Vol 198 - Snap!
"Hey Julie," Cathy's email said. "You are currently signed up for five team dinners, 2 chain-gangs, 2 stats, the cocktail party, 1 gate, and the snack shack . . . (What !?!)
Say it ain't so!
I'm a gal who doesn't mind pitching in to do my fair share. I've been known to bake cookies, set up for parties, offer my house for gatherings and organize a group or two for school activities. I've driven field trips, sent homemade bouquets on "Teacher Appreciation Day," and worked school lunches. I've been roped in for fund raisers and board meetings, but as excited as my Freshman son is to be playing high school football, I have to admit that I'm less thrilled about the "team parent" aspect of it. I know football is the "holy grail" of high school sports, but this was ridiculous. Who signs up for everything?
Evidently, I do.
Let's back up just a minute to fill in the blanks . . . our well-organized team parent had placed all of the duties on a web hosting page called "TeamSnap." It's essentially designed to be a community bulletin board, where everything is posted: playing schedules, refreshments, activities, etc. Once "invited" to join your son's or daughter's team, the parent signs on and "SNAP" everything is supposedly at your fingertips (supposedly). Designed to replace the endless stream of emails, TeamSnap is the "go to" for all matters affecting your kid's teams. (In practice, the emails come anyway. I'm not the only adult who couldn't figure it out.)
The confusing part (for me, anyway) is that the parents aren't registered on the site - only the team participants (???). So having clicked on to my son's name (per the instructions) I dutifully checked off what I assumed were practice and team dates under the heading of "Availability," but turned out to be a host of other responsibilities as well. (Oops!) Moreover, carpool sign ups had been place in the "Refreshment" tab, making it even more difficult to assign the tasks.
Note to TeanSnap - you may want to make it possible to customize this template a bit.
But despite all my objections and criticisms about the site, the truth is I hadn't carefully read the entire contents before blithely checking away. Once I hit page 6 of an 18-page sign-up sheet, I was on automatic pilot. Of course, Tristan would be there for every practice and game (that's the commitment one makes to the other team members when taking on a team sport) and I assumed the coaches needed the information with respect to player availability. As for me, I had already signed up for team dinners and carpools the old-fashioned way - on a clipboard at the first team meeting. Wasn't that enough? (Evidently not.) You're actually supposed to read the fine print! (Go figure.)
When clients are handed a stack of disclosures (THUMP!) equivalent to Webster's Dictionary (the unabridged version) the mountain of reading material is a bit overwhelming as well. READ IT! Inside you'll find the story of the home you are so keen on buying. And having read it, the next step is to write down any and all questions you have that need explanations or further investigation. And no, it's not a "snap," it's time-consuming, but for most of us - a home purchase represents our single largest investment and asset. Isn't it worth your time tp know what you are buying and where any potential pitfalls may lie?
While a good deal of the material is required, "boiler plated" disclosures and proactive "release of liability" language, a good chunk of it is quite specific to the house - and therefore, valuable to know. In short, it's information worth pursuing. In my experience, the best results take place with the most informed buyers. (I didn't say the easiest, I said the best.)
So take your time, slow down and read the material, with the understanding that inspections are designed to draw attention to the defects of a home - not gush about its "fabulous views" and "ease of living" (that's called advertisement). You're bound to have a better result if you know all the facts going in - even those you don't necessarily like. At least, you'll be armed with knowledge that is bound to provide clarity.
In the meantime, quick, I need to sign back on to TeamSnap and delete a few check marks. Now that I've got some clairity, there's no way I'm hosting all those dinners!
Vol 197 - The Quintessa!
Leave it to my husband and son to maximize their "winning opportunities." Each year when we head to Tahoe, the Backgammon board comes out for marathon sessions of competitive Backgammon. Between Cliff, Tristan and his buddy, Andrew (who has joined our family vacations for years), these boys don't mess around. In between hikes and trips to the lake, the dice are rolling all day long and well into the evening.
Their good-natured ribbing of "I beat you so I'm the world champion," is nonstop as they challenge and play each other over and over again. So competitive are these games, that they have actually instituted a last ditch final roll, that allows the losing opponent to "take" the game from the other by rolling "The Quintessa." Huh?
