Volume 147 - Cutting Bangs
I have been contemplating cutting bangs once again. I do this every few years when the lines on my forehead seem more pronounced than usual (which probably coincides with me turning fifty). Bangs are cheaper than Botox, I figure, and they'll cover the imperfections almost as well. Without giving away any classified secrets, aging gracefully involves a little smoke and mirrors . . .
Still, aging (and vanity) aside, it's the constant upkeep that I am beginning to resent just a wee bit. (Of course, "growing older" beats the alternative). I'll be the first to admit that I don't like the physical aspects of aging; however, I'm not quite ready enough, motivated enough, or brave enough (depending on how you look at it) to take more permanent "corrective measures" which I'm quite certain would involve eliminating ice cream, heavy exercise and a certified plastic surgeon! That's usually when I pick up the scissors and cut away . . .
Just like the human body, houses tend to show their age - unless they are well maintained. Home ownership (like aging) ain't for sissies. No matter how many inspections we perform prior to the sale, I can guarantee you with almost 100% certainty that you are going to move into the home of your dreams and quickly discover something that isn't working properly, something that wasn't disclosed fully or something that needs immediate attention. Yikes!
For me, it was a massive 100-year old redwood that was quite literally pushing the guest house off its foundation. I guess the notched roof and the gap in the patio, should have been my first clues, but I wasn't paying close enough attention at the time (I was spellbound by the garden and the gazebo - go figure!).
"You can keep the tree or the structure," my contractor politely informed me, "but not both." Five thousand dollars and a GIGANTIC pile of redwood mulch later, the problem was solved. It's been the first of many and I am still looking at a major remodel this year. But on balance, pine needles and fresh cut wood are the kinds of problems to have. They're truly "gold- plated."
Let me put it bluntly: roofs leak, drains clog, refrigerators go on the fritz and so it goes; the list is truly endless . . .
So why own?"
Aside from the obvious financial tax advantages (Uncle Sam clearly rewards those who participate in "The American Dream") there are the more compelling emotional aspects of owning to contemplate . . .
One dynamic couple I worked with were renters by nature, but had also been forced to move four times in the last ten years. Each time they settled in, their current landlord would call to say that they were either selling the house or retaking possession. (That's more than just inconvenient; it's downright unsettling.)
Happily, they were in a position to finally buy when we met. For these fortunate buyers, home ownership is a chance to truly establish roots and provide security for their family. While they won't have the luxury of calling their landlord each time the pipes squeak or the garbage disposal backs up, they'll make decisions about the house that best suits their needs. They will choose paint colors they like, expand a bathroom as needed, and entertain to their hearts content with complete abandon (and this is a family that knows how to have a good time! ) All the while, knowing that never again will someone be demanding their home back and uprooting the kids.
And while home appreciation may have taken a hit in the last few years, I would still rather place my money in four walls and a roof than in the temperamental ups and downs of the stock market. (What exactly is a "derivative" anyway? Talk about smoke and mirrors!!!)
Sure, I may not like it when cracks show up in the driveway or my trees need trimming, but I take pride in the fact that I have earned every squeaky floor board, every peeling shutter and every chipped tile in the place. (Lest you think new homes fare any better - they don't. They too, require ongoing maintenance as well; ALL homes do!)
Old home? New home? (Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief?) It comes with the territory and ultimately, a home is a work in progress (as are we all!). Enjoy your hard-earned abode; live, in it, entertain in it, and come home to it with the clear understanding that it isn't going to be perfect. (Nothing is).
Count yourself lucky. For most of the world's population, home ownership is rarely a reality; in fact, it isn't even a dream for the majority of people. WE lucky few, get to realize ours. So get familiar with a screwdriver and an electric drill. You'll most likely need them. And if home repair isn't your thing, let me introduce you to a good, reliable handyman I know and use frequently! (He's on speed dial.)
Gotta run, I've got a sprinkler head to replace. As for bangs, I'm still on the fence.
Volume 146 - Tres Fantastic!
Bon jour! I have returned from abroad and at the risk of showing off my francais (parlez vous?) France was tres magnifique! This was my first time in the "city of lights" and Paris didn't disappoint. From the moment my sister and I landed at the Charles de Galle airport, we were off and running for the next seven days - and I suspect, so do the other 26 million people who visit Paris each year. Paris is the most popular tourist destination in the world and no wonder, it's tres jolie!
