I sat in the corner, a veritable wallflower nursing a diet coke, remembering why people drink the hard stuff. I had accompanied my husband to his 40th high school reunion on Long Island (I'm obviously much younger) and not surprisingly, the group was transformed back to a time well before I was part of the landscape. As expected, the goal of the evening was to reestablish old relationships, not to make new ones - which is why I typically stay behind and wish Cliff bon voyage whenever these special "reunion" opportunities arise.
I'm not complaining, mind you; Cliff and I had just enjoyed three nights in Manhattan, two musical plays, a Tenement Museum tour, matzoh ball soup at Canter's Deli, a trip to the Columbia University campus, and several romantic strolls through Central Park. As an added bonus, we had reunited with his long-lost friend from high school, who after 38 years overseas, had now returned stateside, along with his lovely wife. In short, the brief getaway was all a girl could ask for and then some, but on Saturday night, I probably should have made alternative plans; I might as well have been on Mars.
Instead, I put on a new dress and politely soldiered through the evening as I sat quietly with the couple of other husbands and wives who had foolishly tagged along as well. If it were up to me, these invites would make it official: "spouses need not attend" (really). Suffice it to say that I was ready for the evening to end early, while Cliff, in uncharacteristic fashion, was just getting started.
Everyone had a story to tell of their adventures since graduating, family photos to share, and memories to recount - and NONE of it related to Bay Area Real Estate in the least. (Can you imagine?) By 10 pm, I'd had my fill and hitched a ride back to the less-than-glamorous Tides Motor Lodge (which has seen better days, but that's a story for another column) leaving my husband to reminisce to his heart's content. Now we were both happy. (Sort of.)
This kind of division works well with respect to reunions, but certainly backfires when speaking to real estate, where parties must absolutely align their goals in order to meet the defined objectives.
You would think this simple idea would be obvious to most couples, given the nature and the size of a home purchase or sale, but it isn't. Too often, I have witnessed the struggle unfold, which in every single instance, made the journey far more stressful than it already was. (Sigh.) Perhaps what makes defining one's goals so difficult is that we often don't know what to expect in a market that's ever changing, OR we make the assumption that as partners, we want the same things. (Funnily enough, we do this in marriage as well, marching down the aisle blissfully ignorant.) It's a dance that too often takes place in order to avoid discussing the really important aspects of life - like money, kids, or religion, just to name a few. (Oy vey!)
At the risk of introducing conflict, in a world where even a starting home is likely to cost Buyers a half a million dollars (in Piedmont, you can easily double that figure), define upfront what you are willing and able to pay. DO have a reasonable (albeit flexible) game plan going in to any offer situation and establish a fixed point at which you are willing to comfortably walk away. (This number may change from house to house, depending on location and condition.) And DON'T make assumptions about what the other party wants or needs; spell out the unknown in no uncertain terms.
For Sellers, DO understand at what point, you would be satisfied with the selling price; in other words, what would you be willing to accept? In the heat of the moment and often, with several offers from which to choose, Sellers have a tendency to push Buyers beyond what feels comfortable, or worse yet, to a point where a Buyer feels "played." In fact, in a Sellers' Market, Sellers often risk offending Buyers altogether by going back and asking for FAR MORE - even when the Buyer has already bid well ABOVE the asking price. (Warning Will Robinson, tread carefully!) You may, in fact, get a little more by countering, but in all likelihood, those same Buyers will find something during the course of inspections on which to push back. In the worst-case scenarios, they may walk away and fail to return. (Ouch.)
Let's understand that even when a home is "strategically" priced (priced to obtain multiple bids) the market has a very keen sense of "value;" thus, the offers in front of you, are typically, what your home is actually worth in terms of "market value." This is where you want to ask yourself if the highest offer at the table were the one and only offer, would you be satisfied? If the answer is "yes," sign it and move on. Don't risk losing your best and highest offer with the expectation of getting more, either in the moment, or down the road - that's a high-stakes gamble you could easily lose.
Stories are great to tell, but they are a whole lot happier when the ending is fulfilling (no one wants to be the 'cautionary tale'). Being open and willing to accept whatever comes to pass, makes the journey much easier, as does defining your expectations upfront, getting on the same page, and playing fair. (That's not just a good lesson for Real Estate, it's a good lesson for life.)
I expected my husband to have a great time and he did. In this case, that was more than enough. By my count, I have ten years before his next class reunion. Maybe I'll send Cliff on his own next time, or better yet, I'll stay in town and see another Broadway show.
There's so much to love about the Big Apple and reunions - as long as they are your own!
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.