"Think of your business as a game of Blackjack," Matthew Ferrara kindly suggested to the GRUBB Co. sales team at our annual New Year's kick-off breakfast. (I love it when other people create the metaphor for me.) Matthew makes his home in Las Vegas, so it wasn't much of a stretch, but it certainly hit the mark.
I hadn't answered the cell phone the first time around (Who calls at 11:30 pm?) but when it began to insistently ring a second time, thoughts of my aging parents jumped into the forefront of my slumber and quickly compelled me to get up and respond. Gratefully, it wasn't my mother OR my father (relief) - It was my mother-in-law. (What now?)
"Julie? Help! I've got water coming into the apartment!" Zee cried through the haze of my disrupted sleep.
"Cliff" I said, shaking my husband awake. "Go down and see what your mother needs."
It's slightly ironic that just as we emptied the nest by sending our last bird off to college, we took on the responsibilities of Cliff's elderly mother. If there's a kind way to say that this new living arrangement requires some adjustment, then I'm struggling to get there quickly enough. If someone was getting out of bed in the middle of the night, it would have to be Cliff.
"JULIE! GET DOWN HERE!" Cliff screamed.
Now that had my attention.
Rushing downstairs, towels in hand, Cliff and I started spreading them out as fast as we could while running upstairs for more. Like the tide coming in, the water wasn't just seeping under the French doors, but flowing in a steady stream across the living room and kitchen floors. (Zee wasn't being dramatic, she had a legitimate beef.) Quickly we rolled back the carpet and stacked ALL of the living and dining room furniture into one dry corner to minimize the damage.
For the next two hours, Cliff and I rung out towels, mopped the floors, repeatedly shooed Zee into her bedroom (At 90 years of age, we couldn't risk a fall) and prayed for a respite in the rain. When it finally came at about 1:00 am, we had everything just about dried out. Success! Then it began to rain again. (I won't share what I said next. It wouldn't be polite.)
And so I dove into the clean up once more while Cliff ran outside into the pouring rain only to discover an overlooked downspout contributing to the problem. Ripping off a plastic diverter pipe from the side of the house, he repurposed it to the back and stemmed the flow of water. (My own Moses to the rescue.) By 2:30 am we had successfully won the battle, if not the war, and finally dragged our weary bodies back to bed with chapped hands and sore backs to show for our efforts. (Can I just say that I've had more romantic evenings with my husband?)
In the morning, Edwin and Francisco quickly responded to my desperate texts and dug trenches away from the house and towards the low point of the backyard, which gratefully, seems to be working - for the short term. (Thank you.) Last night, we put the furniture - and Zee's world - back into place, but the new floors took a beating and will need repair. (I should have listened to my contractor who questioned that particular design choice.) In retrospect, it may not have been the smartest decision, but luckily, I have insurance.
UH, NOT SO FAST!
"Water flowing in from outside is considered 'flood water'," my agent said. "You don't have flood insurance. Sorry."
"What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?"
I don't live in a designated flood plane; don't have a creek running in front of my house or culverted out the back; and don't have a reservoir sitting above me. Moreover, the house sits at the top of the crest, not the bottom of the dell, so why would I take out flood insurance??? Why would I need to? It hasn't rained in five years.
"Because water coming in from outside is considered 'flood water.' It's an 'Act of God'," she repeated.
"Please stop saying that!" I responded. "It's rain. There's damage. I pay you monthly. Where is my compensation?"
What's the moral of this rainy tale?
It's not that insurance companies are loathe to pay out claims (I'll let you come to your own conclusions).
It's not that we should all be building arks (although the stacked up storms makes one wonder).
It's not that I should have listened to my contractor who suggested a tile floor instead (Although I should have. Don't make my mistake if you're excavating and going down below grade, even if it's just a few inches.)
It's that when considering securing our homes, one should really consider ALL of the "what ifs?" as in What if the tree falls down out back? What if the roof fails? What if we're robbed while away on vacation? What if a guest falls on the steps? What if we finally have THE BIG ONE!?! What if water finds its way in? (Seriously?!?) AND then plan accordingly.
Regrettably, this isn't the most thrilling of topics to write about, but a home is an investment when treated respectfully, and water, while fun to swim in, surf on, or float down, is easily a home's worst and most insidious enemy.
