"Your hair looks beautiful!" the assistant at DiPietro Todd in Walnut Creek, said to me last weekend, after a color, some highlights, and a professional blow dry. I'd rushed across town to make the appointment after a vigorous morning of volunteer gardening at the AIDS Grove in Golden Gate Park and the difference was dramatic. (Those talented hairdressers work magic and they are worth every penny!)
"It should," I happily conceded, "I spend a fortune on it." (Not that my husband needs to know that.)
Regrettably, it's not just my hair that requires ongoing upkeep as I age - almost everything requires more maintenance these days (only my hairdresser knows for sure). Let's admit it, we all benefit from some general upkeep and ongoing maintenance from time to time.
Not surprisingly, homes are much the same. Now that the sun is shining and winter seems to have finally abated, I have been busy hiring one handyman after another to help me whip our property into fine form (Cliff is a lot of wonderful things, but "handy" isn't one of them). The windows have all been cleaned, the bricks, power washed, and I currently have a painter at the house working on several items that require overdue attention.
A tree company removed a very large and problematic Oak (I don't care how "majestic" they are, they're a mess). I've been pruning or planting every spare moment, the gutters are scheduled to be replaced, a new automatic garage door is the next item on my agenda, and I've asked my husband for wall-to-wall shelving in the garage for Mother's Day. (It ain't sexy, but it's organized.)
There's never a shortage of chores "to do," especially after the BIG storms we all experienced as of late. Ah, the joys of home ownership!
Still, as I check off each "done" item, I get a growing sense of satisfaction. These are gold-plated problems to be sure, but they need to be dealt with nonetheless. While I can't necessarily afford everything I'd like to do in the moment (One day I'll gleefully GUT the kitchen - heck, I'll take a sledge hammer to it myself.) I'm methodically chipping away at those items I can do, and I know that eventually I'll repair or replace the rest (just in time to start over I suppose).
I am inspired by my current clients and friends who have spent the last quarter of a century restoring their magnificent Victorian here in town: www.55Craig.com. They remind me that these labors of love, don't have to happen all at once; that patience is a virtue. Hmmm, that one I haven't quite yet mastered.
I have also had my share of Sellers who have unfortunately, let their homes deteriorate, and only when they contemplate bringing their houses to market do they finally address the long list of defects that now need immediate attention. (Oh dear!) They'll often need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make their homes shine, and once having done so, they invariably ask themselves why they didn't improve their properties for themselves? (It's a fair question.)
Right now, I'm lucky to be working with two sets of Sellers, both of whom have taken meticulous care of their homes throughout the years, which makes it so much easier to prepare their properties for sale. Rather than eradicating termites and fixing the foundation, their lists are much more manageable and include items such as polishing the floors, mulching the gardens, and editing their closets, as is appropriate.
Not that they aren't working like dogs - THEY ARE (a strange phrase as my dog lives a life of complete leisure). Selling a home, even under the best of circumstances, is always a TON of work. But they aren't coming up against unanticipated and expensive repairs. Instead, they are staging their homes, primping their gardens, deep cleaning, and purging, as is appropriate.
So get your Spring cleaning groove on, clear out the attic (no one wants that old highchair anyway) and touch up the chips on the exterior stairs. Make a list of items that should be addressed - sooner rather than later - and then check them off as time and money allow.
Believe me, your diligence now will save you thousands down the road. Moreover, you will more likely retain your home's value, and realize the benefits while you are still living in the home, instead of someone else enjoying the fruits of your labor. A healthy home is a smart investment and I suspect you have worked hard to earn it. Now make sure your home stays in "fine form."
Speaking of "fine form," I've got to run, BOOT CAMP is calling. There's always more maintenance that's required. Just get used to it and do the work.
My dog Buck has had a visitor all week. While studious clients of mine are busy readying their home for sale, we've been happily babysitting their dog, Tango. He's an Australian Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix and perhaps the sweetest dog I have ever met (I'm sorry Buck, but that's the truth). Buck's happy to have the company and we have plenty of room on our property which truth be told, is pretty much, dog heaven.
We've really loved having the second dog around and I'm hoping Buck will pick of some of Tango's more gentle traits. (Is that too much to hope for? Probably.) After some hearty play, both dogs love to lounge and I've watched a pattern develop as they move from room to room, eventually landing outside onto the brick patio in search of the sun.
