"I'd love to get a little more aggressive with your skin," Irena politely said, examining my face as if it were a science experiment. There's a lot of damage here . . ." I should preface this by saying that the lovely Irena is blemish and wrinkle free. She has the kind of stunning, olive-skinned complexion reserved for those who have been blessed with terrific genes, coupled with diligent care and an avoidance of the sun, AND a lilting, Russian accent that makes her very exotic to boot. I'd hate her if I didn't like her so much.
Her age . . . is anybody's guess. Not me. I grew up in hot, hot, HOT Sacramento, where my sisters and I spent entire summers at the swimming pool and as a result, my skin has freckles I've never outgrown; more Annie Oakley than Elizabeth Taylor. What's more, my daily skin-care regiment consists of a bar of soap and if I remember, a dab of moisturizer. In short, I have the skin I deserve. I blame my mother.
"Okay, let's do it," I replied as she reved up the laser and put on the eye shields . . . And then I spent a week shedding my old skin like some hideous amphibian, waiting to emerge like a beautiful butterfly. (Don't look now, but I think I'm still in the moth stage.) Such is life (and aging). No pain, no gain.
So, here's the Real Estate tie in (I know you've been waiting) . . . Often when I'm invited over to someone's house to assess their home for purposes of resale, there's often a bit (or a lot) of aging that's taken place with the home. (Don't fret, you're not alone.) Early plans to remodel the bathroom or the kitchen invariably got put on hold or waylaid altogether in favor of things like uhhh, college tuition or paying taxes. That's simply life - and taxes.
There's no getting around some of these more expensive obligations (such as our kids). Ditto with respect to your home. Replacing the roof is never fun, but when you delay, it can lead to much more expensive repairs down the road (like extensive dry rot). In short, deferred maintenance can really penalize you in the long run.
When you finally go to sell, those items you have conveniently overlooked or learned to live with (i.e: stained carpet or peeling paint) should be addressed if receiving top dollar is your intended goal. And let's be real, I've yet to meet the Sellers where receiving TOP DOLLAR wasn't the intended goal.
"How much will I get?" every Seller earnestly asks.
To which I usually reply: "I can't guarantee you a particular outcome, but I can't begin to get close unless we do X, Y and Z . . ."
At which point, I outline an aggressive strategy for marketing and selling that almost always involves painting and staging, and some not-so-gentle persuasion. Frankly, there's no easy way to tell Sellers that their home needs an intervention. Or if there is, I haven't yet found it, but I'm certainly of little value to you if I'm not being truthful and putting your fiduciary interests front and center.
Gratefully, my Sellers usually capitulate once they weigh the possible outcomes and start checking off the "To Do" list in short order. Mind you, they are often spending a fair amount of money in the process (no pain, no gain) but it's almost always worth the extra effort and dollars - especially where photos and Internet marketing are concerned (just take a peek at: www.grubbco.com).
"Wow, I didn't even recognize my home." one Seller excitedly exclaimed recently, "I actually thought I'd walked into the wrong house!"
Indeed, my team had made some incredible changes in the space of one month, including two brand new bathrooms (Thank you, "Bath Simple") fresh paint, professional staging, power washing, and new plantings that quite literally, transformed the look of the home and elevated the gardens to an entirely different level. As a result, this lovely home is likely to sell in one week - and it should. Mr. Seller did everything I asked, was highly "coachable" and ultimately, leaned into the process, which made the journey infinitely easier on everyone involved: www.4434clarewood.com .
The moral of the story?
Why wait until you sell!?!
Thus, I've been on a mission with my own home and while the kitchen is still a dream-in-the-making, the bathrooms are finally finished; there's a new roof in place and we've just finished painting the exterior. Last week, the windows were professionally washed and the bricks are now free of moss! I'm methodically tackling each item as they come up, and no, I'm not employing my husband, Cliff, to do any of these chores (I've discovered that hiring window washers is cheaper than employing a marriage counselor.)
Happily for us both, I've a long list of vendors to fill in the gaps and they always appreciate the work, unlike my teenage son. (Please let me know if you need any referrals; they're worth their weight in gold.)
Now that Spring is here and the cherry trees are in bloom, I have to admit, the sweat equity (and the dollars) have made a noticeable difference. It's pretty darn beautiful around our place. One day, I'll finally get around to the kitchen remodel (hopefully, well before I sell) and yes, it will undoubtedly be expensive. Sigh, that's life. No pain, no gain.
It's the end of an era!" my client cheerfully exclaimed, as I delivered the news that she and her husband had successfully outbid eight other parties for the home of their dreams. After two years of searching and bidding, this darling couple had finally stepped up, outmaneuvered the other parties at the table, and crafted the winning offer. (Winner, winner, chicken dinner!)
Unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending. A new home hadn't come easily to this family. They'd underbid on several very good opportunities and missed the margin by very little on several others. In spite of a tireless search and good intentions, the learning curve had been lengthier and steeper than either one of us preferred. It hadn't just been an "era," it had literally been Homer's Odyssey! (Sometimes it takes several dry runs before Buyers are really ready.)
Still, when the pieces finally came together, the difficult journey seemed worth the extra effort and the patience. The historic Craftsman on a flat, double lot with an unbelievable view of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge, was nearly perfect. With room to grow, and unlimited potential, it was also within walking distance of shops, the theater and restaurants. And as often happens when we stay open to the possibilities, this remarkable home took the sting out of the "near misses." Until . . . "Are you sitting down?" My client murmured . . . (Uh, oh, that's never a good start to a conversation.) "We're not going to go through with the purchase." What?!? (I was sitting now.)
"My husband is too uncertain," my client explained.
