Watching my son graduate from college a few weeks ago from the University of Arizona, I was filled with a mix of relief and joy. Just between you and me, there had been more than a few moments in high school when I worried that Case wouldn't actually make it into college, let alone finish. So the fact that he not only did, but graduated in four years (and with strong grades to boot) was tremendously rewarding. (Good job, son; sniff, sniff.)
"You are an elite group of only 6-7% of graduates the world over," the commencement speaker announced, "so recognize your exceptional achievement and GO MAKE YOUR MARK!"
Those are inspirational marching orders, but more easily said than done. The truth is, that while some of these exceptional young graduates have already been accepted into medical or law schools (or better yet, have paying internships lined up) the vast majority of them are feeling rather anxious and untethered. (Ironically, they felt the same way going in.)
It's beginning to dawn on them that after four years of a structured, supportive environment (not to mention the "gravy train") the world is no longer looking at them as "kids." It's time to leave the safety of their schools and venture forth into the big, wide beyond . . . They're ready. They just don't know it yet.
If I had to sum up their feelings, I think it would be:
Ah, that's the $128,000 question. (It used to be the $64,000 question, but have you paid a college tuition lately? Ouch.)
Regrettably, unless your child (excuse me, young adult) had the foresight and the aptitude to learn how to code (mine did not) college graduates aren't really trained for real-life jobs at all - a lesson my talented niece (a recent University of Washington graduate) learned after getting rejected from one company after another until finally landing in the training program at YELP. It may not be her "dream job" but she's developing all kinds of great skills to carry forward and isn't that part of the journey as well? (Yes, it is.)
They'll each have to figure that out on their own . . . and they will.
In Real Estate, the "What Now?" question typically arrives halfway through the process once Buyers and Sellers successfully get into escrow, followed closely by "What's Next?"
While I don't have the answers for my son's immediate future, let me take this opportunity to illuminate the "next steps" moving forward for Buyers and Sellers as they enter into contract . . .
(BTW, if you thought prepping your house for market was a tremendous amount of work, you'd be right; however, the crux of the deal actually happens IN escrow. If we are not mindful (and often, even when we are) the escrow process can be a bit like falling down the rabbit hole.)
For those who aren't tracking . . . "Escrow" is the neutral third-party process by which a home actually transfers ownership. Once a purchase agreement has been ratified, a copy of the fully executed agreement is sent to the lender and the title officer and then "escrow" is officially opened.
During this time frame (typically 30 days) "good-faith" monies are deposited, inspections take place and are lifted, an appraisal is ordered, renegotiations are argued, addenda bounce back and forth, request for repairs may be issued, title is searched and satisfied, pay-off demands are sent, loan docs are prepared, funding is put into place, homeowner's insurance is ordered, pro-rated property taxes and transfer taxes are assigned, any outstanding liens are retired, a new trust deed is recorded, and ultimately the home successfully transfers ownership. AND all of that happens after a contract has been ratified!
Usually, the transaction takes place without a hitch, but I'd be less than honest if I were to say that it's always smooth sailing - especially in today's go, go, GO marketplace where quite often, the timelines have been shortened from 30 days to 21, or shorter still, to 14. In one ALL-CASH transaction I represented this spring, we closed escrow in just seven days!
From the Buyers' and Sellers' perspectives, that's fantastic news, but with the exception of the loan in these "all-cash" circumstances, the same amount of effort has to take place, and that's frankly, a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time. Escrow officers, inspectors, loan officers, Brokers, and yes, your local Real Estate Agents, are working around the clock as we try and meet the growing demands. (I'm writing this at 5:00 am in the morning while waiting for a document to be returned that was sent out last night.)
As with parenthood, much of our work (and our support) takes place behind the scenes. In fact, the majority of it does as we try to keep "feelings" out of the transaction to better serve the deal (an almost impossible task given that we are almost ALWAYS dealing with a highly emotional transaction when transferring a home).
So hang in there, like those bright-eyed college graduates, the answers become clear as we move forward with purpose (not to mention some dignity and grace). Remember, if it doesn't serve "the deal" don't do it. The sale of a home is a business transaction, first and foremost. If we keep our eye on the objective, we will usually arrive on time and in good shape (not always, but usually).