It's not unlike the Buyers that have hit town recently now that the rains have finally subsided. With little inventory from which to choose, they're flocking to the same few good opportunities. Sadly, only one winner will emerge from these multiple-bid situations and then, the flock will move onto the next darling home - in search of the sun. And so it goes . . .
Each house seems to be building a stronger following than the last, resulting in a higher selling price as well. Fueled by a lack of good inventory, HUGE pent-up buyer demand and historically low interest rates, good homes are flying off the market in strong competition and often, after only one Sunday Open (or even before!) which certainly speaks to the overwhelming desire and interest well-qualified buyers are bringing to the table.
What a difference a few weeks make. It's a quick turn around from where we stood a few years, or even a few short months ago. I met a woman at an open house on Sunday in her mid-forties who is in the market for the first time ever. More remarkably, her mother, who is in her seventies, has just bought her very first home as well. So whether you are a first-time Buyer, or a repeat offender, sales activity seems to be growing healthier by the day as Buyers of all ages step in to take advantage of a housing market that is clearly on the rise.
"So what's my first step?"
Define your goals. Speaking with a friend last week who was in contract on a condo on the Peninsula, it was clear that she hadn't defined her goals Buyer's remorse had set in and she phoned me in a near panic. Once we defined her goals, the purchase didn't seem so scary and her vision became crystal clear. Ahhh.
So before purchasing, you should establish whether this home is your entree into the marketplace, is a transitional short-term investment, is the last home you will probably ever own, or is somewhere in between. Each of these distinctions has different ramifications and mitigating circumstances to be sure.
It matters little in the grand scheme of things if you have to get extremely competitive on a home IF you will be living in it for the next 20 years. However, if you think you are going to outgrow the home within five, you may need to be far more conservative.But if the goal is home ownership, then meet with your mortgage lender post haste, get quickly pre-approved and be ready to write a strong, competitive offer; one that makes you a legitimate contender. (There's absolutely NO advantage to writing a weak or even a luke-warm purchase offer; you'll only raise the bar of each successive sale and push the "comps" ever higher.)
Finally, try to keep it all in perspective. When the market really heats up, it begins to get a little crazy. Keep your wits about you and remember you will only get to control your intentions and your actions. Then do your best. (That's all any of us can do.)
And if there are two of you buying the house together, as is more often the case, you will want to make sure your goals are aligned. When spouses don't agree, it can be a rocky road on the way to home ownership. Make sure you are on the same page.
So now that it's sunny, let's go get a house!
"Did you notice I made the bed?" my husband playfully asked.
(How could I not?)
Apart from the fact, that my husband rarely makes the bed and when he capitulates, it's a sloppy mess with sheets, socks, and books typically balled up under the duvet cover, this time he'd actually gone to the trouble of stacking the pillows so they formed a precariously tall tower in the center of the mattress that threatened to fall over at any second and spill onto the floor. (Really?)
"It's art," he chided, poking fun of my compulsive habits.
"It's annoying," I answered back, placing the pillows in their proper order and properly tucking in the sheets while snapping everything crisply into place. Ahhh, order had returned to the Universe! (A recent report on the Today show said that women spend up to three hours a week redoing their husband's chores. When did they meet my husband, Cliff?)
Some avant-garde artists would probably agree with him, given what passes for "art" in the world of elite collectors. Mounted bathroom fixtures? Sculpted trash? Decapitated mannequins? I don't get it, but maybe I have a latent, budding artist on my hands. Maybe not. (Don't give up your day job, honey).
One man's trash, is another man's treasure?
I was recently reminded of this by clients I hold near and dear. Having successfully helped them sell their home, I was motivated to quickly find a replacement property - one that would meet ALL their needs, come in under budget, and provide the next stylish leg of their journey. Given that they are among our closest friends - and not just important clients - their outcome wasn't just professional, it was also personal. I was intent on delivering them their dreams . . .
Determined to find the best home possible, we'd been shopping seriously for months, but with little luck. Either the timing had been off or the house was too expensive, or the competition too great. Nothing quite seemed to really sing, let alone satisfy, or even suffice.
"What about that fixer we saw in Crocker Highlands a few weeks ago?" my client asked, "Is that still available?"
"You don't want that," I stated emphatically, quickly dismissing her inquiry. "That's gonna need way too much work."
Having "flipped" several of my own projects in recent years, I had a pretty good sense of the scope and the expense involved and I had decided that it would be too much for their busy and active lifestyles at this stage of the game. (As if I knew all the answers.) "
Let's just go see it again," Laurie gently instructed. "Call us crazy, but we think it might work."
