"Does she or doesn't she?" (She does.) I'm not giving away any trade secrets here, but let's just admit that women of a certain age (uh, that would be me) require a little more maintenance than when when we were younger. Gone are the days when I could casually over indulge, then hit the gym and quickly work off whatever regrettable sins in which I'd participated . . . like ice cream. (Really, who can say no to gelato?) In truth, no matter what age, or what phase of life, a little care and upkeep are hard to argue.
Not surprisingly, that's true of our homes as well. While often, it's the threat of an impending sale that finally gets homeowners into action, there's no law that says we have to wait. In fact, we shouldn't. Given that our homes are usually, our single most valuable asset, whether or not you'll be selling your property in the near future, or hanging onto it for years to come, it's time to take stock of your surroundings and start prepping for whatever lies ahead.
That may entail a large-scale project, such as a remodeled bathroom, updated kitchen, or new landscape, OR it may just involve fresh paint and a thorough cleaning of the cobwebs, but either way, ongoing maintenance is a MUST for all homeowners. If you're not willing to keep up your house and grounds, may I politely encourage you to rent instead? (Despite the incentives, home ownership ISN'T for everyone.)
Unfortunately, it takes just a few short months for a property to begin to look neglected and fall into disrepair. DON'T let that happen to yours. So here are a few items to put on your Fall "To Do" list before the winter rains hit and the weather cools considerably. (You're welcome, you can thank me later.)
1. Furnaces should have an annual replacement of their filters. Any good plumbing/HVAC company will do this task for a reasonable fee, OR save the dollars and head down to your friendly ACE Hardware or local Home Depot (albeit, less friendly) and replace the filters yourself. (Remember to take the old one with you as there are many sizes from which to choose.)
2. The leaves are definitely dropping, which means a good deal of debris is probably accumulating on your roof. If so, it's time to get out the ladder and clear those gutters. My own sweet house sits under several magnificent Redwoods, so my boys get to do this job several times each year. (Nothing says "happy homecoming" like "son, I need a favor . . ." as I hand him the blower at Thanksgiving.)
3. Daylight savings is right around the corner so it's going to get dark earlier and earlier (boo hoo). Take a peak outside and see what light bulbs need replacing and then REPLACE THEM (Okay, maybe I meant that one for Cliff.) Ditto for smoke and CO2 detector batteries. BTW - not every house currently has a CO2 detector, but they are now a "point-of-sale" ordinance when one goes to sell, so it's not a bad idea to get on board now. Moreover your family will be much better protected. (Note, the law requires one per floor.)
4. Fall is a great time to mulch and to trim dormant trees (wait on cutting back the shrubs until late February). It's also a terrific time to add new plants and bulbs to the garden, allowing winter rains to establish nice deep roots. You'll be thrilled come the Spring.
5. Put away or cover all garden furniture, turn off the sprinklers once the rains begin, and for those of you with pools, shut down the pool heater until next spring (let's get through the heat waves first).
6. Do you use your fireplace a great deal in the winter? If the answer is yes, hire a chimney sweep to give it a thorough cleaning and inspection to make sure the mortar is tight and the spark arrestor is in place. (This isn't a do it yourself chore; aside from it being rather messy, it takes a trained eye.) AND don't stack the wood against the house; this only invites termites into your home. (Not good.)
7. Finally, if your kids have just stocked up on new clothes for school, now is a great time to pass along those things they have outgrown or never wear (especially winter coats). Take them down to the center of town (the drop-off is behind the pool) and donate them to "Dress Best for Less," which not only benefits our schools, but helps purge your closets in the process. It's a win-win for everyone!
Okay, that's my Fall list for getting into action (now if I could just hit the gym).
What's yours? Send me your suggestions and I'll share them in the coming weeks. (Doesn't it feel good to check these items off your list? Yes, it does!)
"Can I help you?" the pretty, young salesgirl politely asked, clearly recognizing the confusion in my eyes. (I'm sure I'm not the first.)
"Yes!" I gushed, handing off the few shirts I had already selected, grateful for the rescue. "I desperately need some new clothes for work."
Here's the thing, take me to the Alameda Flea Market with literally row upon row of antique vendors as far as the eye can see, and I haven't a problem quickly identifying what I want or negotiating for it, BUT if I wander into any large department store, I'm utterly lost; as if I haven't a clue (I don't).
With all due respect to April, I'm not fooling, I really have NO ability to filter through the sea of clothes as most of my fashionable peers can easily do (or any 16-year-old girl for that matter). Accessories? Uh . . . what are those? I wear a pair of earrings until I lose one and then I might purchase another (or not). Purses? I own just two. "
You're not really wearing those baggy jeans?" my girlfriend, Teresa, has critically scoffed as I've arrived for an outing. (Not anymore, I'm not.) Teresa is the mother of three daughters - she always looks stylish.
