Howdy! We're back from vacation, having just visited our elder son at the HF Bar in Wyoming, where Case has hitched his wagon for the summer as a seasonal employee at one of the oldest dude ranches in the West. The HF Bar Ranch has been in operation since the early 1900s and sits on more than 8,000 pristine acres that back up to the beautiful Big Horn Mountains.
Having spent last summer at home, Case was determined to try something "out of the box," this year instead, so signed on as a part of the grounds crew where he's responsible for a whole host of chores that he's never attempted at our home here in Piedmont. From slopping pigs, to mowing lawns, to making ice, to chopping wood, Case is spending countless hours unplugged from technology and learning how to work with his hands. (Gee, there's a concept. Yee haw!) In short, these visiting college kids are kept purty darn busy tending to the guests, the animals and the property at large.
I had never been to an official "dude ranch" (or an unofficial one for that matter) nor have I ever explored Big Sky country, so visiting Case was an opportunity too good to pass up. While the "wild, wild west" may not be so "wild" any longer, it's still pretty untamed by most people's standards. It's also quite majestic. Our well-appointed log cabin was perched alongside a meandering stream and the views of the pastures and hills beyond were incredibly inspiring. It wasn't hard to imagine that herds of buffalo once roamed this bountiful land as Native Americans on horseback followed in hot pursuit.
Each morning after breakfast, we novice "dudes" broke into small groups and took long rides into the nearby mountains and Ponderosa forests. Accompanied by an experienced "wrangler," who safely steered us through rocky creeks and steep mountain trails, we got to experience first hand, the environment in ways we never would have otherwise. Riding the range is second nature to these cowboys and cowgirls where there seems to be unlimited room to roam.
"Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day . . ."
For us, it was strange new territory. City Slickers that we are, Cliff, Tristan and I haven't really been near a horse since the pony rides at the Marin Farmers' Market when the boys were "youngins," and since I'm no Annie Oakley, and Cliff isn't exactly the Sundance Kid, horseback riding isn't second nature to any of us. So let me just admit it here and now that learning to trot and gallop in time with these large, graceful animals was a challenge for us (although I think it was much tougher for Cliff - Ouch!). "Watch the left shoulder," our wrangler instructed us with a pronounced cowboy twang. "When yur horse's left foot goes forward, you want to purty much be standin' up in yur saddle before comin' down in time with the next step."
Okay, that's easier said than done.
Maybe you need an actual cowboy hat to play the part instead of a Yankee's cap? (Apologies to Pam and Larry Baer.) But with some practice, we eventually got it right (well, sort of). Suffice it to say, that when one gets off rhythm, it hurts! That's not unlike our current activity here in the Bay Area, which seems to have a rhythm that's tough to read as well. Get out-of-step, and you're going to pay the price, either by missing out on opportunities that should have been yours, or misjudging the timing altogether (in which case, it's gonna hurt! )
Experienced wrangler or novice rider alike, it's nearly impossible to determine "value" in this quickly escalating marketplace, OR to keep pace . . . So if those of us with years of experience are struggling with the tectonic changes, how then, does the average consumer correctly anticipate the often surprising results? In other words, it's kind of like trying to rope a steer. Shucks, it ain't easy. Unfortunately, last week's sales don't necessarily determine this week's results. OR in cowboy parlance, if you really want the house, ya gotta 'pony up' pard'ner!
Between you and me, it would be a whole lot easier for both of us if this were a matter of simple math; a balance sheet of pluses and minuses that factored out to a neat little conclusion, but that's not the way a market predicated on "supply and demand" works. When there's a whole lot MORE demand, than supply (as there is now) it's a lot more like the Wild, Wild, West!
"But we don't want to overpay for the house."
Nobody wants to "overpay," but if several other offers are competing with yours, pardon me, but you didn't "overpay," you paid what the market would bear. With the understanding that markets move up and down, and that they can (and d0) correct, you can only work in the market in which you are in. (BTW - the concept of "overpaying' is only a consideration once a market adjusts.) When setting an offer price in today's world, it's important to factor in the time you'll likely be staying in the home . . . If you are planning on being in it for years, what you pay today is almost irrelevant. On the other hand, if this is a short-term play, then buying"value" is going to be very key. Got it? Good.
Now Saddle Up and Ride! "Home, Home on the range . . ."
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.