In fact, I was right. The home does need a LOT of attention, from foundation, to electrical and plumbing repairs, to roof replacement, to kitchen and bathroom renovations, this "fixer" requires an extensive overhaul, but Laurie was right too - not about the "crazy" part, but about her observation that the home will, indeed, "work" for them. (Who am I to argue?)
Here's what I was missing and finally "got" thanks to the patience and gentle prodding of my good friends.
Irrespective of its shortcomings or perceived defects, this home also provides great natural light, an expansive backyard, and a terrific "walk-to" location - none of which were affected by the negative findings we uncovered during their "due-diligence" period. While far from perfect, this home meets their needs and if it doesn't fulfill my fantasy for them, who cares? It isn't my call to make.
Almost everything that isn't right, can be made so and for the price we negotiated, they'll have the leftover funds from the sale of their last home, to do so. (Light bulb moment!)
For years, I've encouraged you to compromise, but wasn't willing to heed my own advice when it came to my close, personal friends (shame on me). I should have remembered that NO property is perfect and every home requires some compromise (true). And of course, I also needed to recognize and remember, that I don't control the outcome. (What a concept.)
Now having successfully negotiated through ALL of the new discovery, my friends ARE happily in contract and should close within a few short weeks. Moreover, they are truly excited about the prospect and the journey that lies ahead (and I'm excited for them). In their capable hands, I am looking forward to seeing where they take this "new" home and how it evolves over time. Moreover, I know they will make it SING!
So maybe Cliff's vision is worth reconsidering after all - uh, maybe not. I think I'll just make the bed myself - it's clearly not worth the aggravation.
At least, that's something I can control.
Dang! Like millions of others, I failed to win the largest lottery prize in history. I just don't get it. I bought five tickets and my numbers were really, REALLY good (there goes my retirement plan).
Plus, I'd be a fantastic (and generous) multimillionaire (not that you wouldn't).
Listening to the odds on the national news, it was more likely that one would be hit by lightning (50 times!) be killed by flesh eating bacteria, or die in their own automobile on the way to buy the lottery ticket, than it would be to win. In fact, the only thing less likely than picking the correct numbers, was the potential to be eaten by a great white shark. (It could happen.)
Did that stop us? Not at all!
The nearly impossible odds didn't dissuade me, nor millions of others evidently, as we happily plunked down our hard-earned cash for the slimmest of chances at changing our lives. Skeptics be damned, no one's killing my dream. Someone was going to win a half a BILLION (!) dollars. It might as well be me!
Here's the stat I liked best. When asked, "What would you do with the money, if you won?" the overwhelming majority of respondents said, "I'd buy a house." "I'd buy a house . . ." Some said,"I'd buy a house for my mother" or "I'd buy a BIGGER house," or "I'd buy a house in Hawaii," but there's no denying that the number one dream shared by most Americans continues to be "home ownership" or in the words of the late, great Davey Jones of The Monkeys fame, 'I'm a believer."
"Not a trace, of doubt in my mind. I'm in love, Ooh, I'm a believer, I couldn't leave her, if I tried . . ."
The other piece of the report I found fascinating was that the mere act of purchasing the lottery ticket made us happy. We didn't necessarily need to win in order to feel happy (although that would have been nice) we just needed to imagine winning. Visualizing how our lives might change and improve for the better, elevated our moods in the moment, even though the odds of winning were literally, astronomical, and far, FAR removed. Science has proven that we positively benefit as a result of our dreams. So dream on !
America is a nation full of dreamers, from our forefathers who set out for the brave New World, to today's Silicon Valley movers and shakers that are changing it more profoundly and more rapidly than at any other time in history. Uniformly, they all began with a dream.
Watching my neighbor's daughter, Suzanne, pack up the rented U-Haul truck on Sunday in order to move over to San Francisco as she pursues her career, I was once again reminded of how important and how exciting young dreams can be. Is there any act more independent than establishing a hearth and home? And is there anything more gratifying to us parents than watching our little birds successfully leave the nest and create one of their own? It's a given that our children's happiness is part-and-parcel of our own dreams as well. We don't just want to see our children fly, we yearn to see them soar . . . .
No, I didn't win the $670,000 lottery, and you didn't either (no one in California did) but that didn't keep us from dreaming, nor should it.
It takes dreams, prior to action.
So come on over to Piedmont and let me help you realize the dream of home ownership. I can't promise you the lottery, but riches aren't measured in dollars alone. I for one, have been very lucky indeed.
"I'm a believer!"
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.