Maybe it's the boy thing. Frankly, neither Tris nor Case could care less about what either one of them is wearing, let alone me, but after 20-plus years, I'm clearly out of practice and waaay out of my element. Maybe it's the fact that I spend more time at the ball field than at the shopping mall. OR, maybe there's a chromosome missing in my DNA?!?
Whatever it is, I am the first to admit that when it comes to fashion, I don't know where to begin.
Thankfully, I don't have to.
"I'm a personal shopper," Sabrina explained as she escorted me into a private changing room. "If you ever need me, here's my card." (Need you? Can I adopt you?) "I'm just going to select some options for you . . . just wait here, I'll be right back." (Relief.)
One hour later and I walked out of Macy's with three new shirts, a blazer, two skirts, a pair of pants, and a sporty little pair of Espadrilles - and they all mix and match. I'm set for the next several months. (Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!)
Relying on others with more experience, doesn't just make common sense (and cents) it's often times, the wisest course of action, and the most expedient as well - especially when it come to Real Estate.
Why reinvent the wheel when others more practiced, can better steer the way?
I can't count the number of times, when potential Sellers bring me in after they have painted or made repairs, when they'd be much better served, inviting me in before (don't mind the mess, I've seen much worse.) The truth is, there's a very different aesthetic for marketing your home for photos online, than for decorating it to meet your own personal taste and style.
AND before you spend those hard-earned dollars that I will, in all probability, ask you to respend, PLEASE CALL ME. (Think Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn catalog and you're on the right track.) And yes, it's very likely, the design will embrace a very neutral palette - and for good reason. We want potential Buyers to place themselves in your home, not get sidetracked by the photos of your darling children and their colorful artwork on the walls.
So for those of you contemplating selling your home in the next few years - or in the next few months - may I offer a few suggestions as someone who's got a great deal more experience than the average home seller typically does?
If a move is in your future, here's my Top Ten 'To Do' List:" (no charge)
Can I help you?
"I'd love to get a little more aggressive with your skin," Irena politely said, examining my face as if it were a science experiment. There's a lot of damage here . . ." I should preface this by saying that the lovely Irena is blemish and wrinkle free. She has the kind of stunning, olive-skinned complexion reserved for those who have been blessed with terrific genes, coupled with diligent care and an avoidance of the sun, AND a lilting, Russian accent that makes her very exotic to boot. I'd hate her if I didn't like her so much.
Her age . . . is anybody's guess. Not me. I grew up in hot, hot, HOT Sacramento, where my sisters and I spent entire summers at the swimming pool and as a result, my skin has freckles I've never outgrown; more Annie Oakley than Elizabeth Taylor. What's more, my daily skin-care regiment consists of a bar of soap and if I remember, a dab of moisturizer. In short, I have the skin I deserve. I blame my mother.
"Okay, let's do it," I replied as she reved up the laser and put on the eye shields . . . And then I spent a week shedding my old skin like some hideous amphibian, waiting to emerge like a beautiful butterfly. (Don't look now, but I think I'm still in the moth stage.) Such is life (and aging). No pain, no gain.
So, here's the Real Estate tie in (I know you've been waiting) . . . Often when I'm invited over to someone's house to assess their home for purposes of resale, there's often a bit (or a lot) of aging that's taken place with the home. (Don't fret, you're not alone.) Early plans to remodel the bathroom or the kitchen invariably got put on hold or waylaid altogether in favor of things like uhhh, college tuition or paying taxes. That's simply life - and taxes.
There's no getting around some of these more expensive obligations (such as our kids). Ditto with respect to your home. Replacing the roof is never fun, but when you delay, it can lead to much more expensive repairs down the road (like extensive dry rot). In short, deferred maintenance can really penalize you in the long run.
When you finally go to sell, those items you have conveniently overlooked or learned to live with (i.e: stained carpet or peeling paint) should be addressed if receiving top dollar is your intended goal. And let's be real, I've yet to meet the Sellers where receiving TOP DOLLAR wasn't the intended goal.
"How much will I get?" every Seller earnestly asks.
To which I usually reply: "I can't guarantee you a particular outcome, but I can't begin to get close unless we do X, Y and Z . . ."
At which point, I outline an aggressive strategy for marketing and selling that almost always involves painting and staging, and some not-so-gentle persuasion. Frankly, there's no easy way to tell Sellers that their home needs an intervention. Or if there is, I haven't yet found it, but I'm certainly of little value to you if I'm not being truthful and putting your fiduciary interests front and center.
