"How's it going? I anxiously asked my son, excited to have finally heard from my newly minted cowboy at last.
Case had been home ALL of one week from his sophomore year at the University of Arizona before heading off to a summer job at a Dude Ranch in Wyoming that he had secured via a phone interview (in short, he'd never been there). The summer contract offered him room and board and a small stipend, but the real payoff would be in the TIPS the students divide at the end of the summer. Leave early and he will undoubtedly be working for peanuts. Stay the course, and Case might find himself handsomely rewarded for his time.
Saddle up pardner!
"It sucks," he replied. "It snowed all day yesterday. I don't have any of the right clothes, didn't bring boots or a winter coat, and don't have gloves." (SNOW! What? They don't have summer in Wyoming? It's practically June already.)
"So what's good about it? I asked, quickly redirecting the conversation and tamping down my own growing doubts and motherly concerns (Case doesn't like horses, or fishing, or camping . . .).
"The other kids are cool and I'm learning a lot of stuff. I'm happy I'm on the grounds crew and not inside like I thought, but it's cold. (Compared to Arizona and sunny California, I imagine it is. Perhaps we should have checked the weather report). "I'm mowing lawns all day."
"You know honey, learning to mow lawns and patch fences are great skills to have in life." I replied. "Frankly, I wish your dad had learned them along the way."
Finally, a half-hearted chuckle from the other end of the phone. I'm the one who takes care of the yard at our house. Case's dad grew up in New York City. Evidently they don't mow lawns there.
"Yeah, I suppose, he conceded,"but I'm tired. I worked nine hours yesterday," (Gee, join the club.) "Could you get me some jeans? "
"Sure," I said, before signing off. "Are you gonna make it for the next three months?" I was almost afraid to ask.
"Oh yeah," he said, "I'm good. I'm gonna make it." (Relief . . .)
Sigh, I don't know what I would have done had Case asked for a ticket home after only one week of being away. The truth is, I believe that a strong work ethic, coupled with PERSEVERANCE, serve us better than almost any other talents we possess (add a sense of humor to the mix and you've got the trifecta in your corner) AND I am pleased that Case is learning this skill set relatively early in life. (I'm even more pleased that someone else is teaching it to him.)
Hang in there son, I know you've got it in you.
I'm not kidding when I say that mowing a lawn and fixing fences are great skills to have in life. I don't mean that as a metaphor (as I often do in these columns) I mean they ARE great skills to have (period, exclamation point)! Ditto for painting, plumbing, and roofing, as homes have a tendency to require these repairs time and time again.
Welcome to home ownership.
Whatever you think about it - it sure ain't for "lilly-livered polecats." And given that your home is likely your single largest asset, you will want to take care of it in good measure, if only to protect this important and significant investment. (BTW- if you're in need of resources, please call me. I have references far and wide.) My dad regularly bought "fixers" when I was growing up and his crew of five girls were all expected to pitch in, paint, clean, strip wallpaper, and mow lawns as needed (and we all did). And while I don't count these strenuous weekends among the highlights of my life (and I'm certain we didn't do it without a fair amount of complaining) I have to say that I'm not adverse to picking up a broom or a hammer and filling in a need.
In the end, my dad gave us all a gift. We all know how to WORK and what's more, he taught us that there is a tremendous amount of self-esteem that comes from doing a job, and doing it well. The bonus of course, comes in earning a paycheck too - yes? (Yes!) So work hard, Case, learn everything there is to learn, gain as many skills as you can, and know that each new challenge lays the groundwork for your future self.
Believe me, the rewards - both personal and financial - are well worth the effort. PLUS, your dad and I are really, very proud of you - Dude! See you soon. (We're scheduled for a visit in July.) Yee Haw!
Vol. 233 - Last Minute SURPRISES!
The Scene: My cubicle upstairs at The GRUBB Co. It's 5 pm and my desk is covered with papers, my fingers are flying across the keyboard. I'm working like there's no tomorrow.
Ring, ring, ring . . .
"Hey Mom, it's Tristan. We need to be at my school's ceramic show tonight at 7 at the Community Art Center, you have to buy my art project pot, AND you need to bake cookies."
What!?! (A little advance notice might have been nice.)
"Yeah, sorry," Tristan replied.