Unfortunately, I'm not alone out there. In fact, I've received a few not-so-wonderful calls on the topic of rain and leaky roofs or wet basements in the past few weeks and for a Realtor who truly loves what she does, these calls for help are the toughest to receive.(Believe me, I feel your pain.) We're all waiting out the weather with tarps at the ready. While we need the rain badly, there are unattended consequences that go along with such heavy downpour.
Short of controlling the rain, here's what I can suggest:
California IS experiencing the El Nino storms the forecasters predicted, so check your insurance and make sure it's up to date and covers you for ALL of the "what ifs."(Yes, Cliff and I have earthquake insurance, even with seismic upgrades!) Thencritically walk around the outside of your home and weather proof it to the best of your ability: clear gutters, rake debris away from the house, trim dangerous branches, divert water away from your foundations, and get sand bags in place where needed.
This isn't the "sexy" part of owning a home; it's the work part so get out the ladder, roll up those sleeves and do what needs doing. Better yet, throw your teenager on the roof instead (they bounce better.) DON'T put it off any longer. If French drains are required for better drainage (as in my case) call an engineer - one who specializes in drainage - and get on the schedule (they're extremely busy, as you might imagine).
As an a aside, while you're securing your home, order the alarm system you've been putting off. (It just makes good sense.) And don't forget to check your flashlight batteries and stock up on some candles. In a comedy of errors, and in the midst of all the chaos, we couldn't find a single working flashlight among the dozen or so I neatly store in a box. (I knew where they were, they just didn't work!)
With many forecasters suggesting that we can expect rain well into May (yikes!) the Bay Area is going to be WET and WOOLY for the next several months. Yes, we need it, we need it, we need it . . . but really? Wow. At least we can be better prepared.
As for me and my soggy drama? I immediately went out and bought a BIGGER MOP, batteries, and sandbags from Home Depot the next morning. In fact, I opened the store. It won't be enough to save my floors; it's too late, but it's a start.
How can I help you?
"How's New Zealand?"
"Where are you now?"
"What's next on the agenda?" I texted Case, anxious for answers.
I should preface this by saying that my son, Case, had graduated a little over a year and a half ago from the University of Arizona and had promptly taken a job in Austin, Texas as a placeholder. Unhappy with his prospects in the lone-star state (or lack there of) he had finally decided to journey half way around the world to the land of Kiwi (and sheep!); a trip he'd been dreaming about for years and an adventure that Cliff and I enthusiastically supported wholeheartedly. (Is there any better education than travel?)
As a child, he'd been nearly impossible to take almost anywhere, so it was startling to imagine an overseas adventure Case would now be embarking upon . . .
all by his lonesome. (Seriously, you could have knocked me over with a feather.) speaking as his mother, New Zealand is really REALLY far away!
Still, I can't deny I'm both pleased and proud of my son and his willingness to step outside the box (he's currently "woofing" on an organic farm on the South Island.) Isn't it great to see our kids, ummm, I mean "emerging adults," emerge. (Yes, it is.)
"Of course you should go," we said. "You're young, you've saved the money, and you'll never have this freedom or time again. Do it!"
So with passport and work visa firmly in hand, our elder son secured a discounted ticket from our good friends and left the country a few days before Thanksgiving. His sporadic texts have ranged from cautious excitement ("Met three other travelers my first night here.") to sheer desperation ("We've been camping and it sucks!"). But mostly there's been long stretches of radio silence. (Honey, throw your mother a bone.)
Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chip-chirp . . . crickets.
Until Wednesday morning when at long last he reached out . . .
"Did you buy Powerball tickets by any chance? Please purchase one for me!" (It's not the photo spreads my nieces post on Instagram or their YouTube music video of their recent trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, but I'll take it.)
Of course, like everyone else in the free world, I'd bought Powerball tickets. Did he think I was completely crazy? Who didn't want a chance at 1.6 BILLION DOLLARS and the dreams of how to share the wealth? Sure, we didn't have a snowball's chance in hell (in fact, I think those were technically the odds: "A snowball's chance in hell") but the 20 bucks was worth contemplating the "What ifs?" as in "What if I actually became a multi-millionaire overnight?" How would that change my life? (Isn't that why we all bought them?)
When eager lottery-ticket buyers were asked by local reporters what they would do with their potential winnings, the overwhelming response was "I'd buy a house."
"I'd buy a house . . ."
Whether actually buying, maintaining and caring for a home truly brings happiness, is hard to quantify, but it nonetheless ranks high on most people's dream list.