For those unfamiliar with "The Quintessa," (and that would be everybody) let me enlighten you . . . "The Quintessa" happens when the heretofore "losing" player rolls a four and a two (don't ask, the back story is too long) which automatically trumps the winner. (Did you follow that?) At which point, the now debunked winner can "Reverse Quintessa" their opponent to reclaim the throne by also rolling (you guessed it) a four and a two. In short, it ain't over 'til it's over!
That concept is a bit true of real estate as well. Absent an "All Cash" or a "Contingency Free" offer, once a purchase contract has been presented and accepted (aka: ratified), it ain't over, 'til it's over. Typically, there are still several inspections to be performed, an appraisal to be conducted and a loan that must be guaranteed and underwritten, prior to the close of any escrow. At any point within these contractual time frames, the buyer may come back and ask for a reduction in price, credits towards close of escrow, or repairs (hmmm, that's interesting) OR in a worse case scenario, walk away from the deal altogether. So Sellers - consider yourself warned. In other words, don't open the champagne just yet.
Forget the Sellers' Market of yesteryear, where anxious buyers often lined up to buy a house for tens or several hundred thousand dollars over the asking price AND assumed ALL defects, no questions asked. (Those good ol' days are long, LONG gone.)
Conservative buyers today are prepared to do battle over any "new discovery." ("New Discovery" is information that wasn't provided in the Disclosure Package prior to the offer date or develops later during the inspection period.) Once "new discovery" is uncovered, a savvy buyer is very likely to return and ask for all, or part, of the damages they seek. You as the seller, may agree or disagree with the request and counter back in turn. It's a bit like "The Quintessa" as each side vies for top position (without the finger pointing and screams of sheer joy).
However, instead of a "winner" and a "loser," it's more likely the buyer and seller will compromise on a solution that allows each party to get a bit of what they want and need. With all due respect to gamesmanship, we're seeking a "win-win" outcome here.
While it may feel great to obliterate the opponent in Backgammon (Quintessa!), in Real Estate it isn't especially helpful or productive to a transaction to become entrenched in a position, to set unrealistic expectations, or to lose perspective altogether. In fact, it's been my experience that an overly aggressive attitude can knock a client and their agent out of a deal very quickly and send the buyer or seller onto the next more amenable opportunity.
So let's not count on a last minute roll of the dice instead of a well considered strategy to secure a victory. Should an unwelcome surprise come up, let's seek to find solutions, instead of focusing on the problems. In otherwords, let's play fair and let's have some integrity around any decisions or requests. With this in mind, my goal is to "maximize your winning opportunities," and deliver you the desired result.
(Now you can pop the champagne!)
Vol 198 - The Keys to the Castle
"Thanks for getting back to me so quickly," the email said, "and at midnight no less."
Let's be honest, I'm not usually awake at midnight, but I was catching a plane early the next morning and the sad truth is, I'm not the easiest, nor the breeziest of travelers. Of course I was wide awake. What else would I be the night before a trip? There's always an undercurrent of nerves running through me prior to any trip.
I worry that the alarm clock won't go off; that I'll sleep through it even if it does; that I'll forget my plane ticket; that I'll miss my flight; that I won't have packed correctly, etc. Never mind that I rarely ever sleep past 6:30 am under any circumstances (what's up with that?), haven't needed an alarm clock in years, and in this case, would have ample time to prepare the following day.
Still, I dream of being that girl who casually rises, tosses a few essentials into a designer leather carry-on, applies some lipstick, and skips through security with nary a care in the world. (Oh, and while we're fantasizing, I'd also like to look like Christy Brinkly while doing so.)
Alas, that's just not me. Before going on any trip (business or pleasure), I can be found running around deep watering the beds, folding laundry, paying bills, cleaning out the refrigerator, hitting the bank, and organizing a dog sitter - and that's just at home. At work, I am getting my Sunday duties covered (thank you Jane) answering ALL my correspondence, placing advertisements, checking in with clients, and scheduling the week ahead so that I can get a jump start when I return. For me, there are a million details to attend to prior to any departure.
Thank goodness, I happen to excel in the details. In fact, if I could just convince the majority of my clients to hand over the "keys to their castle" and let me handle the details for them, I can usually get a property to market within a few short weeks - even those that require extensive painting, staging and landscaping. (Really? Really.)
