The Fourth of July is right around the corner and in Piedmont that means the smell of barbecues, well-attended block parties and the annual, much-loved Fourth of July Parade.
For the uninitiated, although the parade doesn't officially kick off until 11 am (after the pancake breakfast), the lawn chairs will begin to show up days beforehand - several days beforehand! Like weeds, they'll pop up all over the route, with ribbons strewn down the line, saving their favorite spots for those who plan to arrive the morning of, decked out in red, white and blue. Those in the know, will grab the shady spots first, and casually stroll in a few minutes before the official start time with drinks in hand, while those who wait too long will find themselves standing two to three rows deep, elbowing for a section of cement. No matter, there's room for everyone.
Me? I like to wander from front yard party to yard party the day of the parade, so I have willingly given up any claim to some small piece of the sidewalk. Still, this demand to claim our space makes me realize that commanding "real estate" is a universal desire, whether it's a blanket on the grass, a lawn chair on the parade route, or a chaise lounge at the pool (you know who you are.) It's the rare individual who doesn't want to own "a piece of the rock."
For many, that's easier said than done. With housing prices shooting up faster than fireworks, strategic planning and aggressive play have never been more important. You'll need to not only get preapproved for a mortgage prior to beginning your hunt, but you will also want to stay totally on top of the newest introductions and then make your move quickly and forcefully and that will require the help of a knowledgeable, local Real Estate Agent. Our current marketplace doesn't favor those who hang back. And if you are lucky enough to have well-heeled parents to help with those hefty down payments, treat them kindly. (They're your best friends.)
For those of us who don't sit in such rareified air; whose ancestors may not have found their way to "the land of opportunity" by way of the Mayflower, or didn't land at a start-up straight out of college, the summer may offer an opening you didn't have before. While others are on vacation, you may find fewer competing buyers in the market allowing you to make your move with less competition to contend with. (Wouldn't that be nice? Yes, it would.)
On the flip side, there may also be fewer homes to see as inventory begins to diminish. August presents especially lean before the market revs up again once Labor Day has passed and vacationers have returned home. This is the typical cycle of the summer market so use it to your advantage should opportunity knock. Here's the key component, you'll actually need to recognize such an opening instead of wondering where the crowd went? (They've gone to the beach. Give them a towel and happily send them on their way!)
With suggestions that the interest rates will finally rise come the fall, (they are already beginning to inch up) if you can find and secure a home this summer, you may avoid this costly correction when and IF this prediction comes to pass. Remember it's not so much about the sales price of a home, but about your carrying costs on a monthly basis that decide how "affordable" home ownership is for an individual. A single percentage jump in the interest rates will transfer to approximately $100,000 less in purchasing power! (Ouch.) So be ready to jump.
In the meantime, there's a parade to attend, bunting to hang, potlucks to cook for, and friends to bump into. Last year, I must have run into at least a dozen families during the parade whom I had helped secure homes in and around Piedmont, which was incredibly satisfying and heartwarming to say the least. Sure, the parade is fun, but watching my families expand and grow up is a whole other kind of kick. (I do love my job!)
Heck, maybe I'll even dig out a camping chair for my 89-year-old mother-in-law on Monday. This will be her first Piedmont Parade now that's she's come to live with us. There's no way she can stand for two hours and besides, there's something quaint and familiar about those darn lawn chairs; a reminder of what awaits I suppose and the willingness to be silly and unabashedly patriotic, if only for one day a year.
So bring it on. Summer has officially arrived. The days have grown long and we've all got more time to enjoy the sunshine, to hit the beach, and to spend time with friends. Let's celebrate our remarkable little town.
BTW- this year marks the 50th anniversary of the parade, so there's bound to be additional entries and special activities. Bring a few extra dollars for the Boy Scouts commemorative caps they'll be selling to mark the occasion before, during and after!
"This one or that one?" Marta asked.
"Darker or lighter?
"Are you going to outline the tile or make the grout lines invisible?"
And so it went . . .
No, grout isn't the most exciting choice you'll ever make on a remodeling project, but it's significant just the same. More to the point, selecting grout means we are finally moving into the finishing phase of the remodel and that development excites me no end.