"I'd buy a house."
So if you're contemplating such a move this spring and your weren't one of the lucky three who actually DID win the prize, OR you're not an ALL-CASH Buyer, either by design or favor, you'll want to start preparing NOW for what looks to be a very competitive spring marketplace once more (absent a complete free-fall in the stock market. Perish the thought.)
So where to begin?
Note, that I didn't suggest you meet with a Realtor first (although we're never opposed to that) as we're likely to ask: "Who's your lender?" Without establishing your credit upfront, you'll have absolutely no way to respond quickly enough once you find the house you've been dreaming of.
In the meantime, I'm dreaming of visiting New Zealand since it's clear my son won't be sending home any photos or Tweeting about his journey anytime soon. Time to let my little bird soar, I suppose. He seems to be doing just fine without me AND the Powerball win, and actually, that's a true win!
How can I help you?
"What seems to be the problem?" the acupuncturist kindly asked as I delicately placed myself on her table. (And by delicately, I mean like a stiff, uncoordinated clod.)
"I think I've pinched a nerve in my back," I responded between short, painful breaths. "It's been out for about 10 days."
"And you didn't think to see someone sooner?" Sharon politely inquired while messaging my back and trying to ascertain the source. (A bad muscle strain as it turned out.)
Here's the thing, it's not that I'm afraid of needles(I'm not. They positively LOVE me at the Blood Bank), or that I kept expecting the pain to resolve on its own while I toughed it out (I did), or that I take my reasonably good health for granted (I do), or that I don't believe there is a place for non-traditional Eastern medicine(why not?) It's that I'm truly a skeptic when it comes to ME and the unconventional. Moreover, I'm also completely inexperienced and dare I say uncomfortable with the unknown and "what ifs." (As in "What if you tried something new for a change?")
I'm embarrassed to admit that I have so little experience with massage, supplements, crystals, Reiki (What's that?) and the like, that acupuncture never even crossed my mind until a caring colleague suggested I see her practitioner and give it a go (thank you). I was further convinced when I called Kaiser only to discover that the first available appointment was more then a week away (the nerve of professionals taking a break over the holidays). With few familiar options available, my mind -and twisted body began to open up to other possibilities . . .
The concept of "new possibilities" has been very much in the forefront these days as I said "good-bye" to one son as he entered college. "Good-bye" to another as he headed for New Zealand and parts unknown to work and travel abroad. "Hello" to the new house (we're still in the getting-to-know-you phase), and "hello" to my 90-year-old mother-in-law who has taken up permanent residence in the garden-apartment below and isn't necessarily overjoyed about it. (Giving up one's independence is never easy.)
So what "possibilities" lay ahead for you in 2016 as they relate to Real Estate?
Absent a crystal ball, none of us knows the future with any real certainty so I can only do my best to steer and advise you in a supportive way, with the best of intentions and integrity guiding the way. My point is that we are, all of us, constantly being pushed into "new possibilities" whether we like them or not. How we choose to confront or better yet, embrace, such possibilities is ALL we get to control along the road of life.
This holds true for Buyers and Sellers as well as they struggle with whether to sell now or later, how to transition from being a Buyer into a Seller, how to compete in an over-heated marketplace with too little inventory to meet demand, and most importantly, how to truly LET GO! (Been there, done that.)
In my experience, "letting go" is always the most difficult part of the equation, especially if we aren't exactly certain what we are moving towards . . . Try to remember, I'm here to help facilitate your needs and also, that we don't always have to know "what's next." Sometimes, we are merely taking a leap of faith as we move from one phase of life into another.
So what if you handed over the reins (and by "reins," I mean your keys) and let me take charge for just a bit in order to best meet your goals? What if you trusted the process and bought the house instead of backing away? What if you made this your year with the understanding that real estate is a long-term investment and that our homes aren't really an investment at all, but an emotional fulfillment on a different level altogether? What if fear of the unknown didn't rule your decisions? What if you truly "let go?" How would that feel? Could you take that leap of faith with me and rely on my vast experience to get the job done correctly? While it's not needles per se, I don't deny it can be a painful process nonetheless, on the bumpy road to "what lies ahead." With your courage and faith, and my expertise and support, we can make great strides together.
How can I help you?
Visit my new website here!