In the meantime, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and try to do the "next right thing" even when (especially when) things become challenging. Almost every outcome involves some stumbles and falls along the way, some recalibrating, and some adapting, AND Real Estate is no different. When struggling, I'm often reminding not only my clients, but myself, that ALL issues are surmountable with good intentions and at this stage of the game, I know that to be true. In fact, that's essentially the same advice I gave to my son upon graduating.
Now, go make your mark, honey; the world awaits! (We're so proud!)
"WE think we'll bid X," my clients anxiously said after conferring for a few moments, "so that we've got a little room to negotiate when the Seller counters." Ah yes; the elusive "call back."
Forget "when." How about "IF?"
Years ago, before moving to San Francisco, before meeting Cliff, WELL before babies, preschools, PTA meetings, baseball tournaments, soccer matches, dances, graduations, and long before a career in real estate, I danced.
To be honest, I waitressed, with an occasional paying gig on the side. Dance jobs were scarce in Hollywood in the early 80s (yes, I realize I am dating myself), MTV was just emerging, and New York was out of reach, but that hadn't stopped a young, naive, Sacramento girl from pursuing her dreams - "So I loaded up the truck and I moved to Beverly - Hills that is, swimmin' pools and movie stars!" (Actually it was Sherman Oaks, but this plays better.)
Between tap, ballet and jazz classes, my friends and I would pour over Variety; the trade paper for those in "show business," and then scramble to find someone to cover our restaurant shifts so that we could attend whatever dance audition has been published that week.
The big auditions like the Oscars or the American Music Awards might attract 3,000 would-be starlets, heavy dance bags in tow with tap, ballet and jazz shoes at the ready. For hours we'd perform in lines as cut after cut was made, hoping for the golden ticket - THE CALL BACK.
Call backs didn't come easily . . .
"Thank you, you're too tall." "Thank you, you're too short." "Thank you, we're looking for um . . . something else." (Those hurt the most.) "Dance ten, looks three, and I'm still on unemployment, dancin' for my own enjoyment. That ain't it kid, that ain't it kid. . ."
Unless you actually enjoy spending week after week (month after month!) looking at homes (Surprisingly, there are people who make a hobby of this!) you are better served NOT waiting for the CALL BACK, but spotting the opportunity and getting the job done. The "opportunity " may come in the form of an overlooked house, a less desirable property (aka a 'fixer'), or a narrow opening in the marketplace (holidays often provide such windows). Whatever it is, recognize the opening and SEIZE it!
But if your heart is set on the house that everyone else loves too and you are willing to compete for it in a meaningful way, DO NOT hold back, hoping for a counter offer. Nine times out of 10, it ISN'T coming! Sellers with multiple offers from which to choose, often don't renegotiate. If they are smart (and well coached), they'll take the best offer on the table and call it a day, rather than offend the Buyer who just arrived with "the gift" in hand. (Thank you very much.)
When Sellers do counter in today's world, it's typically because several offers have presented that are nearly identical. In such a case, a "multiple counter" will often be issued to see who's willing to come up with more dollars (blunt, but true). If everyone agrees to the counter, the seller will simply pick their favorite. Alarmingly, it's tantamount to a closed auction and a popularity contest all rolled into one. ("That ain't it kid, that ain't it kid.")
So if you have identified how much you are willing to spend on a popular home, be brave and ante it up! Remember, in the Bay Area marketplace, you are seeking the "value," not the "deal."
Amortized over thirty years, the difference is probably a fairly nominal amount on a monthly basis, and you'll kick yourself later on if you missed the winning bid by the $25,000 you were 'holding back.' While it may seen unkind, or worse yet, unfair, today's hot, hot, HOT marketplace makes no allowances for those that are hoping for, or counting on, the elusive "call back." Hey, I'm still dancing in a sense; it's just on a different stage.
As it turns out, Real Estate is its own form of dance as we gently tap are way through the transactions and the emotions that tend to attach to almost every sale or purchase. Ironically, all those years of training have proven to be very good groundwork for what lays ahead.
"Suddenly I'm getting national tours . . ."