That's not to say my family will be moving back in anytime soon, but that the construction from here on out is forward progress we can see as opposed to the not-so-sexy sewer laterals, rough plumbing, and electrical cables that sit behind the walls and under ground. A solid foundation for all of the work to come is essential of course, but there's no thrill in new concrete or steel tie-downs (at least not to this gal who thrives on the visual. My engineer is probably ecstatic. )
I had already done the work of selecting the tiles and my contractor, PJ, had been by the shop to consult on square footage and linear requirements, so now, Jill and I were getting down to the nitty gritty of picking the grout colors for each of the different applications. Considering that Calmar now has four and a half bathrooms and two kitchens between the main house and the apartment downstairs (legal btw!) there really were a lot of design choices to be made . . . a grout box is akin to looking at a box of Crayolas.
Grout doesn't just come in white and beige any longer so it takes a bit of time and intention to get it right. For many people in the remodeling process, this is the part that can literally unhinge them. With so many options (both good and bad) from which to choose, be it grout, tile, stone, lighting, fixtures, faucets, appliances, hardware, windows, doors, wallpaper, etc., etc., etc., the choices are almost endless. (Take heed, a gold sink and trendy tile will cost you more and will undoubtedly age your property quicker. Stick to the classics for timeless design.)
"What color do you want us to stain the floors?" (Walnut.)
"Double-hung or casements windows?" (Both.)
"What color will we be painting the walls?" (I'm undecided.)
"What style of cabinet works best?" (Quaker.)
"Will you be need an ice maker in your fridge?" (Yes!)
It's a TON of decisions to be sure, but it's also great. Of course, the most important decision comes BEFORE you spend the money on tile and grout, on new windows and doors, and on new lighting, it comes when you decide whether or not to remodel in the first place.
If your marriage can withstand a good deal of stress (I'm not kidding about this one), if you are comfortable making quick decisions and adjusting for the unexpected, if you love your neighborhood (and your neighbors), if your location is good, and if your lot is nearly impossible to duplicate, then the answer is emphatically, "YES!"
If, on the other hand, decisions overwhelm you, if you are prone to second guessing yourself (and others!), if the next door neighbor is on you secret "hit list," and if the thought of drywall dust sends you straight to your allergist and screaming into the night, you are probably NOT a very good candidate for a full-scale remodel, in which case, may I kindly show you some replacement properties? (I'm absolutely available by appointment.)
The hard part of the equation really comes in a clear understanding of what it will cost to renovate versus what you will spend to move. In some cases, a move up is going to be cheaper by far than remodeling, while in others, the next step up represents a hurdle too significant to leap. Gone are the days when a $20,000 bump moved you into the next house. Now, it's much more likely that the next rung in the ladder will be in the neighborhood of half a million and your tax base will increase along with it. In both cases, you'll very likely spend more than you thought, OR more than you had budgeted.
That's unfortunately, the nature of the beast. Sharpen your pencils and don't forget to add for the transfer taxes, commissions, moving truck, etc., that a physical move entails, OR the rent you may pay if you need to move out during the course of a remodel. (If I tell you that it's all going to be okay, would you believe me? It is.)
Whatever the decision, the important thing is to make it and then move on to the next. The worst place to be in in limbo. Try to remember, it's a patio light for goodness sakes, not a life or death decision, so pick one and then keep moving forward. If you find yourself paralyzed with fear, hire a designer to help you with the more expensive choices that are exceedingly costly to correct midstream. Paint colors are easily changed while floor tile is not. A good interior designer can save you major bucks in the long run and think of things you may have entirely overlooked (like closets or shower niches).
Anyway, I think you get the point. Here's my final two cents on the subject: anything worth doing, is worth doing well, or you'll likely need to redo the work a couple years down the road. (You really do get what you pay for.)
Hey, gotta run to pick up some sinks in San Carlos; the stone man arrives next week to create the templates for the kitchen counters and I've got some absolutely exquisite Calcutta marble on reserve.
Do you think there's a 12-step program for serial renovators? I just may be addicted!
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Last evening the Piedmont high School class of 2015 graduated and my son, Tristan, was among the crowd of talented, hopeful and excited students (free at last).
