On my recent visit to France (I'm going to milk this trip for all its worth) my sister and I were impressed by the ease in which so many Parisians slipped from one language to the next. We witnessed one charming maitre'd attract tourists to his off-beat alley restaurant by speaking English, Portuguese, German, French, Romanian and Polish!
Now, that's impressive!
With divergent countries just a stone's throw from one another, close quarters necessitate that Europeans excel in this kind of admirable linguistic gymnastics (and in my opinion, they're richer for it). In this case,"less (space) is definitely more."
It's exactly the opposite here in America where most of us have barely mastered English, let alone two or three other languages with any fluency or ease ('Bar Spanish' doesn't count: "Dos mas cervezas por favor!") Our home court is so vast, we've little motivation or practical experience to attempt other languages and that's criminal in more ways than one. In our case, being "bigger" isn't necessarily "better."
In today's more conservative marketplace, that sentiment is true for Real Estate as well. Buyers aren't necessarily shopping "bigger;" they are shopping "better." Whereas just a few short years ago, Buyers coveted increasingly larger homes, they are now more attuned to what it actually costs to run and carry these bigger properties and more than willing to sacrifice space for practicality.
Hmmm, that's a big switch.
Interestingly, many Buyers are more comfortable purchasing a home under their maximum allowed loan qualification, instead of stretching to their limit - as they used to do. They no longer desire formal rooms that have little use, save Thanksgiving and Passover. "The kids can share a room until they are older and we will convert the dining room to a family room. . ."
Hmmm, BIG switch!
With much smaller families now the norm, Buyers no longer require five or six bedrooms - each with its own bath. Today's consumer typically seeks an open kitchen with adjoining family room, a home office, a master suite, a small garden, two-car garage, ample storage room, attractive architectural details and good bones! My boss, DJ Grubb, summed up this new market philosophy in DJ fashion: "The new, new is 'authenticity. '" Quality outweighs quantity and form trumps function.
Moreover, 'buy down' buyers aren't necessarily limited to the empty-nester any longer. They are just as likely to be 30-somethings preferring to reduce their growing overhead, minimize their payments and tighten their belts. Their kids aren't yet off to college; they're off to elementary or middle school.
So how to sell a bigger house?
With ingenuity and with value. Stage one bedroom as a home office or gym and another as a convenient upstairs family room. The three or four plus bedroom home that telegraphs "flexible living space," is increasingly more attractive to consumers than a five bedroom house which tends to state "large family home with possibly more bedrooms than you need!"
On the other hand, I grew up in a family of eight (five sisters in all) and the entire Shepherd clan shared one upstairs bathroom every morning. (Try that with today's teens. It wasn't pretty.) That's a scenario, I don't recommend, if family harmony rates high on your list.
The long and short of it is this: if your needs via work or family are likely to evolve UPWARD and OUTWARD, then MORE space may be worth considering - especially with today's bargain rates and even better values. If you anticipate the need for a larger home in the near future, NOW may be the best time to pursue it! Not everyone is choosing to shop small. Some brave souls have enthusiastically embraced the BIG-family concept (either by design or by blending) while others are working from home and others are caring for elderly parents or in-laws.
Identify and market to this segment of the population and you stand a much better chance of attracting and finding the right Buyer for your "bigger" home.
Add value to the mix and many sharp consumers will have a hard time walking away from the additional space - especially if your price per square foot is considerably better than the much smaller house down the street! While bigger isn't necessarily better: "better" is "better" - and that's always been true - in this or any market.
Now that I've mentioned France more than a few times, do you suppose my trip is tax deductible as a "business expense?"
Slowly walking up the Martis Summit Trail last week with my husband, kids, and faithful Labrador, Buck, in tow, we breathlessly paused at the top to take in the glorious views of the lake and the verdant valley below while gliders and hawks soared above. Meeting up with a hiker who had easily passed us just a few minutes earlier, we began to chat (as I'm oh so prone to do)!
"So where do you live when you're not enjoying the wonders of Tahoe?" I inquired (a Realtor's prerogative and my natural curiosity taking over).
"I live in Sacramento," he replied.
"Really? I grew up there," I said.
"Where?" he asked.
"In Land Park," I responded (The Piedmont of Sacramento).
"McClatchy High School?" he countered (this was starting to get interesting . . .).
