I secretly scoff at all of you double latte, mochachino, espresso shot coffeeholics, as if I am somehow morally superior for avoiding the daily pull of Starbuck's or Peet's. The ugly truth is, I'm stubbornly hooked on Raspberry Snapple, allowing myself just one each morning. (Mulberry Market stocks the sugary fix just for me - thank you Chad and Laura!)
When life gets really hectic, I'll succumb to a second Snapple by late afternoon. You can pretty much gauge the level of my work load by the number of raspberry teas I drink! (Sadly, there's no 12-step program for Snapple addicts.)
Last week proved busier than usual. Between the demands of end-of-the-year school activities, community fund-raisers and my work as a Real Estate professional, I was forced to spring for an entire case of the caffeine-fueled nectar (Ah -Sweet Nirvana)!
As Realtors, we wear many hats, often pulling up our shirt sleeves to work side-by-side with the Sellers to prepare their home for market. Part mover, part landscaper, part cheerleader, part caterer . . . indeed, part therapist - I'm whatever I need to be in the moment. It's not unusual for me to help a client clean out a closet, rearrange the furniture, or plant a flower bed. (The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker!)
Even so, prepping, staging and marketing a home in a short period of time, requires a team of dedicated professionals far beyond me. From tree trimmers, to house painters, to designers, to photographers . . . (you get the picture) it's the sum total of many talented professionals who create the polished final act. As much as I really enjoy the "hands-on" experience, I'm better off delegating these tasks to those more experienced than I am in their particular skill set - and so are you!
Let's face it, selling a home, under the best of circumstances, is incredibly invasive. Even when the move is happily anticipated, there's no shortcut to the work involved, let alone the emotions that go with packing away your memories. Our homes have value far beyond the balance sheet.
Letting go can be extremely tough (unexpectedly so) and fraught with emotional land mines. To the extent that you can lighten your burden and delegate some of the overwhelming tasks at hand - do it! Do it! Asking for help and then letting others actually help you can be invaluable and incredibly time efficient. It's also surprisingly satisfying - whether you are the Seller or the Realtor! Learn to delegate.
Speaking of which, it's time to crack open another Snapple. I've another busy day ahead of me! Can I offer you to a cup of Joe?
Accompanying my younger son, Tristan, to his orthodontist appointment last week, I couldn't help but wonder if the doctor was looking at a Maui mouth (one where the savings on orthodontia affords a trip to Hawaii) or a Modesto mouth (that's a weekend at the Motel 6 and Water World in Manteca for the uninitiated). Laughing, Dr. Righellis replied, "Your son is somewhere in between. How do you feel about Disneyland?"
My older son wore braces, as did ALL six kids in my immediate family so of course I expected Tristan to follow suit. It was inevitable. Wasn't it? Well yes and no. Due to a proactive regiment by the good doctor, Tristan's permanent teeth have come in without crowding the others, eliminating a much more invasive, expensive and time consuming process today. Tristan will still need braces, but will wear them only briefly. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me!
Home ownership works much the same way. Any maintenance you do up front has the potential to save thousands of dollars down the road.
Several years ago, I represented a sharp couple, contemplating a move to Piedmont (let's call them Mr. and Mrs. P) Like many parents weighing private versus public school education, Piedmont offered a high-ranking public educational option and kindergarten beckoned.
Meeting with my clients for a tour of their home at that time, it presented as a fairly typical, mid-century modern with minor cosmetic updating. However, behind the facade, Mrs. P had taken meticulous care of both the home and its grounds. The foundation had been earthquake retrofitted, the roof replaced, the windows upgraded, a new fence built, French drains installed and the pest report was zero. ZERO! (To date, Mrs. P. is the only client I've ever known to have a pest inspection performed on an annual basis the way others have a yearly physical!)
While it may not be sexy (or immediately gratifying) to spend dollars correcting dry rot or leaky toilets, this type of ongoing maintenance is liable to save much greater costs down the road. With the major elements in great shape, their home only required minor painting and staging to present as a sophisticated modern that was virtually worry free (WORRY FREE!) which made for a very attractive home purchase.
Buyers responded in kind and Mr. and Mrs. P received multiple offers and quickly sold their home well above asking. True to form, Mr.and Mrs. P are repeating their pattern at their current Piedmont home and over the last two years have already replaced the roof, installed French drains, added a sump pump, upgraded the exposed pipes and improved much of the electrical system as well.
Chances are they will avoid much costlier expenses in the future.
With the biggest expenses substantially offset and no costly surprises on the horizon, Mr. and Mr. P can now afford that tropical vacation in Maui. Aloha! (Please drink a Mai Tai for me - I'll be hanging out at the Pirates of the Caribbean.)
(BTW - I have an excellent Home Service Provider's List of contractors, inspectors, gardeners, handymen, window washers, painters, etc. Please call me if you'd like a copy of this terrific list of vendors.)
"Hey honey, remember my leather litigation case you threw out a few years ago?" my husband, Cliff, yelled from the bedroom as he packed his overnight bag. Typically, Cliff doesn't travel much for business but was headed to Seattle to argue a case the next morning before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Cliff fashion, he was waiting until the last minute to organize his belongings. "The big square one that held my files?" he said.