For me, the feelings are far more bittersweet (tissue please).
On the one hand, I am an extremely proud parent and on the other, I'm not quite ready to say 'goodbye.' So I've been struggling with constructing some meaningful "pearls of wisdom" to pass along to this bright young man, whom I will miss profoundly, and who now stands at the precipice of a life unexplored.
Like any loving parent, I want my son to live his life well (however he defines that), to make a difference in the world, to discover his true passions, to find and give love, to follow his dreams, and to be of service to others. That's more easily said than done.
I've known many of these boys and girls since they were tiny tykes and now, they've all blossomed into young, beautiful adults who really haven't a clue . . . It's no small order, this business of growing up and striking out on one's own. As parents, we know that a GIANT LEAP into territories as yet unexplored, requires tremendous faith and trust, and quite frankly a tool belt few of these kids have yet acquired, let alone mastered. (We hadn't either at their age.)
Our older son, Case, who recently graduated from college, is wrestling with many of the same issues as well, but they are far less esoteric and much more about paying the rent, doing the next right thing, and putting one foot in front of the other as he diligently tries to figure it ALL out and become a full-fledged adult.
That works too. . . .
(News flash: you're never going to figure it ALL out so let that illusion go and enjoy the ride.)
What's more, if our kids don't carry compassion, care and consideration into their next four years and far beyond, they'll have gained nothing, irrespective of what they achieve on paper. Truly, an astute moral compass will move our children further than any ambitious career direction they may have mapped out for themselves.
No matter the journey, walking through life with a modicum of grace for most of us will be our greatest struggle. (I'm still trying to accomplish that BIG feat.) Seriously, it takes years, if not decades, to accomplish "grace under fire" which often requires disciplined consciousness here in the real world.
Having the advantage of experience over youth, I've come to believe that life is composed of a series of hurdles we learn to navigate. Some gates you will jump with ease, others you will run around, and a few you will run straight through in your race to be the swiftest and fastest. Regrettably, some of these hurdles will trip you up and slap you down. Some will absolutely knock the wind right out of your sails. That's okay, the toughest lessons prove the most important. In fact, your failures will undoubtedly shape you much more than your successes.
But in that rareified moment in time, for our young princes and princesses of Piedmont, it was all about the cap and gown and excitedly moving forward to the next chapter in their young lives - college. (Uhh, or Grad Night.)
While my husband, Cliff, set a course and then faithfully stuck to it, I'm not embarrassed to admit that it took me a much longer time to find my stride and a lot of painful missteps along the way. False starts, misdirected efforts, and restless energy probably best describe my wandering youth and yet here I stand - a contributing member to my community and to society at large - in spite of every wrong turn dead end, or bump in the road I managed to hit along the way (and I hit many.) I'm proof that no experience is ever wasted.
What I want both Case and Tris to really truly understand (deep down at their very core) is that most of the attributes you will need in order to succeed, come from walking through the tough times with integrity - not from a fancy degree (although that never hurts - fo' sure). Never underestimate the power of simply showing up and persevering. A strong work ethic, a sense of humor and TENACITY will move you much closer to your goals than any degree will ever provide - no matter the pedigree.
"Don't be afraid to make mistakes and take risks," Cliff reminds our kids, "That's where the valuable lessons lie." And so they do.
Earlier this week, I was struggling with a couple of difficult closings, a stressful marketplace, a fight over semantics, and lack of sleep when I remembered that there were times when my phone didn't ping quite so often, when referrals were few and far between and when I worried incessantly about whether or not my boss was going to fire me for lack of sales volume.
Which was why I started writing this column all those years ago. More important than what I sought to say to you, it helped me sort through the challenges specific to buying or selling a Bay Area home and lit the way . . .
As it turns out, those challenges are universal, regardless of the circumstances. Through both good and bad times, it's evidently the human condition to struggle with fear in all of its unwelcome forms: anxiety, stress, uncertainty, irritability anger, resentment and defensiveness, just to name a few . . . Because while young graduates are excited, they are also worried and scared (embrace the fear).
Last night, my sister, Jill, sent me this passage that probably best sums up the journey of "finding oneself" and like most great quotes that resonate (for me anyway), it comes from a beloved children's book.