(TRIVIA TIME: Who wrote the lyrics to the song I've been quoting and in what musical was it sung? Lattes at Mulberry's Market for every correct response!)
I spent the early morning hours battling a couple of tree roses at my upcoming listing. (I take the term "full service" to a whole different level.) Let me state for the record, that I'm not a fan of these prissy plants; bushes that have been trained and pruned to grow like floral lollipops. Sure, they look elegant going in, but too often they stop performing after a few years and all you're left with are a few struggling buds and some rather unattractive rusted leaves on top of an ugly wooden stock. (BTW - the deer love snacking on these roses making them uglier still.)
"Do you mind if I bring my shovel over and pull these out?" I asked my amenable Seller. "I'll replace them with something healthier and more vibrant.." (I was just being polite. She didn't really get a vote.)
And so the assault began . . . Let me tell you, those sickly looking roses had a tap root that went way down and didn't want to yield to my incessant digging. (I imagine this must be what it feels like to be an oral surgeon pulling out a wisdom tooth.)
A woman, or should I say a "Realtor" on a mission, I wouldn't be deterred. I've yet to meet the stubborn rose bush that can beat me in a battle. Sure, they'll scratch the heck out you, but in the end, I'm going to end up the victor, come hell or high water.
I think that's often the way Buyers and Sellers feel as they move towards the purchase or the sale of a home and it's rarely ever (to quote Martha Stewart) "a good thing." What often starts out as a lovely transaction turns into a thorny mess as the battle progresses and tap roots are firmly established (aka: lines in the sand).
Until one side yields, nothing much good is going to come of it.
"You tell them I said . . .!", OR "We're absolutely NOT going to . . .!", OR
"Why should I, unless they . . . ?"
And so the war rages.
Let's pause for a moment and reevaluate the goal, which is to transfer ownership of the home. Remember, both the Buyer and the Seller want the same thing, but how to get there is often the part we have to navigate with some common sense and grace. We don't have to like each other, we just have to be respectful. (BTW - kindness and generosity never hurt either.) No matter the circumstances, the backdrop is always STRESS on both ends, so let's keep drama to a minimum, shall we? (This goes for the Realtors too.)
One Seller recently summed it all up: "This is the one time in my life when I have the opportunity to sell a rare commodity that is truly based on supply and demand and dammit, I want every dollar!" (I understand.)
Juxtapose that sentiment against: ""We can wait and we don't want to overpay." (No one does.)
Whatever your belief, it's sure to be EMPHATIC (!) especially in a highly-charged market such as today's, but if you lose the forest for the trees (or the roses for the thorns) you'll undoubtedly be left bloody and bruised and worse yet, without a house, and that's certainly not the outcome you were hoping for.
While there are those who, either by training or by nature, thrive on turning UP the volume, there's something to be said for giving up the struggle and yielding to the flow. Granted, this isn't easy. I'll be the first to say that there's a lot at stake and no one wants to be taken advantage of, or worse yet, miss an opportunity, but in the greater scheme of things, the buying or selling of a home are the problems most of the rest of the world aspires to.
Let's keep our mission in perspective, recognize or redefine the concept of "victory," and remember for all the worry, angst, and posturing, the outcome is rarely ever impacted enough to have made an ugly struggle worthwhile under any circumstances. In other words, be nice and play fair.
Which isn't to say that there won't be some battles along the way, but let's resolve them quickly and amicably.
"But what if . . .?"
So what? I mean it, "So what?" Second guessing is the quickest way to insanity in this, or any other market. Let me save you some time and trouble; we can only ever work with the inventory, buying pool, lending policies, and the circumstances available to us now. Sure, this may all change in a year or two (in a month or two) and then we will be forced to recalibrate and work with a new set of perimeters, but for today, we work with what we have in front of us . . .
I spent months second guessing my decision on our last home (coveting others, bemoaning our purchase, doubting the journey . . .) only to have our lovely house break records when we sold it this spring. When I finally let go of expectations, everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) tumbled nicely into place. What a gift.
So pick your battles wisely (and wear long sleeves) or you may find yourself focused on the thorns instead of the blooms - and wouldn't that be a shame?
Save your fighting for the issues that really matter. Now where's my shovel? Those roses have got to go!