With very little notice, I can arrange a painting crew, direct landscapers, hire window washers, meet with stagers, schedule inspections, calendar the photographer, set up the "Brokers' Tours" and "Sunday Opens," write a compelling marketing campaign, order postcards, customize signage, get a preliminary title report, and put together a disclosure binder for prospective buyers - if you'll let me. In reality, the toughest transactions are those in which a seller fails to trust the process and micro-manages the deal. (I haven't as much control over the nerves of others as I do with respect to my own.)
"People buy homes - but they sell houses," my boss, DJ Grubb, is fond of saying. That's true, but when it's reversed, and people are emotionally attached to the sale of their homes, it can be extraordinarily difficult to navigate. Frequently this happens when people have held their properties for many, many years, are really conflicted about moving, unable to let go, unrealistic about the market, or like many of us, a bit of a control freak. (May I suggest real estate as a profession for you?)
Sometimes, the only course of action is to step back and let these whirling dervishes have their way before they decide to relinquish control and let me do my job. While the ride is typically a bit bumpier when we take the long route, we usually get there - even when it involves a few false starts along the way. The bonus to the seller who allows me unrestricted access, is twofold: you get to offload your anxiety (on to me) and it typically proves more productive as well. (Consider it a win-win.) Instead of a lengthy, tension-filled transaction (aka, root canal), the process moves rather swiftly and smoothly - and believe me, quick and painless is preferable.
In a year that's once again fraught with market volatility, it is critical to get very clear about what your goals are and what you hope to accomplish once you place a home on the market - then it's my job to deliver them to you (keys please).
For now, my immediate goal was to get some sleep before the next day's journey. Now where was that phone charger anyway? I don't want to forget to pack it!
Vol 195 - How Does the Story End?
A few of you have caught on to the fact that I'm now "a chain." Well, not technically, a "chain," but I am now being published in the Piedmont Patch, in addition to my weekly Blog here in The Piedmont Perspective. It's not exactly syndication, but hey, it's a start . . .
Writing twice a week has been an interesting exercise to say the least as the editor had politely suggested, that "a 'Real Estate' column wasn't exactly what The Patch was looking for," but that she felt my observations about life in and around Piedmont might draw a fair amount of attention. (Flattery will get you everywhere Amy - or was that a backhanded compliment? Hmmm.)
I can't say readers are exactly clamoring for my autograph, but I have met several who upon introduction, say. "You don't know me, but I know ALL about you!" Or as one very good friend succinctly described it, "Julie throws her family under the bus, and then she says something about real estate too." (Thanks Pam - although I see it more as restitution.)
Still, she may have a point, but with a full-time job, two kids and a household to run, I don't really have the time to create two unique columns each week (remember folks, I do this for free) so I've taken the liberty of borrowing liberally from myself, but changing the ending. (Is it still plagiarism if you steal from yourself?)
And what I've discovered should probably be taught in high school English - preferably before our kids start writing college entrance essays - and here it is (drum roll please . . .) there's more than one way to finish a story . . . . In fact, it's been a real growing experience to change directions and veer off into completely different endings altogether (as it turn outs, NOT everything is a real estate analogy. Who knew?).
However, this is a real estate column so let's connect the dots, which is to say that with respect to real estate - as with story telling - there is often more than one way to go as well. Sure, conventional wisdom would have you paint and stage every house before bringing it to market, but some homes have much better results when sold essentially "As Is" and honestly and aggressively marketed as "fixers." If there are significant structural issues, "putting lipstick on a pig" won't charm the buyer from deducting for major defects - no matter how dressed up that pig is (sorry Wilbur).
And with respect to buying - depending on the other players at the table, the number of interested parties, the current lending practices, and your ability to be flexible on terms, there are several interesting ways your offer can play out. Acceptance, rejection, counter offer, are just a few that leap to mind, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.
The question I'm most often asked - the moment a prospective buyer sees a house they like - is, "What's this house going to go for?" And to no ones' surprise I suspect, it is almost exactly the same question sellers ask as well. "How much am I going to get?" (In other words, "show me the money.")
Here's the unvarnished truth - "I don't know" (and neither does anyone else)! Until we have a real sense of the condition of the house (investigations and disclosures) the interest surrounding the listing (the number of parties writing) and the strength of the competition (WHO exactly will be writing?) it's all guess work. Absent that information, I'm truly stabbing in the dark. So while I often have a strong sense of where the market will lead, what I don't know exactly, is . . . how the story will end.
