"How much?" I said to the vendor at the Alameda Flea Market on Sunday, zeroing in on a pair of heavy, cement garden urns overflowing with great, BIG, wonderful succulents, already certain where I would place them in my home.
"Eighty-five for the pair," he said.
"I'll take them," I said, foregoing the usual cat and mouse negotiations that are typically part of the dance. (I know 'value' when I see it.)
"Can you hold them for me?" I politely asked. "I'll pick them up on the way out."
"Sure," he said, removing the plants and placing the urns aside. (Damn, I should have clarified my expectations regarding the plants.) No matter, a quick trip to the nursery would remedy that.
I'd decided at the last minute to hit the flea market and had e-mailed a few friends the morning of, on the off chance that they might be awake. The first was in London (Jealous much? Yes, I am.) but the second, surprisingly, was up and agreed to join me. Regrettably, she would be keeping her checkbook at home - Ann had given up buying anything "new" for Lent.
I d0n't have that dilemma. I'm Jew-ish and Passover is still a few weeks away. Even if sacrifice were a requirement of the High Holy Days (thankfully, it isn't), I'm not sure that anything at the Flea Market technically qualifies as "new," but Ann's a purist. She doesn't look for "technicalities" to get her off the hook. That girl is always well-intentioned and pure-of-heart. It's a lesson for us all.
Not surprisingly, Intentions are part-and-parcel of every home sale as well, so it's important to check ours going into each and every negotiation. While, the inherent intention in every real estate deal, is to transfer title of the property, how we get there is often less straight forward than we might believe and it's also often fraught with unintended pitfalls.
On some occasions, it can be downright difficult, if not nearly impossible. Why? Because home sales, unlike most purchases (save for wedding dresses) are loaded with emotions and expectations. For better or worse, our homes typically represent our largest single investment and moreover, they can be expensive to maintain and own.
Strike that, they ARE expensive to maintain and own, which is to say, there IS a LOT ON THE LINE. Buyers (especially first-time Buyers) having scraped together their very last dime, can find themselves racked with panic and fear, once given the news that they were successful with their very aggressive bid. ("Congratulations - you got the house!") Upon which, those old nemeses: doubt and fear, have been known to creep in, and once present, they're tough to shake.
Buyers begin to worry: "Did we overpay?" "What does this really mean?" OR worst of all, "Can we get out?"
Conversely, even Sellers who want to sell are typically unprepared for the onslaught of feelings that accompany such a transition. "Did we really mean to sell our lovely home? Did we give it away?" AND "Did we pick the right stewards? "
Place these competing and often, conflicting goals together, and there are bound to be some bumps along the way. It's why, on both ends, inspections and disclosure are a vital part of the contract and the process. Not only do contingencies allow Sellers and Buyers time to thoroughly investigate the property, they create a necessary familiarity while both parties adjust to the impending changes . . . Thus, contractual contingencies aren't just mere "technicalities," they are important consumer rights and buffer zones.
If you choose to strategically waive your contingencies because it makes your offer that much more competitive (it does) you also need to understand the risks involved (which may include your good-faith deposit of 3% should you have a last-minute change of heart).
Unfortunately, a "Seller's Market," such as we are experiencing now, puts heavy pressure on the Buyer to move rapidly, to make decisions quickly, and to waive the majority of their contingencies, leaving very little room for reconsideration. Ultimately, all this froth and speed results in MORE distress, not less, and paradoxically, in more uncertainty as well.
So while any seasoned Realtor is going to encourage you to be aggressive with BOTH terms and price in today's much more competitive world, we recognize that this "super-charged" pace often makes it more difficult for Buyers to feel comfortable moving forward.
If the Sellers allow pre-inspections, it might be well-worth your investment in time and money to meet with a contractor or an engineer prior to constructing your purchase offer. As to the appraisal and loan conditions, these depend entirely on your lender, your level of down payment, your cash in the bank, and your understanding of market value. (It's why "ALL-CASH" offers tend to be KING in this, or any other market.)
Whatever the decisions you make as to these contingencies, as long as you have a clear understanding of the consequences and your intentions going in, your outcome shouldn't be full of ambiguity. Align your expectations with market realities and clarify your goals upfront with your Realtor (if you want the washer & dryer, specify that in the contract).
And finally, make no assumptions with respect to technicalities - everything should be clearly defined and spelled out in the body of your contract. If you do that, there should be no second-guessing and no unwelcome surprises.
As for me? I'm off to the nursery now. I've got some succulents to replace.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 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.