Gratefully, my Sellers usually capitulate once they weigh the possible outcomes and start checking off the "To Do" list in short order. Mind you, they are often spending a fair amount of money in the process (no pain, no gain) but it's almost always worth the extra effort and dollars - especially where photos and Internet marketing are concerned (just take a peek at: www.grubbco.com).
"Wow, I didn't even recognize my home." one Seller excitedly exclaimed recently, "I actually thought I'd walked into the wrong house!"
Indeed, my team had made some incredible changes in the space of one month, including two brand new bathrooms (Thank you, "Bath Simple") fresh paint, professional staging, power washing, and new plantings that quite literally, transformed the look of the home and elevated the gardens to an entirely different level. As a result, this lovely home is likely to sell in one week - and it should. Mr. Seller did everything I asked, was highly "coachable" and ultimately, leaned into the process, which made the journey infinitely easier on everyone involved: www.4434clarewood.com .
The moral of the story?
Why wait until you sell!?!
Thus, I've been on a mission with my own home and while the kitchen is still a dream-in-the-making, the bathrooms are finally finished; there's a new roof in place and we've just finished painting the exterior. Last week, the windows were professionally washed and the bricks are now free of moss! I'm methodically tackling each item as they come up, and no, I'm not employing my husband, Cliff, to do any of these chores (I've discovered that hiring window washers is cheaper than employing a marriage counselor.)
Happily for us both, I've a long list of vendors to fill in the gaps and they always appreciate the work, unlike my teenage son. (Please let me know if you need any referrals; they're worth their weight in gold.)
Now that Spring is here and the cherry trees are in bloom, I have to admit, the sweat equity (and the dollars) have made a noticeable difference. It's pretty darn beautiful around our place. One day, I'll finally get around to the kitchen remodel (hopefully, well before I sell) and yes, it will undoubtedly be expensive. Sigh, that's life. No pain, no gain.
"How's it going? I anxiously asked my son, excited to have finally heard from my newly minted cowboy at last.
Case had been home ALL of one week from his sophomore year at the University of Arizona before heading off to a summer job at a Dude Ranch in Wyoming that he had secured via a phone interview (in short, he'd never been there). The summer contract offered him room and board and a small stipend, but the real payoff would be in the TIPS the students divide at the end of the summer. Leave early and he will undoubtedly be working for peanuts. Stay the course, and Case might find himself handsomely rewarded for his time.
Saddle up pardner!
"It sucks," he replied. "It snowed all day yesterday. I don't have any of the right clothes, didn't bring boots or a winter coat, and don't have gloves." (SNOW! What? They don't have summer in Wyoming? It's practically June already.)
"So what's good about it? I asked, quickly redirecting the conversation and tamping down my own growing doubts and motherly concerns (Case doesn't like horses, or fishing, or camping . . .).
"The other kids are cool and I'm learning a lot of stuff. I'm happy I'm on the grounds crew and not inside like I thought, but it's cold. (Compared to Arizona and sunny California, I imagine it is. Perhaps we should have checked the weather report). "I'm mowing lawns all day."
"You know honey, learning to mow lawns and patch fences are great skills to have in life." I replied. "Frankly, I wish your dad had learned them along the way."
Finally, a half-hearted chuckle from the other end of the phone. I'm the one who takes care of the yard at our house. Case's dad grew up in New York City. Evidently they don't mow lawns there.
"Yeah, I suppose, he conceded,"but I'm tired. I worked nine hours yesterday," (Gee, join the club.) "Could you get me some jeans? "
"Sure," I said, before signing off. "Are you gonna make it for the next three months?" I was almost afraid to ask.
"Oh yeah," he said, "I'm good. I'm gonna make it." (Relief . . .)
Sigh, I don't know what I would have done had Case asked for a ticket home after only one week of being away. The truth is, I believe that a strong work ethic, coupled with PERSEVERANCE, serve us better than almost any other talents we possess (add a sense of humor to the mix and you've got the trifecta in your corner) AND I am pleased that Case is learning this skill set relatively early in life. (I'm even more pleased that someone else is teaching it to him.)
Hang in there son, I know you've got it in you.
I'm not kidding when I say that mowing a lawn and fixing fences are great skills to have in life. I don't mean that as a metaphor (as I often do in these columns) I mean they ARE great skills to have (period, exclamation point)! Ditto for painting, plumbing, and roofing, as homes have a tendency to require these repairs time and time again.
Welcome to home ownership.
