Cliff and I closed on the cabin at Fallen Leaf Lake earlier this week and it's been both exhilarating and nerve wracking to finally realize the dream we've aspired to for more than 30 years. The thing is that when you buy a vacation property, it typically comes with the furnishings, accessories, dishes, and the linens inside - lock, stock and barrel! That's all well and good, but what we hadn't expected was 20 years of accumulated "stuff" that the Sellers (and their renters) had left behind . . . cabinets, and cupboards and closets, OH MY!
"Like Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz, the journey quickly became surreal as we moved from excitement into a tornado of cleaning, sorting, tossing, and piling up things that no longer served a purpose, OR were cast-offs, OR had DEFINITELY seen better days, OR were just plain-old tired, forgotten, broken, and moldy.
All the thread-bare and sweat-stained pillows went first, then came the collection of dusty driftwood, old moccasins, slippers, hiking boots, other people's clothes, pilling blankets, scratched DVDs, games with missing pieces, canned and packaged food long past its expiration date, and soiled bath mats and fuzzy toilet covers. (What exactly are the point of toilet covers other than calling attention to the toilet?) The pile grew and grew, and GREW as we became more aggressive and emboldened. Each empty closet or organized drawer felt like a small victory (until we opened the next). Then we attacked the outdoor spaces, rejecting the wobbly tables, rickety chairs, and bits of building materials, chicken wire, and leftover insulation here, there, and everywhere.
"What about this?"
"Toss it." I said.
"Juls, what are we gonna do with all this junk?" Cliff said, surveying the shoulder-high mound.
Enter my "new man," Javier. Javier, a house painter by trade, stopped by to bid on refinishing the exterior shingles, but took one look and promptly offered his services for the following day, (actually, I bribed him).
"How much is it going to cost?" Cliff asked.
"Do we care?" I said. "It's all gotta go." (And so it did.)
Just so you know, when a house is sold, the contract stipulates the following:
"CONDITION OF PROPERTY: Unless otherwise agreed in writing: (i) the Property is sold (a) “AS-IS” in its PRESENT
physical condition as of the date of Acceptance and (b) subject to Buyer's Investigation rights; (ii) the Property, including pool, spa, landscaping and grounds, is to be maintained in substantially the same condition as on the date of Acceptance; and (iii) all debris and personal property not included in the sale shall be removed by Close Of Escrow."
Note to Seller, this includes your storage areas, owners' closets, sheds, garages, basements, and attics!
It's why the final walk-thru is so important and why, in this instance, I blame myself. Cliff and I waived the final walk-thru, assuming that the 2-day period between the final renter and the close of escrow (the Sellers had specifically requested), was the Sellers' opportunity to retrieve ALL their personal items, not just a few. The final walk-thru - usually conducted within the last five days of the escrow period - gives the Buyers the right to request items such as old paint cans, rusty tools, and other debris be removed at the Sellers' expense. But as the cabin is more than three hours away, we couldn't (or didn't) make the time for this final step, and instead, made an assumption we shouldn't have. That was our mistake - not theirs. Note to Buyers, DO THE FINAL WALK-THRU!
It's been a Herculean effort to say the least, but with the help of two men, a BIG truck, and a lot of manual labor, we were ready to start putting some things right again, beginning with fresh white towels, fresh cotton sheets, updated lamp shades, and new bedspreads on ALL the beds. (Maybe without bears or reindeer this time around?) We've stocked the cabin with toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, soap, and all the other essentials, and my new BFF, Tom, came by to measure the stairs and the bedrooms for new wall-to-wall carpet, (It's well overdue.) I'll be ordering fishless art and fresh window shades, and bartering with my contractor to come stay for a week while he builds us a new shower. However, how best to address the stair railings with the cut-out Christmas trees when my 94-year-old Jewish mother-in-law visits, is going to take a bit more thought.
"What do you know about living in the snow?" our Realtor had asked when we first brought up the subject of the cabin.
"That it's cold?" we said.
PAUSE . . .
"Okay; so you're going to get a 'guy,' Jamie said, "and he's gonna make sure everything is taken care of . . ."
Evidently, owning a cabin (and a boat) means we'll be relying on other people's expertise to make sure the house is set right and stays in good working order.
"Fine," Cliff said, "but do any of these 'guys' know how to argue the Third Amendment? Have any of them ever heard of 'Batson?' Do they know I'm on the Chief Justice's task force?" (That's okay, Cliff, no one expects you to be great at everything.)
Cliff's cerebral point now made, it appears that Javier is just the first of many new "guys" I'll now have in my life with respect to Fallen Leaf Lake (and he arrived not only with his truck and trailer in tow, but with his own 'guy'). Still, with the realization that we'll now be taking on a crew of people, that the bathrooms need updating, that two broken windows must immediately be replaced, and that there are likely to be a host of other chores and new discoveries we hadn't anticipated, I'm nevertheless, flying high on our good fortune. (We keep pinching ourselves.)
Yes, it's been an exhausting couple of days, but as I look out at the amazing view, I can spot Cliff with our dog, Riley, who is joyfully swimming in the lake. Gratefully, the smoke has cleared, the sky is crystal blue, the birch leaves are dancing, autumn is in the air, and I'm sipping my iced tea on the deck while counting my many, MANY blessings. The fact is, Cliff and I worked for years for this opportunity and we earned it the hard way - one dollar at a time. If the price of our dream was a few days of dusty labor, on balance, it seems a small price to pay.
No, we're not in Kansas, and we're definitely not in Oakland anymore, but we are over the rainbow. In fact, we're over the moon.
How can I help you?
(BTW, if a week at Fallen Leaf Lake in the Tahoe Basin sounds good to you, reach out, I'm taking reservations for next year.)
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.