I was currently at my desk preparing a listing agreement, organizing showings for the next day for out-of-town Buyers, and waiting for a purchase offer on a home I currently represent. In fact, the Sellers were set to show up in the next few minutes and I was rushing to get prepared. Baking cookies wasn't exactly going to make it onto the agenda in the next two hours.
"Honey, you'll need to get a box of brownies down out of the cupboard and follow the directions," I replied. "I'll wrap things up here as quickly as I can and pick you up right after." (There's always Betty Crocker for just such emergencies.)
"Okay," he hesitantly replied before hanging up. Baking isn't really his thing. Oh well, time to learn.
Not that baked goods constitute a real "emergency" in my book, but when one is juggling parenting and work commitments (as most of us are) SURPRISES of any kind aren't particularly welcome. In fact, they are down right inconvenient.
They're NO GOOD with respect to Real Estate either. The plain and simple truth is that if there is anything to be discovered about a home, the Seller is better served controlling that information. If they don't, it is very likely that the Buyer will, and when they do, they will most often return to renegotiate their previous purchase offer (and it won't be in the Seller's favor). No Buyer ever came back and said, "The property checked out so beautifully that we are actually prepared to pay you MORE!"
That isn't to say that every surprise can be avoided (they can't) but to the extent that you can sidestep the majority of unwelcome surprises through full disclosure and reasonable anticipation, you owe it to yourself to gather the pertinent information and HAND IT OVER! If the roof will need replacing soon, get a roofing bid. Ditto for an engineering report when drainage is your sticky wicket (it's almost everyone's here in the hills) DO replace the sewer lateral (it's now a "Point-of-Sale Ordinance in the East Bay) repair defects if possible, order a pest report, and clarify any easement issues that might exist with respect to the property - just to name a few.
In addition, make sure to get professional BIDS on any work that may be outstanding. It's of little offensive value to disclose that the retaining wall may need replacement if you haven't established the price to do so. In such a case, you will only raise a red flag. Remember, "new discovery" is always negotiable, so quantify the improvements, or the Buyers are sure to.
If you are wondering whether or not something needs to be disclosed while filling out the piles of paperwork I will invariably be handing you - it does. Always error on the side of disclosure. You'd be amazed at what slight oversights come back to haunt a transaction and unravel a sale - especially for first-time Buyers unfamiliar with the inherent risk of home ownership.
Speaking of unraveled, I'm going to have to talk to my son about some advanced warning next time around. These last minute surprises don't work well for me AT ALL!
Cut to: The Piedmont Community Center for the Arts. It's a beautiful spring evening. Smiling, laughing, sun-tanned kids are spilling out of the building and onto the manicured lawn out front. Inside, the walls are lined with pen-and-ink self portraits, colorful landscapes, and still-life paintings. There are ribbons next to the pieces that have won awards and merit special recognition, but ALL of the drawings are incredibly impressive. I'm in awe of the level of talent from these high school students. Clearly, several of these gifted kids are on their way to professional careers in the arts.
Yeah, my son's probably not one of them.
He walks me over to the table full of misshapen clay bowls and plucks his orange and green mottled creation out from the group while I dutifully hand over a $2o bill to his art teacher, Miss Simons (a donation for the Alameda Food Bank). Not surprisingly, Tristan's art work looks a lot like his dad's - there's good intention, but not a lot of innate, natural talent. (I might have overpaid for the bowl).
"Tristan created a beautiful glaze on that piece," Miss Simon comments. (She understands where her bread is buttered.)
Tristan nods and takes the comment with good humor. He may not be the next Rodin but he doesn't lack for a sense of humor (also a gift from his dad). We had a good chuckle on the way home and the bowl now proudly sits on my bedside table. Hey, ART is subjective and it makes me happy.
But unwelcome surprises? Not so happy. Let's keep those to a minimum.
Vol 232, The Right "Fit."
You're all wondering if I got my shelves for Mother's Day, right?
Well, I'm happy to report that I did!
So what if I accompanied my husband, Cliff, to Costco to make sure that he bought the right units and that they made it home intact? (Think of it as "together" time, honey).
OR that I micro-managed the project from beginning to end as Tristan and his father put the new shelves together?
