just successfully gone into contract on can indeed hold its value (as I did just last week) I can do that too - with supporting data!
Mind you, I don't make this stuff up, if I can't support the numbers, I'll tell you so. Specifically, I won't tell you that your home will sell at a certain price, if current market performance doesn't meet your expectations (even when it costs me the listing). And if I feel you are "overpaying" for a home (a term I take strong issue with, but that's another column altogether) I'll tell you that as well.
I don't manufacture the numbers, but I do work extremely hard to "reveal " the market reality, which comes by way of thorough analysis and a clear understanding of the marketplace and its inventory - not just today but over time. You have to really know the numbers in order to present them in a way that makes sense (makes cents) and is quantifiable - and that takes both practice and diligence. There's simply too much at stake to "gut" it out when buyers and sellers require strong supporting evidence in order to move ahead.
But after all the numbers are in place and presented for your consideration, the reality is that true "value" on any property is quite subjective by nature. Don't mistake my meaning, an appraiser and a lender work with "objective" criteria that qualifies value, but buyers and sellers work more from the gut then they care to admit - and often their Realtors do as well. That's the ART of the deal. It isn't science - it's instincts, nerves - and guts!
While almost all of us start from a pragmatic position - based on what we can (or cannot) afford - within that framework, there's an element of emotion that overlays the process that can't help but tip the scale with respect to "value." Moreover, "value" has a way of becoming a moving target - especially when measuring market demand. Add to that, the deeper understanding that "value" is fungible; sometimes working in our favor and sometimes, against - and the concept of "value," can indeed, become very confusing.
But in today's world (which is the only world in which we can judge) does this home meet your specific needs better than others you have seen? Does it serve your family well? Is it close to transportation or shopping? Is there room to grow? Is there a school nearby? Is there a view? Adequate closet space? Ample storage? A Garage? A garden? Good light? Most importantly, does it speak to YOU emotionally? (Yes?) Bingo! Then good news folks, you've found your next home!
The point is (my point is) these distinctions are "value propositions" that add up to different values for different buyers AND all are criteria that may shift over time, as needs change. Putting aside the math, there's a certain element of faith that comes into play - irrespective of the numbers - no matter how carefully or thoughtfully presented they are.
When all is said and done and analyzed, we are left with our instinct, our desire and our decision. Then all that remains, is to embrace the numbers and make a move. "Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, a pair makes eight, a pair makes ten, a run is thirteen and a Jack is fourteen . . . " Now what's in the crib?"
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 14 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.