From Notre Dame, to the Musee d'Orsay, to the Jardins du Luxembourg, every stone edifice, every mansard roof and every marble statue is a stunning visual treat, or as one darling young couple we met on our night time Fat Tire Bike Tour succinctly put it, "In Paris, everything is a thing." Hey, it may not be Les Miserables, but Jill and I knew exactly what Avi meant. Great art surrounds you - everywhere. It's impossible not to appreciate the beauty and the history in all that you see. Renoir, Rodin, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Degas - they all passed this way and left their indelible mark. Ooh la, la!
With so much to experience and to see, we packed in as many churches, stained glass windows, historic monuments and artistic masterpieces as time allowed, ate gelato on demand, and made ourselves regulars at a quaint patisserie in the Marais District, where we rented a sophisticated apart-a-ment for the week. Accumulating dozens of miles and quickly mastering the Metro, we managed to navigate the city in fairly good form and yet, there is still so much we didn't make it to (not that we didn't try). Whew; I'm exhausted! (I could really use a vacation.)
Our last day there, we opted to spend the morning at the more intimate Puce de Vanves (to us Americans, that's a fancy way of saying "Flea Market") instead of the bigger, better known Porte de Clignancourt just outside the city borders. It was highly recommended in our well-thumbed Rick Steve's guide book (the bible for novice travelers) and I was anxious to go. While I admire a well-tailored garment and a designer handbag as much as the next gal, a great pile of cast-offs is truly more to my liking. With dreams and expectations of really old collectibles yet to be discovered, we rose early, hit the ATM one last time and set off with a LARGE empty shopping bag (which I had every intention of filling).
But with a few exceptions, what we found when we arrived was just a bit anticlimactic. With minature café latte finally in hand (French coffee is served in itty-bitty cups as opposed to Italy, where it is served in cereal bowls!) Jill turned to me and said "Wow, junk is junk the world over." (She gets a wee bit crabby if she doesn't have her morning caffeine.) To her credit, Jill was more game than I'm suggesting and a phenomenal travel guide to boot. Still, there were unusual trinkets of interest and a few real treasures among the booths if you looked closely and gave it some effort; like the original costume drawings for many of Paris' Opera and musical revues that we ran across in the last aisle, or the beautiful set of silver knife stands (yes, there is such a thing - who knew?) I spied halfway through, which provided mild successes.
Jill bought two drawings while I hunted for a small framed oil of Parisian life and some fanciful sconces for my upcoming remodel (neither of which I found) but eventually purchased some petite toy soldiers for my youngest son, a Legion of Honor medal for my husband and a compass for my eldest to ensure that he "never loses his way," (which I hope to present to him before he heads off to college this fall, knowing full well that he will prefer the miniature Ipod cubed speakers much more that I picked up at the SF airport before we even boarded the plane. Sigh! You can't blame a mother for trying.)
What's my point after this loooong travelogue and what's it got to do with Real Estate?
Un, how could I not talk about he amazing architecture in Paris? If you have been, you'll understand its well-deserved reputation as the most beautiful city in the world and if you haven't, take my advice and book a trip "immediamont" (ok, I might have made that word up). Deux, the listing prices for Paris apartments make the East Bay home prices look like a real bargains by comparison. Trois, sometimes in life, you have to negotiate the "junk" before you discover what's truly worthwhile. Quatre, negotiating is an art in any language, but often worth pursuing. (I saved 5 euros on those knife stands!) Et cinq, if you stay open to the possibilities, you are likely to come across treasures you hadn't considered previously or even knew existed . . .
Voila! (I took the scenic route but I finally got there.)
And I finally traveled to scenic gay Paree as well, which I have literally dreamed of visiting ever since Mr. McAllister's 7th grade French class. He'd met his very Parisian wife while based in Germany and she once made the class garlic bread and escargot. I didn't like the texture of the snails but I sure enjoyed the butter (my family ate margarine which was all our parents could afford at the time). It was my first real exposure to butter and garlic (heavenly) and to the concept of a different culture - and I felt tres chic! A whole world existed outside Sacramento! Better yet, I got to share this dream with my twin sister, Jill which made the trip memorable. Life is tres bon!