"Yes. Class of '78," I said.
"Me too! I graduated in '78!" he responded. "I knew a few people at your school. In fact, Kathy Lalivier married my best friend. Do you remember her?" (Not really, but the name registered in the deep recesses.) And of course, there were the twins - Jill and Julie . . ."
"I'M JULIE!" I interrupted.
"I'm Craig!" (Click!)
Craig and I last saw each other more than 25 years ago and we both had changed quite a bit in the intervening years. Still handsome and fit, Craig's hair and goatee are now more grey than black and only an expensive hairdresser is keeping mine from turning the same. I suspect that I am nothing like the young girl I was back then. We're both older but wiser I'd venture to say and we have both gone on to get married, send kids to college and build fulfilling careers in the interim.
"Small world," my husband commented with some amazement on the walk down. "What do you suppose are the chances? How do you know him?"
"Ummm, we dated a few times, but I left town shortly thereafter and we lost touch (the memories were starting to gel now.) Craig was such a nice guy, as I recall (still is) and Kathy was cute and flirtatious. She and I were both student representatives together." (The gates were fully unlocked and the memories were flooding in).
Obviously, my future lay elsewhere - as did Craig's. I would meet the love of my life a few years later and Craig would go on to marry Lisa, a school teacher in Sacramento. They live in a house that's only about a mile from the home in which he grew up, he explained. Teasing him about staying so close, he explained unapologetically, "I've traveled a lot and people always talk about how great other places are, but I'm convinced it doesn't get much better than this." Standing there at the summit, crystal clear sky above and deep, cool water below, it was hard to disagree; indeed, it doesn't get much better than this.
There's something inherently comforting and familiar about running into old friends - even those you haven't seen in many years. It's a sense of coming home, I suppose and an effortless connection. Craig, now a successful architect, designs houses and I (coincidentally) sell them. We're both in the business of "homes" which probably speaks volumes about who we are as individuals and what we value as people.
While I'd like to embrace my "inner Nomad," the plain truth is, I'm more Martha Stewart than Robert E. Peary. Falling short in the adventure game, I'm slightly loath to admit that I covet the familiar more than I crave the exotic (which explains why I sell homes in the East Bay, instead of time shares in the Bahamas!) I'm only good for about 10 days out before I start getting restless and homesick. That's okay. Like Craig, I'm unapologetic about the fact that a sense of "home" is central to who I am and what I represent.
So what's the moral of this accidental reunion? "There's no place like home?" (Yes, but that line's already been taken).
"Home is where the heart is?" (I'm really plagiarizing now. I have no shame.)
For Craig, "home" is in Sacramento and for me, it's here in the Bay Area where I've had extended stays on both sides of the bridge, and where both San Francisco and Oakland communities have claimed my heart - each for very different reasons.
How about if you aren't lucky enough to own a home in Tahoe (or marry into one) make friends with those who are willing to lend you theirs? (True, but not really a moral now, is it?)
Okay, let's try this one on for size - in life, you will often be required to climb uphill to reach the vistas and discover true beauty. (That'll do. I never claimed to be Hemingway; I'm just looking for some nuggets of truth here.)
In Real Estate, as in life, the journey is often an uphill climb. Moreover, you are often struggling to get there (wheeze)! Take heart - that's as it should be. It's the climb that leads to the reward.
Besides, you never know who you'll bump into . . . and that's when life gets really interesting!
Trivia Time: Free lattes at Mulberry's Market to the first five readers who respond to this question: What did Robert Peary discover first and in what year? OR send me a moral that you've gleaned from this little "class reunion." (I'll print the best ones!)
My husband, Cliff, delights in poking fun at me at every opportunity and he's certainly earned the right. Ever since The Perspective came along, I have been using my own unedited forum to even the score. (Luckily, we both have thick skins.)
Cliff's usually writing much more intellectual Supreme Court Briefs (which for the record, ain't so brief!) so imagine my surprise and delight when I received the following email from him last week. (I'm still stunned that he found time to pen this Sci-fi "lead-in," but has yet to find the time to fold the laundry! Hmmm . . . there I go again.)