OR that I had to physically drag our college-age son, Case, away from the televised Basketball games and throw a broom into his hand as he ignored my none-too-subtle pleas for assistance? (I love him, but I'll gratefully put him on the plane to Wyoming on Sunday as he heads to his summer job.)
Eventually, my family managed to get everything off the floor of the garage and organized into clear bins that now sit neatly alongside the sleeping bags, paint cans, and lawn chairs that we've collected over the years.
Would it be overreaching to declare that order has once again been restored to the Universe? (Maybe just a tad.) At least one of us in my household went to bed happy that night. (No, it wasn't Cliff and perhaps in hindsight, I might have been a wee bit controlling.) I guess the point is that each of us has specific needs and wants when it comes to a household and our own criteria for making it a "home." I need a garden, and Cliff wants a batting cage. I need to get the cars off the driveway and Cliff wants to keep ALL of his old outdated sports equipment. I need some semblance of order, and Cliff wants a nap . . . . (Sometimes, our "needs" and "wants" actually coincide.) Lucky for you Buyers, here in Piedmont, we don't live in a cookie-cutter community. If Mediterraneans are your thing, there's certain to be a Spanish style home that eventually hits the market. Ditto for Tudors, Victorians, and Brown Shingle Traditionals, which all sit side-by-side in our picturesque little village of one-of-a-kind family homes and estates. (It really is special here.) Occasionally, we will even be treated to a fantastic Modern Contemporary, as the fabulous spec-built home on Hagar displayed just last week (now pending!). If you are ambiguous or still uncertain as to what you really want, write out a "wish list" and then number each item's importance. You'll quickly find out what trade-offs you are willing to make - and what you are not. Then with information firmly in hand, you will be much more focused with respect to your next home purchase (and I'll have better guidance as well).
However, if it's location above style that you seek (as it is for many Buyers) that's a reasonable, albeit more difficult, expectation. The available housing stock in the center of town tends to be slim and you will likely pay a premium for it, but if that's your undeniable preference, hold out. Understanding that every home requires some compromise, clarify upfront what's negotiable for you (sometimes, you may need to identify what won't work, before determining what will) and then follow the course. As long as you allow yourself some flexibility, with patience and with fortitude, you will eventually find the right "fit." Speaking of "fit," everything, including our two cars, now fits neatly into our garage! Maybe by Father's Day, Cliff will actually get his nap. (He more than deserves it!)
Vol 231, The Sweet Spot!
"Something's missing," I noted as I walked into the kitchen. I had just finished baking four dozen cookies for my Sunday Open and had returned to package them up. Now I was looking at a nearly empty space where the chocolate chip cookies had previously been cooling on the racks. Hmmm, there seemed to be a thief in the house.
I had happily volunteered to dog sit my Sellers' wonderful Australian Shepherd/Golden mix (the world's sweetest dog) and without naming names (Tango!) I had noted his stealth habit of placing his front paws on the counters to check out what might be up there, but hadn't really registered the ramifications. It seems that while I had stepped into the bedroom, Tango had helped himself to dessert! As a dog owner who has taken her own pet to the emergency room after a gluttonous splurge on blueberry muffins, I was more than a little bit worried. Forget the cookies, what happens if you kill your client's dog?
Happily, Tango survived the evening with nary a stomach ache. When I got up the next morning to bake a new batch, Tango plonked himself down in the kitchen, wagged his tail, and licked his chops, as if to say "How great! Do you bake fresh cookies everyday?" (I don't, but I do bake quite often.) My husband and son like my cookies quite a bit. In fact, they like them quite a lot (we all have a sweet tooth in my family) but they've yet to eat TWO DOZEN in one sitting! Clearly I had hit the "sweet spot" for our visiting furry friend.
Here in Piedmont, the "sweet spot" seems to be any home between $1,000,000 - $1,700,000. If you've got a home to sell that offers at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms (four bedrooms are even better) congratulations, you are in good shape as well qualified Buyers flood the marketplace and compete for the few good homes that become available. There truly is too little inventory to meet the pent-up demand, which in turn, is pushing the market ever higher with each successive sale. Sweeeeet!