"It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept . . ."
So be fearless kids, develop a thick skin, and give yourself time; you have the advantage of having years of it before you. There's a great big world out there just waiting for your contributions so go find your own way up the mountain (your path needn't look like anyone else's.) and most importantly, be of value to others.
If I know nothing else, I know this: your choices matter, your decisions matter, and your actions matter (not your intentions, your actions!). That's how we each make a difference in this big scary world - we do it one person at a time. Go find the person you were meant to be!
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(Trivia Contest! What book is this quote from and who wrote it? Free lattes to those of you with the right answer!)
"Do you like this wallpaper?" I asked my friend, holding up a sample I had just received in the mail. Ann and I are both in the middle of remodels so we are swapping design opinions on a regular basis and spending more than our fair share of time on sites such as Houzz and Pinterest. (Check them out if you haven't yet discovered them.)
"Umm, where's it going?" she asked.
"The powder room on the main floor."
"No" she said, shaking her head.
Say what? That wasn't the answer I was expecting. What kind of friend is that?
What I really wanted was for her to ooh and aah and tell me it was perfect. Geez, you think I'd have more control over my friend's opinions. (I don't.)
Of course, from a Realtor's perspective, the world is constantly being divided into categories:
Those who like wallpaper and those who do not.
Those who like modern architecture and those who do not.
Those who like pools and those who do not.
Those who like trees and those who do not ( Really? Who doesn't like a tree? Those with pools or views!)
Those who love carpet and those who do not.
And so it goes . . .
Personally, I'm thrilled wallpaper is back in style. My sisters and I all learned to hang wallpaper when we were still in our early teens and there's almost no choice that so dramatically changes a room for so little investment. To this day, I am still installing my own wallpaper and I suspect that I will dig out my brush and blade for Calmar as well. Admittedly, wallpaper should be used sparingly, but in a powder room, it's makes the space a living jewel box.
As much as I respect Ann's opinion, I may have to go my own way on this one. I really, REALLY like wallpaper!
It isn't that I'm right and she's wrong; it's that we disagree and we each have our own opinions. That's perfectly fair, but when it comes to decorating my home, my opinion weighs much more heavily. After all, I'm the one living with my design decisions so I'll have final say, and frankly, that's as it should be.
That's not true for everyone. In fact, there's a fair number of people who really need the opinions, or should I say the permission, of others before they feel comfortable making a choice. As much as Buyers hate the concept of a competitive marketplace and what is essentially become a blind auction, they are often paralyzed in the face of none.
In fact, I'm convinced, that buying a home almost always requires the confirmation of the heard. (We're pack animals when it comes down to it.)
"What's wrong with the house?"
"How come nobody else wants it?"
"Why is it still available?"
These may be legitimate questions, or it may be an opening, depending on your point of view. For those of us in the know, the most significant reason a house sits without an offer is usually the list price paired with unrealistic expectations on the Sellers' part (a lethal combination) so keep an open mind. You may have just found your shot in the dark. Often, an overlooked property can be a real opportunity (OR it can be a real dog) but don't dismiss it offhand without deciding between the two.
Short of overpricing or condition, it may be bad timing, a tough location, poor design choices, or unusual architecture that requires a very specific buyer; in which case, the home IS going to take longer to sell (BTW - home sellers in almost every other state besides New York and California work on the assumption that their home will take MONTHS to sell - not days.)
When it comes to purchasing a home, it's natural to want the opinions of others (and by others I mean you parents, siblings, contractors, friends . . . ), including your REALTOR, but in the end, what we think, isn't nearly as important as what YOU think. Take it from me, deals have been killed with the simple well-intentioned phrase from a friend who simply utters: "What else is out there?"
So if you love the home, the only opinion that should carry any real weight, is your own. (Of course, your spouse should have a vote too; that goes without saying.) If you can afford it, if it fits your needs, if the timing is right and if it makes good sense, give yourself permission to buy it and then invite your friends and family to the housewarming party after you close escrow when they're much more likely to ask. "What can I bring?"
Ah, that's much better. A bottle of wine. Thank you.
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.