"Don't make a rash decision you'll regret later," I urged. "Homes such as this one come along very rarely. I think " (That was true.)
"It's just too quick for us . . ." (Huh?) Okay, now she'd lost me.
This wasn't the first home on which they'd been interested enough to place a bid. Nor were they inexperienced, uninitiated, unprepared, or under educated as to the demands of the market. In fact, on paper, they were practically perfect. It's just the 'real life demands' that seemed to have them frightened and unable to perform. In a go-go-go market full of froth and foam, second-guessing can occur and when it does, all bets are off.
Nor, unfortunately, were they the only couple to pull the plug that week, as fear replaced elation on more than one deal in-house. Regrettably, that's the down side of a go, Go, GO marketplace. It's very rushed and overheated, which can translate into unexpected stress for the most well-intentioned Buyers.
Aw shucks . . .
In the end, no manner of persuasion could put Humpty Dumpty back together again and this extraordinary home ultimately went to the back-up Buyers. (Their loss was another family's fortunate gain. DO take those back-up positions when offered.)
What really happened?
Perhaps it was the pressure of having to buy well beyond the list price in a run-away market that continues to climb. Perhaps it was an inability to comfortably believe in, and navigate, the concept of "value." Perhaps, it was just a general lack of unease overall . . .
Whatever the reason, buying a home in any marketplace requires a GIANT leap of faith, and especially today, when it seems nearly impossible to keep up. (Listen, it's never been easy to stretch for a house. Just ask your parents.) To which I can only say, "Take the leap!"
With historically low interest rates still in play, if not now, when? Interest rates can only go up from here. Years ago, friends insisted the market was experiencing a bubble and they would "wait." Turns out they were right, but in 2008 when the stock market tumbled, banks folded, and housing prices finally dropped; financing tightened up considerably and they no longer qualified for a loan that would allow them to buy into the American Dream.
Aw shucks . . .
The truth is, life is full of uncertainties, but it's also incredibly expansive - if we allow it to be. So BELIEVE and begin a New Era. It's up to you.
The world is a fast-moving, ever-changing place these days, except perhaps for the Catholic Church and its time-honored practices. While I'm not Catholic, I have to admit to being completely fascinated by the "conclave" and the sacred decision making process that enveloped the Dioscese as the visiting Cardinals sought to elect the next Pontiff - a system that has endured for more than 2,000 years.
On Wednesday morning, black smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel, signaling once again that no consensus had yet been reached by the 115 Cardinal Electors who had traveled far and wide in order to cast a ballot for the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church; a religion that counts more than 1.2 BILLION (!) faithful among its followers . . . (Wow!)
But by Wednesday evening, a shy and humble Jesuit from Argentina had finally been chosen. A well-educated and simple man by all accounts (Jesuits take a vow of poverty after all) the church's first Latino Pope signals a brave new direction in many respects for the Roman Catholic Church. Forget rock stars, the POPE has an audience like no other, which is, I suppose, the reason for such an arduous selection process.
Unfortunately, buying a home these days is rather arduous as well. Like most popularity contests, Buyers tend to congregate around the same few, coveted properties, while overlooking others that might not exactly make the grade - which makes finding the home much easier than actually securing it. Had you been in the market a few years ago, you would have very likely been the only bidder at the table (perhaps you were but didn't take the plunge). Now, I am preparing my Buyers to write over and over again (timing is everything). If you have been shut out by the heavy competition and find yourself coming up short, it may be the time to look farther afield . . .
That may mean expanding your geographical parameters considerably to include neighborhoods and communities that weren't previously on your radar. Try giving some attention to overlooked "pocket neighborhoods" that offer better buys and less competition (the first of many reasons to work with a local REALTOR). OR, it may mean taking on a less-than-perfect property with the mind set of customizing or remodeling the home later on to better meet your specific needs.
It may mean moving up to the next price point if you can afford to do so. (Why not take take advantage of historically low interest rates that actually offer greater affordability?) Remember, it's not about the price to purchase, as much as it is about the cost to own!
It may mean beating the bushes, networking with other Agents to unearth "off-market" opportunities (there are actually more of these than you might think) or starting a letter-writing campaign to prospective Sellers in an area you have identified as desirable. OR it may mean going back to last year's unrealized sales to see if any of those homeowners are still interested in selling in this year's more dynamic marketplace.
In short, when the field gets very narrow, getting creative becomes more important than ever. To no one's surprise, the more rigid you are with your needs, wants, and wish list, the fewer choices you will actually have. (Just between us, I'm thinking the church should open the priesthood to women - then you'd have some truly amazing choices.)
Finally, be bold! Buying a home - especially in a tight marketplace - requires not only good timing and opportunity, it requires decisiveness and a steady hand. If you are worrying about the fear of "overpaying," in this very heated marketplace, let me politely suggest that you are in the wrong game. (Respectfully, this may not be your time.)
Home purchases are long-term investments and what's more, "market value" is driven not only by "Supply and Demand," but in large part, by emotions, which have a tendency to send prices soaring with little tangible reason. No matter! As my colleague, succinctly and wisely states: "Homes are shelter. Whether you pay a little more to get it now, will be largely irrelevant ten years down the road." (He's absolutely right.)
So have faith in the marketplace. Historically, home values have alway gone up over time. With good diligence, creative thinking, clear intentions, and a bit of of luck, the solution may just be in the road less traveled. (Case in point: A Pontiff from this side of the pond - who knew?)
Even so, buying a home is a process that seems to be quite a bit more transparent than choosing the head of the church, and one in which you have much more control than you might believe.
In the case of the Pope, the Catholics throughout the world could do nothing but wait for the white smoke! You can get out there and bid!
"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 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.