Sure, it took me another 37 years to finally make it to Paris but it was worth the wait, and the gifts I brought home (I'm not referring to the few sentimental trinkets and pretty caramels I squirreled away) should last a lifetime which is better than good - it's tres fantastic! N'est pas?
It's always satisfying when I bump into clients that have moved into their new homes and are happily settled. Last week, I crossed paths with a young family I recently helped purchase a contemporary "view" home in Montclair. We were all coincidentally dining at the recently opened Grill One here in the village (a good meal at a good value) and I used the opportunity to introduce my husband and younger son (which is a nice switch, as I typically get to know your families during our work together, but you rarely get to know mine - except in The Perspective of course)! Anne laughed when she met my husband and said, " Julie had to talk me down off the ledge a time or two. Buying a house was scarier than getting married. When we got married, we only had one paper to sign - the marriage license! With a house, you're really committed!" (So true! )
That's an accurate assessment. When my dad sold real estate - more than 40 years ago - the purchase offer was only one page and consisted of the price and the terms and the concept of "disclosure" was practically nonexistent. Real estate operated on the premise of "Buyer Beware." It was incumbent upon the buyer to inspect the home and do their "due diligence" before closing escrow.
It's a completely different world today. Not that buyers don't still need to perform their "due diligence" - they do! - but they will start off with much more knowledge than buyers of yesteryear.
For the uninitiated, here's a rundown of how it works . . . Once you identify a home you desire, I will request a copy of the Disclosure Package which should typically include several pages of "Seller Disclosures" (that's everything the seller knows to be a "material fact" about the house and its neighboring properties); a JCP Report (which outlines the topographical profile of a home and the breakdown of the property taxes); a Homeowners' Guide to Safety (a booklet on earthquake preparedness); Agency Disclosure (who represents whom); an East Bay Disclosure (a 10-page document describing every possible caveat), a Point of Ordinance Disclosure (legal requirements by certain municipalities before close of escrow) etc, etc. etc. (to quote Yule Brenner).
As is customary in the greater East Bay, the disclosure package should also include a Homeowner's Inspection, a Pest Inspection, a Sewer Lateral Inspection and in Piedmont; a permit history and sidewalk inspection, as required by the city. Should the reports call any single component of the house into question, you might expect to see an engineering report, a roof report, a soils report, an asbestos report or an electrical bid - as indicated. Finally, if you are pursuing a condominium purchase, the disclosures will also include HOA (Home Owner's Association) documents, CC&R's (Covenants, Codes and Restrictions) Condominium Bylaws, and meeting minutes for the last twelve months. Whew! It's a lot to digest (and you often have only a day or two to process the information before making an offer)!
One recent condominium purchase entailed more than 800 pages of disclosures and looked like the white pages of the phone book (remember those?). It took several hours of careful scanning to get through it all (a highlighter works wonders) and still I asked the buyer to hire his own inspector before removing contingencies and moving forward.
No matter how thoroughly a property has been inspected, I believe that a well-educated buyer makes for a stronger buyer in the end. You need to know first-hand where the home's gas shutoff valve is, where the sewer clean out lies and where the electrical box is mounted. You need to know the condition of the roof, the foundation, the plumbing, the appliances and the electrical components. You need to know the age and the overall health of the building - all mysteries your inspector will clarify in full. You need to ask questions and thoroughly understand the components of any house on which you are in contract. Agents aren't trained inspectors - no matter how many homes we've seen or sold! Spending a few hundred (or even a few thousand) dollars on inspections may save you many times that amount down the road.
Once you find out that the mechanics of the house are in good shape and that the home is stable, you then have the opportunity to make an informed decision. To do so before gathering the pertinent information, makes no sense. So yes, I have talked a client or two (or three) off the ledge when I have sensed it was premature to pull the plug. However, I have also given buyers permission to walk away when inspections revealed bigger expenses than originally suggested. Either way, I am here to provide clarity and support your decision, once the facts are in view. When it comes to a house, I have enough broad experience to confidently give advice. When it comes to marriage, I have only my own limited experience on which to fall back upon (although I happily just celebrated twenty years with Cliff) which is to say I avoid giving advice on love and marriage - even when pressed. That's your business and while marriage only requires one document to execute a union, I know from many friends' experiences that divorce, sadly, requires much more.
Buying a house? Complicated? For sure. But it still has a happy ending! How can I help?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.