Before we broke for the holidays, Jill and I spent several days delivering English toffee to many of my Buyers and Sellers and to those of you who have referred or supported my practice throughout the years. This isn't just any old English toffee, it's like crack in a box from Littlejohn's in San Francisco and it's truly addictive. So much so, it probably should be illegal.
"Thank you Julie, I hid it from my spouse and kids." was not an uncommon email response.
"My scale won't love me, but man this stuff is GREAT - we ate it in one sitting. Do you have more?" (I 'm sorry, I don't.)
The best part about these packages, aside from the yummy confections inside, was delivering them in person. Although a multi-day event, each checked-off name represented my own personal year-in-review. Jill drove while I jumped out, or, when it was raining,visa-versa (only kidding, we took turns). And while a good many deliveries were left on thresholds or in mailboxes, there were a fair number of opportunities to knock on front doors and say "hello."
Because the business of buying or selling a home is always an intimate affair, it's not surprising that many of you become my extended family along the way. It's in these rare moments when I chance to find you home, that I get to hear the happy ending and how your lives (and families) are evolving . . . In one case, my client was literally at the hospital giving birth! (Now there's a REAL delivery.)
"We couldn't have done it without you! Thank you." (You're welcome.)
"Come look at the plans our architect has drawn up. We're so excited."
"We landscaped the backyard and use it all the time now. The kids are in heaven."
"We're unexpectedly expecting!" (Okay, I had nothing to do with that last one but it's great news just the same.)
The point is, that homes change our lives and impact who we are in very meaningful and tangible ways. Whether "turn-key," or in need of substantial renovations, our homes take us on a very personal journey; one in which we get to explore the meaning of "home" and place our own powerful imprint. Yes, they require care, yes, they are undoubtedly expensive (especially here in the Bay Area), and yes, they will have ongoing maintenance requirements, but our homes are where we gather to build our lives, expand our families, and establish our dreams. In countless ways, our homes often represent the physical manifestations of these adventures and give us the opportunity to truly express who we are and how we embrace the world.
For those downsizing properties that in many cases, are now too large for their empty-nester transition, the change is, often, every bit as dramatic.
"We went on the trip of a lifetime. "
"Condo living is so easy."
"It feels so great to finally simplify . . ."
Not every response is unmitigated joy.
"Help, our roof is leaking. We didn't expect this." (Nor should you have. Let's see what needs to be done to make things right.)
"We want to refinance and found an outstanding lien." (That's problematic.)
"There's water in my basement." (Let's gather our facts and come up with a solution.)
But good, bad, or ugly, the opportunity to reconnect with you is what bringsme tremendous pleasure and makes my job so very worthwhile.
To say that it's a privilege to walk along side you on your quest to create your own special "place in the world" is an understatement to be sure. To be trusted with what is often your single largest investment and any many cases the fulfillment of your dreams, is both an honor and a huge responsibility worthy of sleepless nights and gleeful celebration (I experience both although I could do without the sleepless nights.) to which I can only say, "thank you, thank you, THANK YOU."
Like any family, sometimes we've had spirited debates and I've been unapologetically blunt with you. (For better or worse, that's my style.) Sometimes, we've lost a house only to have gained something better and greater down the road; and sometimes I referred you on to a colleague who could better serve your needs. Some sales came quickly while others were a grueling marathon on the road to homeownership. On the best of occasions, we skillfully out-maneuvered the competition and came out winners.
As we look back at 2015, the market was both kind and unrelenting - depending on what side of the coin you inhabited. Through it all, you gave me your trust, your fear, your faith, your respect, and your gratitude. (No one ever said this would be easy.) What more could one ask for? Again, I'm incredibly humbled and tremendously thankful.
So ring in the New Year! May 2016 be filled with love and laughter, prosperity and health, and new adventures along the way. I look forward to hearing from you, your families, and your friends and continuing to be a resource for all things "house." Please continue to send your referrals and I'll continue to treat them with great care and deep appreciation. You have my word.
How can I help you?
Jill and I have just completed some in-house cleaning, and created a whole new website, with a brand new look for The Piedmont Perspective. (I'm hoping you approve.) Mind you, I had excellent help along the way at it takes a creative team too . . . well, create! (Thank youJeff and Valerie. You can connect to them here.)
I'll be simplifying things this year and deleting the upcoming listings (unless they're mine) as GRUBB has finally picked up the banner and now sends out new GRUBB Co. listings each Friday afternoon (let me know if you would like to get on that list and we'll sign you up).
Visit my new website here!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.