"I remember it," I hollered back from the kitchen, "and I didn't throw it out - you did."
"Not true," my husband countered, "Why would I throw it out? I need it." (Lawyers are accustomed to arguing and my husband is no exception. Perhaps I was his warm-up?)
"It was falling apart," I replied, lowering my voice as I walked into the room. "You'd had it for more than 25 years and we were moving . . . Remember?"
"No, I don't remember," Cliff countered, rooting through the luggage closet for an alternative that might suffice. "Why don't you just admit that you tossed it," he said. "You throw everything away." (It's true - I'm the family purger, but I was holding my ground.)
"Because I didn't," I said (a snappy comeback if ever there was one). Okay, I was beginning to feeling a tad bit defensive. "We specifically talked about that briefcase, if you recall."
"No, I don't recall, but if it helps YOU accurately remember events, I'll confirm our conversations in writing from now on," my husband teased - a refrain I have often heard over the course of our 19-year marriage.
While confirming conversations in writing may be pushing it just a bit within the bounds of holy matrimony, confirming things in writing is a very smart idea with respect to real estate - where the consequences matter a whole lot more than whose turn it is to pick up dinner or who threw out a shop-worn briefcase (definitely not me!).
I am an e-mailer both by nature and by well-honed practice (you've probably figured that out by now). I value the ability to clearly answer questions, state a position, and track a transition from beginning to end - and in spite of my husband's good-natured ribbing, both he and I prefer to spell out our responsibilities in writing; often emailing each other throughout the day, as opposed to conversing on the telephone.
So it comes as no surprise that I follow the same course of action with my clients as well. From outlining a listing calendar to answering questions about strategy, to finalizing the deal, regardless of how important or seemingly inconsequential the issue, I find a written record keeps ALL of us on track and on the same page.
I won't discount that there is an important human element and connection to the art of conversation, but I find that memory, intentions and actions are best served in writing. While I am always available to assist you on the phone, chances are, I'll be confirming our conversation in a written format as well - be it, email, text or the good old-fashioned letter (remember those?). Now you'll have to excuse me, I'm off to the luggage store to replace my husband's ratty old briefcase (the one I didn't throw away).
For the record, this action does not now, nor in the future, imply, infer or impart a partial or full admission of guilt as to the tossing of the aforementioned briefcase. (Cliff, please print and file this email for your records.)
"I don't care what school I go to," my 17-year old complained, as I reluctantly dragged him to yet another college campus.
"Would you rather have your dad and I pick the school for you? Don't you want some input as to where you spend the next four years of your life?" I asked, clearly exasperated.
"They're all the same." my son countered. "This is boring." Rejected yet again, I slowly drove away from picturesque Santa Barbara. (This was not turning out to be the joyful experience I'd long envisioned.)
Undaunted, my sister and I took our teens to visit the University of California at Santa Cruz. Jill had thoughtfully arranged for a friend's daughter to give our two high school juniors a private tour. A recent graduate, her friend's daughter is now successfully pursuing a photography career in New York City.
"Santa Cruz is actually the largest campus of any of the UCs, has a smaller population than many of California's other universities and is broken into several separate colleges," she began. "Situated well above the ocean while enjoying spectacular views, you're likely to walk by deer you can practically pet (as we did) on your way to class." (Geez, she was full of poise and elegance. Surely, here was living proof of our own kids' hopeful future.)
Indeed, walking the fern-lined trails for the next 30 minutes with crystal blue skies above, the fog below, towering majestic redwoods lining our paths and deer aplenty, the verdant and serene campus spread out like a natural Buddhist retreat.
Scanning the quiet woodland setting for signs of life beyond Bambi, my son finally got down to the nitty gritty, "Uh, what do people do here for fun?"
"Most students are into surfing, hiking, mountain biking or skateboarding," she answered. "I spent most of my time running the dark room." Slam! This was never going to do. Too remote, too woodsy, too Zen, too surfer dude, too whatever.
"I'm not going here ," he leaned over and emphatically whispered in my ear.
Ah ha! So you do care. (I thought, but didn't say) A faint smile crept over my lips. Perhaps at last, a bit of clarity had seeped in. . .
House hunting often works the same way. Sometimes you have to figure out what you DON"T WANT, before you know what you do. While admittedly, it can be time consuming, I often encourage my clients to look at many properties that don't necessarily match their "wish list" when they first begin their hunt.
First, it educates you as the consumer; it gives you the opportunity to compare similar properties, to contrast different styles and to review the market overall.
Second, it familiarizes you with the neighborhood and the other architectural styles within it, the parks, playgrounds, and shopping districts nearby that form a community.
Third, it often surprises you! While I zero in on the "Brown Shingle Traditional" as instructed, it isn't unusual to hear that you have fallen in love with a Modern Contemporary instead. (Who knew? You didn't even know.)
Finally, it often provides clarity so that when the right house is finally identified, you recognize it as such. Walk into that same house on your first Sunday tour, and you are very likely to second guess yourself. Without eliminating the wrong choices, it's often tougher to ascertain the right ones.
For most of us,clarity can take awhile to seep in. Now go find your "Ah Ha!" moment (and I'll continue to work on my son).
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.