And for homes above $2,000,000, we are seeing REAL traction in the high-end marketplace for the first time in several years as well, with several homes receiving multiple bids in this higher price range. It's not about the money, it's about the "perceived value." And with interest rates that are still at historical lows, the affordability index has rarely been better. Great opportunity exists NOW for those who qualify. For Sellers who have been waiting for some sign of recovery before waiting to sell, it's time to consider placing your house on the market. The recovery is well underway and consumer confidence has definitely returned. Now may be the time to sell. Sweeet!
I have returned to salsa class after an almost two year absence due to some minor injuries (first with my rotator cuff and then with my Achilles tendon) that kept me off the dance floor longer than I had intended. Now that I'm back, I'm remembering what I loved about salsa class . . . and what I didn't miss so much.
The class I take on Tuesday evenings is Salsa Rueda. "Rueda" means "wheel" in Spanish and much like an American square dance, this social dance form requires the leaders (the men) and the followers (the women) to move in opposite directions while the teacher calls out the next dance steps.
The moves can be as simple as a quick underhanded passoff to the next partner or as complicated as a series of intricate spins, but the idea is that we should all be doing the same thing, to the same counts, AT THE SAME TIME . . . "Uh, five, six, seven, eight."
As you might imagine, the men in the group range from very good, to not so wonderful (I'm certain the women do as well, but I'm not forced to "partner" with them) and depending on their skill set, it can be a lot of fun . . . or not so much. The more confident the leader, the lighter his touch and the clearer his directions, as he easily maneuvers his partner in and out, back and forth, and round and round, while we ladies gracefully follow suit (that's the idea anyway).
Conversely, the uncertain leaders who are sweating it out (quite literally) have a tendency to forcefully yank your arm, grip your hands, and throw you about in an effort to catch up and compensate for their confusion. To add insult to injury, these Gene Kelly wannabes will often say something along the lines of "Don't worry you'll get it," or "Try not to lead, that's my job" (yes, it is!) as they seek to blame you for being out of step. Really dude?
In certain communities within the Bay Area, and certainly here in Piedmont we have returned to a very active "Sellers' Market" and much like my salsa class, I'm remembering what I liked about it - and what I didn't miss so much.
Having come at us with unexpected speed and force (the only difference between this year's Spring Market and last, seems to be consumer confidence ) it's an absolute windfall for Sellers and downright discouraging for Buyers as they scramble from one house to the next, competing against double digit offers in some cases, and placing bids well above the list price that would have easily won the house last year and now aren't even in contention. Wow, that doesn't feel so good.
As a listing agent, it's fantastic to deliver results well above expectations, but as a Buyer's agent, I hate delivering the news that my Buyers' well-crafted offer somehow fell short. And for both of us, the frantic hunt for a home represents a tremendous commitment of both time and energy, as we face odds that frankly, aren't in anyone's favor.
The truth is, like dance, so much of the results have to do with good timing and with the partners you choose. If we time the market correctly, the results may be great, and if we don't, you are likely to be moving on to another agent the next time you decide to buy or sell (ouch, that's not so nice). In both cases, the market has far more power than do I, although how I guide you through the steps is undoubtedly important.
New home owners who bought in the last few years capitalized on the bottom of the market, while those that waited on the sidelines are feeling pressure that's difficult to absorb as the market quickly climbs and for some unfortunate Buyers, becomes out-of-reach. Meanwhile home Sellers are experiencing results they didn't enjoy even a few short months ago. Regrettably, market realities are only revealed in hindsight.
For those of you, unable to compete, you may need to take a break from the action until next fall when things typically level off (markets tend to be cyclical). This mini-bubble may just be that - or it may not. But for those of you who can compete, compete to win and do it sooner, rather than later. Prices are still climbing and today's sales will be tomorrow's comps.
And as a Seller, if you have been waiting to recapture some of your lost equity, your patience may be well-rewarded at this time. Please note however, that not every house is experiencing the same heavy demand. Those that come to market, "turn-key" and freshly painted and staged, are attracting far more interest than those that still have several obstacles to overcome, or those perceived as overpriced!
In both instances, do partner up with the best agent you can find (just because you can do the dance, doesn't mean you can do it well) and get realistic about the competition you are facing. (The Grubb Co. closed 106 sales last month alone and boasts more sales per agent than any other local firm.)
Then put on your dance shoes and cha, cha, cha!"Uh, five, six , seven, eight . . ."
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.