It's the annual STAR testing at school which means there's been a fair amount of grumbling in my household about these "stupid tests." I understand my son's point of view (I do); STAR testing tells us nothing more than how well our kids perform on a particular day - not whether or not they've gained important skills, like critical thinking. Because the results are largely used to measure the success of the school and not the child, I'm inclined to agree with him (but don't tell Tristan I said so). However, when my son steps back and looks at the inconvenience more objectively, he discovers that the week includes little to NO homework, early dismissal, and later start times, allowing him to sleep in (bonus)! On balance, it's probably one of the easiest weeks of the year, given that this son has always scored incredibly well on standardized tests. "DON"T wake me tomorrow morning," Tristan commanded, "I'll get up at the right time on my own." (Okay then.) Never mind that I haven't woken him in years (unless there were chores involved). Honestly, there's not a lot I've asked of my pampered kids besides their best efforts, BUT getting themselves up and off to school is one of them. I think my clients are being tested as well - there's just no way to objectively measure their scores. "We're FREAKING OUT!" is a refrain I'm unfortunately getting use to hearing. No wonder. The pace of the market makes for tremendous uncertainty. With multiple bidding on most properties, a HIGH number of preemptive offers in play, and some downright startling results, Buyers are really struggling to keep some degree of sanity as they navigate these challenging market realities. Honestly, it's a reasonable response to a very trying situation. "How are we ever going to find a home?" (You will.) "But what if we don't?" (You will.) Buyers are not alone. Sellers fair no better. "Why isn't my house jumping off the market like my neighbor's did?" In short, your house may be missing the 'value proposition,' OR it may have expensive defects that need correcting, OR it may need extensive renovating, OR it is too big, OR it is too small, OR it may simply be priced too high. (That's usually the culprit. Everything sells at the right price.) Whatever the case may be, adapt if possible. Unfortunately, it's the inconsistencies that are proving to really test us all, making it difficult to predict what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. Some homes, regardless of their condition, find a strong audience, while seemingly terrific homes, get nary a nod. In other words, not all listings are created equal, nor do they attract the same kind of attention. (Chemistry is an evasive concept.) By way of example, I currently have two listings on the market which are experiencing both ends of the spectrum. The first, has competing Buyers knocking down my door asking for disclosures and booking appointments for the offer date a week in advance (!); while the second has had far less activity even though it is 'value priced,' and has been aggressively marketed as well. I think they're both great opportunities, but results aren't about what I think, they're about how the market responds. So what gives? While these properties are nothing alike, the first stands virtually alone in its neighborhood, while the other has come to market with 31 other competing houses, and many of them with newer amenities and updates. Moreover, supply is narrowing the gap on demand, and in turn, there's been a subtle, but profound, market adjustment. This is NOT a correction mind you; it's a leveling off of the marketplace which is TYPICAL for this time of the year. In fact, it's the same pattern we see every year as inventory rises and Buyers start to rethink their options, waiting for next week's offerings. In many cases, Sellers who delayed, are now scrambling to capture the market highs the last two months delivered and often, finding it more difficult to live up to these earlier results. Still, DON'T panic if your home has sold swiftly, but DO make adjustments as needed and make them quickly. Homes that haven't sold within two weeks should reduce the price and reset their position immediately. It's simply foolish to wait for the market to meet your expectations. Remember, a willing and able Buyer defines the value of any given property at any given time - NOT THE SELLER. (Sorry about that.) Buyers, if you haven't been successful up to this point, this is good news, you're now in a much better position to compete (although you'll still need to be willing to be the highest bidder at the table). Whatever the case may be, sharpen your pencils, prepare for battle, and get ready to be tested. Buying or selling under the best of circumstances is always stressful, and in the Bay Area marketplace, it's exponentially more difficult. Of course, you're 'freaking out' - who can blame you? (Not me.) Take a breath, seek objectivity (the rest of the world aspires to house- hunting angst), get into action, and understand that life is a series of tests as we transition from one stage to the next . . . AND I might add from my own recent experience, that transition and change ALWAYS require a fair amount of trust and faith . . . You're just not going to be able to sleep in while you're going through the process. Now, how can I help you?
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.