Juls: I have noted, as have your Readers, the pattern to your Perspective: generally speaking, an observation about life (yours, mine or the kids) followed by a transition into how the observation relates to Real Estate and so I have the beginning of your next Perspective, here you go: As the Killian Star Cruisers closed in upon them, the Captain thought about how much simpler it had been when all they had to contend with were the Drivellian slave traders of Rigellan IV. Sure the Drivellians were tough fighters, but they didn't have a lethal death ray; much less one that could immobilize an entire lunar colony! Still, the Earthlings were not without their defenses. After all the new Comark Shield System (CSS) had worked perfectly in all its tests. This would be the big one though - women and children, ready for transport to the outer colonies - were depending on it. If the shield could turn the death ray into a harmless light particle beam, they would all be safe, and not only would the Killians be rendered harmless for years to come, but the energy derived from the particle beam could actually power the colony! Of course, energy efficiency is something which is not just the province of Star Defenders, but important to the purchase of a home as well. (FILL IN REAL ESTATE SECTION).
Okay Cliff, here I go . . .
"Energy efficiency" has been front and foremost in the news and in home design for the past several years. It's caught on in a BIG way in our liberal, collective, California psyches - and so it should. In fact, it's the rare Buyer who isn't adding up the costs of new windows and insulated attics as they consider older homes these days and wondering if there is a discount to be had???
Uh, there isn't. (Mind you, the single-pane glass in Notre Dame has been virtually intact for almost 900 years and its windows haven't clouded up as our energy efficient, modern, double-pane windows tend to do within a mere 15-20 years!)
Dual-pane windows, attic insulation, recirculating water systems, wrapped heating ducts, etc, etc, etc; they're all important in terms of maintaining a home's efficiency and in keeping utility costs in check. AND they're good for the environment to boot - so why not just install them, especially if you'll be undertaking a remodel anyway?
A) Because these upgrades still tend to be more expensive than their older less costly counter parts. A tankless water heater will run you considerably more than the old-fashioned 50-gallon water heater currently sitting in your basement. It can takes serious "green" to live "green" (the $160,000 price tag for the electric Tesla is no joke!) or to quote Kermit the Frog, "It's not so easy being green."
B) The buying public isn't yet willing to pay you more for your "smart" home - no matter how smart it is! Sure, they love the idea that the property can practically run itself, and the fact that they can positively impact their "carbon footprint" for the good of mankind certainly provides bonus points, but neither of these factors typically sway value-oriented buyers when it comes to writing the BIG check (Buyer's are still looking for the deal)! If you have installed solar panels on your roof, good for you, but don't expect to be reimbursed for this upgrade when you go to sell your home. It just isn't part of the calculation - yet! (Sexy kitchen and bathroom remodels typically reap big dividends; less exciting solar panels do not. which makes "green upgrades" less smart from a seller's point of view - not from an environmentalist's!)
C) The good of the colony tends to take a back seat to the needs of the individual. (Unless you're my "zero-carbon footprint" sainted sister Karen who grows her own vegetables, shops at a co-op grocery, raises egg-laying ducks, knits her own sweaters, drives a corn-oil car, hunts for mushrooms in the woods and produces more solar power than her household consumes . . . , you are probably negatively impacting the environment - even with your best efforts.)
The cold hard truth is that there are still far fewer choices in "green" options than in the rest of the color spectrum. Individual expression tends to be significantly curtailed when limited to those few choices that are more "environmentally friendly" (and let's face it, raising ducks isn't that easy within the city limits). Quack! Still, cookie-cutter choices or not (have I mentioned the Prius yet?) I'm not ready to concede that the good fight is over and I'll be the first to cheer you on for following your conscience - not your checkbook in undertaking improvements more beneficial to all. If nothing else, living "green" is highly admirable.
And the good news is that energy efficiency is still in its infancy so we have much to look forward to in terms of accessibility, affordability and style.
Here's the 411, when "green options" become as economically feasible as the much cheaper red, white and blue choices with which we are already familiar and more accustomed to (in other words, when the Tesla costs the same as the Prius) I believe the Killians will give up their supreme fight for power and live peacefully alongside the rest of us mere mortals. And that's NOT just Science Fiction . . . (How'd I do Cliff?)
BTW - If anyone else would like to submit a "lead-in," be my guest. I really enjoyed the challenge. I'll treat any takers (authors) to lattes and scones at Mulberry's - whether or not I use your story (literary privilege).
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.