Remember, we only control half of the equation at any given time (yes, there are agents who represent both sides of a transaction, but I'm not one of them) and the only surprise ending I seek, is one in which the sellers get quite a bit more than they anticipated OR the buyers pay less than they expected. (That rarely happens in Piedmont, but it's nice when it does.)
In the meantime, I will do my best to inform you, based on the supportable data, the current market performance, my "hands-on" experience, my day-to-day observations and my highly atuned instincts. I'll seek to guide you in a way that makes sense for your family, advise you as to any relevant developments, advocate on your behalf, and support you throughout the process - and then I'll do my best to deliver the result you desire. (What more can you ask?)
But how the story ends? That's up to the market. Here's to happy endings!
My husband's friend George emailed me a picture of Cliff last week, enjoying the luxuries of first class (First Class!) on his way from London to Johannesburg; final destination - Botswana, Africa.
I should preface this by saying that George and his wife Linda had visited the Bay Area over the 4th of July weekend and during dinner, George had casually mentioned that he and his son were headed on Safari and would Cliff care to join them? For the price of a plane ticket, Cliff could experience a "once-in-a-lifetime" trip in the Kalahari Desert, visit Victoria Falls and see the animals in the wild. George had already covered the cost of the camp and Cliff could tag along for relatively little. (That's certainly too good an invitation to pass up.) Still, Cliff was uncertain. Between work, the boys, and me, he's incredibly thoughtful about his priorities. Could he really shelve everything and prepare with so little notice?
"You should go," I told Cliff. "When will this opportunity ever come up again?" (With one son in college out-of-state, and another following on his heels, it certainly won't be anytime soon.) "None of us is guaranteed tomorrow - GO!"
George and Cliff met in high school (well before Linda, I, or the kids came along) and have always maintained a very close friendship - in spite of the distance and the intervening years. Of course, he should go. I'd stay behind, tend to the fires at home, earn a living, and shepherd the kids back to school. (No, I'm not bitter - plus, I wasn't invited.)
All that was left to do was buy the ticket, and then some khaki "Indiana Jones" type cargo clothes online. Logging onto Expedia.com, we checked out "business class" airfare and promptly dismissed it. At $9,000, it was more than our pocket book could accommodate and three times the cost of the ticket Cliff would eventually purchase. Never mind the discomfort - that's why they invented Advil.
Fortunately for my husband, George asked his son to trade seats with him during one leg of the journey and George's son, nicely complied (that's a boy who has been raised right). Which got me to thinking, just how much per square foot is the price of first class?
I'll tell you - a first class ticket to Johannesburg from San Francisco is $14,399 - plus tax!. (Yeah, I know no one actually pays for first class -they upgrade - but still . . . really?) That factors out to nearly $596 a square foot. Wow! That's a lot of mullah for a seat (no matter how cushy) and more than the average home price in Piedmont! No wonder British Airways supplies the champagne. For that kind of money shouldn't there be a Grant Deed?
I'm certain that's how my clients often feel when they are looking at the price of homes here in the Bay Area (they're a lot of mullah!). No two ways about it, homes are expensive - especially if you're relocating from somewhere else outside of California and facing sticker shock. So it's only natural to want such a significant investment to "math" out.
I've talked about the "price per square foot" equation before and how homes aren't really sold on the basis of square footage (they're sold emotionally) but nevertheless, it's hard not to think in those terms. As consumers and borrowers, we know the bank and their appraisers, begin their assessment of a property's value, based on square footage before factoring in condition, finishes, location, etc. And while your property taxes are based on your original purchase price, any upward assessments to be made are ultimately based on the square footage of your home and how it compares to nearby sales. In short, size matters.
So if you're looking for "fixers," my advice to you is to buy the biggest dump you can afford and if you're looking for "turn-key" properties, understand that you're essentially buying "first class." Sure, you will be a lot more comfortable on the journey, but you'll also pay a premium. (Where's the champagne?) And if you're looking for a comfortable plane ride, it helps to have a very generous friend (Thanks George .)
Hey, Cliff, don't get too used to "first class." We're definitely living "economy" back home - and don't forget the souvenirs (you're going to owe me big time)!
Ahhh . . . this is living!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.