"Your paint is ready," said the salesman on the other end of the line. "You can pick it up whenever you like." I put down the cover stick and eyeliner (my personal paint) and headed over to Dunn Edward's on Broadway so that I could finish rolling the dining room, having just run shy on the last few feet of wall space. I stood in a sea of largely Hispanic men in dungarees and overalls waiting for my turn at the counter; the lone lady in high heels and a suit.
Painting isn't foreign to me, nor are paint stores. My sisters and I grew up cleaning and painting nearly every weekend. A Realtor & Broker by trade, my father had a penchant for the "fixer" and a slew of children to employ (he paid $1 per hour) and each of us mastered the art of edging and rolling as we grew, until we could take the lead - or run away from home!
A good paint job is a skill that requires more than meets the eye - it demands tons of elbow grease (preparation is everything) and more patience than I personally ever developed. So there's an easy argument - in my mind anyway - to be made for hiring a professional. And happily, I now know many dependable and skillful painters I can call upon (and do).
Don't tell anybody, but I hate painting. After 40-plus years of it, and five major renovation projects, I believe I've reached my quota - and then some. As for Cliff, our marriage stands a much better chance when I DON'T put a paint brush in my husband's hands and ask him to do the impossible. (Clearly, his parents had higher ambitions for him.)
Still, painting is a topic that comes up almost immediately whenever I am invited to tour and potentially, list a home.
"How do you feel about painting out a few rooms?" I will casually ask, trying to get a read on the emotional attachment the homeowner has to their house.
To which they often reply, "Our decorator carefully picked these colors to match our home specifically. It'd be a shame to paint it out." (Okay, here we go. I'm already swimming upstream.)
No, it wouldn't and here's why . . .
Today, my colleagues and I toured a home that would have fared better in Florida (or the 70s). With its too-bright palette, busy walls, and a ton of bric-a-brac, I honestly couldn't see the forest for the trees (and I'm used to looking past the personal items to the bones beneath). Once the packing gets underway and the pictures come off the walls, there are likely to be nail holes and fade marks in place of family photos and the artwork that previously hung there. Imagine how the average home buyer views such a property? (NOT favorably!)
In its current condition, this over-stimulating house is likely to get 20-30% less than the newly painted and staged house down the street. And in our affluent marketplace, that's not exactly chump change.
This may not accurately describe your beautiful home (and probably doesn't) but if you have lived in a house for even a few short years, your walls (and floors) will bear witness to fingerprints, chipped woodwork, and furniture marks. AND if you've ever lived with teens (as I have) you know that their rooms can be officially classified as archaeology digs, with their floor-to-ceiling boy band posters, Sports Illustrated pictorials, and clothes that quite literally, have never met a hanger. This might just describe my kids, but teenagers are harder on a house than cats and dogs - or earthquakes for that matter . . .
More to the point, getting top dollar for a house (that is the goal, correct?) demands a fresh face, gleaming floors, professional staging, and yes, a neutral palette so that the new Buyer can begin to place themselves in the house, as opposed to focusing on your life in it.
Finally, as preparations go, painting is a relatively inexpensive fix that offers a potentially much larger return on your investment. Short of getting rid of your children, your pets, and your things (no, I'm not actually advocating that, EXCEPT when you decide to sell) OR, living like a monk, none of us live in a pristine house (nor should we; that would just be sad and lonely).
So get out the roller and paint brush, or better yet, hire a professional to quickly get the job done for you. These skillful trades people are well worth their weight in gold.
Hugo, can you come finish my dining room, please?
The morning had started out simply enough - or so I'd thought. After a weekend of transporting plants and dusty flea market finds in the family wagon, I was heading to the car wash in need of a thorough vacuuming and a professional cleaning.
What I hadn't anticipated was that the street would be under construction and as a result, the route was jammed with heavy machinery and post holiday commuters, all inching along at a snail's pace. I turned the corner hoping to beat a hasty retreat, only to find more of the same. Ugh. Abort, abort, abort, ABORT!
Exit left. The car would have to wait another few days. I wasn't meeting clients and I would happily let someone else drive on Broker's Tour, content to be a passenger today. Time to regroup and reboot.
Of course, a change of plans isn't all that uncommon in the world of Real Estate either - it's just that the stakes are usually much, MUCH higher. Once Buyers and Sellers are in contract, we like to see them stay that way, but if not, then there is an established protocol for getting out properly.
"We've had second thoughts," my Buyers texted me, "We want to cancel the sale. Please call us immediately!" (No surprise, the house hadn't been right form the start.)
"'I'll Docusign the 'Release of Escrow' form right away," I responded. "Sign and return it as soon as you can." Exit right.
I had originally dismissed this particular home out of hand for these Buyers as being far too small and inadequate to meet their family's needs, so the change of heart wasn't exactly unexpected . . . in fact, it had come as a bit of a relief. Luckily, these Buyers hadn't yet wired over their good-faith deposit, nor had the out-of-town Sellers signed the agreement, so in this case, the rescission was fairly simple.
However, canceling a home purchase can get much trickier as time goes by, especially if the Buyer's contingencies have already been lifted.
Standard contingencies typically include an inspection period and an appraisal and loan condition, outlining rates and points. These are your safety nets against rapidly rising interest rates, unexpected appraisals that come in too low, or NEW DISCOVERY. Less typical in our area, are contingencies to sell your current residence, or identify the next, before going through with the deal.
If a thorough disclosure package isn't available, invest the necessary dollars to do your own investigations (it's the wisest money you will spend). Earlier this year, I represented young Buyers on a hillside home in Orinda, only to learn during their inspections that the entire hill was "creeping" and that the foundation would need to be replaced to the tune of almost $200,000! (Exit right AND left!) If substantial defects are uncovered, this is often a legitimate reason for voiding the deal and moving on.
Do I need a "legitimate reason" to exit the deal?
That's up for interpretation; however you do need to act in "Good Faith." (Defining "good faith" is what keeps lawyers in business I suspect.)
Paragraph 14 of the California Residential Purchase Agreement provides a fairly wide avenue for reconsideration: "By the end of the time specified . . . Buyer shall deliver to the Seller the removal of the applicable contingency or cancellation . . .". Understand, a hasty retreat won't make you popular, but that's beside the point. While an explanation is expected, it isn't legally required - a cancellation IN WRITING is!
Less justifiable for cancellation, is fear. Sadly, fear has felled many a good opportunity and when doubt creeps in, there is very little any Agent can do to keep the train on the track (regrettably).
Clarifying your intentions upfront, making sure you and your partner are on the same page, and understanding the macro-market in a meaningful way, will all help keep retreat at bay.
Finally, there have been a few occasions when I didn't agree with the purchase my Buyers had identified (and said so) but at the end of the day, this isn't my home, my risk, or my future - it's yours. At that point, my job is to set aside my personal opinion, help you achieve your goal, and then assist in gathering all pertinent information. What I think about your choice is beside the point; what I bring to the process is far more relevant.
So proceed with care and due diligence. Define your criteria, your timeline, your price point, your motivation, and your objectives before signing the contract. If you do have second thoughts, talk through them with your Agent before hastily pulling the plug. Your objections may constitute challenges that are easily negotiated or mitigated (or not) but let's discuss them first. And if you do decide to walk away, do it within the body of the contract (or risk losing your good-faith deposit!) Once done according to the letter of the law, we can now regroup and reboot.
Here's the happy ending . . . those darling clients who walked away from the house in Orinda, found a much better (and healthier) home on this side of the tunnel, and are now happily ensconced AND, rumor has it, expecting their first child . . . While I can't take credit for the baby on board, I like to think I helped considerably with acquiring their first home together.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.