Whatever you think about it - it sure ain't for "lilly-livered polecats." And given that your home is likely your single largest asset, you will want to take care of it in good measure, if only to protect this important and significant investment. (BTW- if you're in need of resources, please call me. I have references far and wide.) My dad regularly bought "fixers" when I was growing up and his crew of five girls were all expected to pitch in, paint, clean, strip wallpaper, and mow lawns as needed (and we all did). And while I don't count these strenuous weekends among the highlights of my life (and I'm certain we didn't do it without a fair amount of complaining) I have to say that I'm not adverse to picking up a broom or a hammer and filling in a need.
In the end, my dad gave us all a gift. We all know how to WORK and what's more, he taught us that there is a tremendous amount of self-esteem that comes from doing a job, and doing it well. The bonus of course, comes in earning a paycheck too - yes? (Yes!) So work hard, Case, learn everything there is to learn, gain as many skills as you can, and know that each new challenge lays the groundwork for your future self.
Believe me, the rewards - both personal and financial - are well worth the effort. PLUS, your dad and I are really, very proud of you - Dude! See you soon. (We're scheduled for a visit in July.) Yee Haw!
"Your hair looks beautiful!" the assistant at DiPietro Todd in Walnut Creek, said to me last weekend, after a color, some highlights, and a professional blow dry. I'd rushed across town to make the appointment after a vigorous morning of volunteer gardening at the AIDS Grove in Golden Gate Park and the difference was dramatic. (Those talented hairdressers work magic and they are worth every penny!)
"It should," I happily conceded, "I spend a fortune on it." (Not that my husband needs to know that.)
Regrettably, it's not just my hair that requires ongoing upkeep as I age - almost everything requires more maintenance these days (only my hairdresser knows for sure). Let's admit it, we all benefit from some general upkeep and ongoing maintenance from time to time.
Not surprisingly, homes are much the same. Now that the sun is shining and winter seems to have finally abated, I have been busy hiring one handyman after another to help me whip our property into fine form (Cliff is a lot of wonderful things, but "handy" isn't one of them). The windows have all been cleaned, the bricks, power washed, and I currently have a painter at the house working on several items that require overdue attention.
A tree company removed a very large and problematic Oak (I don't care how "majestic" they are, they're a mess). I've been pruning or planting every spare moment, the gutters are scheduled to be replaced, a new automatic garage door is the next item on my agenda, and I've asked my husband for wall-to-wall shelving in the garage for Mother's Day. (It ain't sexy, but it's organized.)
There's never a shortage of chores "to do," especially after the BIG storms we all experienced as of late. Ah, the joys of home ownership!
Still, as I check off each "done" item, I get a growing sense of satisfaction. These are gold-plated problems to be sure, but they need to be dealt with nonetheless. While I can't necessarily afford everything I'd like to do in the moment (One day I'll gleefully GUT the kitchen - heck, I'll take a sledge hammer to it myself.) I'm methodically chipping away at those items I can do, and I know that eventually I'll repair or replace the rest (just in time to start over I suppose).
I am inspired by my current clients and friends who have spent the last quarter of a century restoring their magnificent Victorian here in town: www.55Craig.com. They remind me that these labors of love, don't have to happen all at once; that patience is a virtue. Hmmm, that one I haven't quite yet mastered.
I have also had my share of Sellers who have unfortunately, let their homes deteriorate, and only when they contemplate bringing their houses to market do they finally address the long list of defects that now need immediate attention. (Oh dear!) They'll often need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to make their homes shine, and once having done so, they invariably ask themselves why they didn't improve their properties for themselves? (It's a fair question.)
Right now, I'm lucky to be working with two sets of Sellers, both of whom have taken meticulous care of their homes throughout the years, which makes it so much easier to prepare their properties for sale. Rather than eradicating termites and fixing the foundation, their lists are much more manageable and include items such as polishing the floors, mulching the gardens, and editing their closets, as is appropriate.
Not that they aren't working like dogs - THEY ARE (a strange phrase as my dog lives a life of complete leisure). Selling a home, even under the best of circumstances, is always a TON of work. But they aren't coming up against unanticipated and expensive repairs. Instead, they are staging their homes, primping their gardens, deep cleaning, and purging, as is appropriate.
So get your Spring cleaning groove on, clear out the attic (no one wants that old highchair anyway) and touch up the chips on the exterior stairs. Make a list of items that should be addressed - sooner rather than later - and then check them off as time and money allow.
Believe me, your diligence now will save you thousands down the road. Moreover, you will more likely retain your home's value, and realize the benefits while you are still living in the home, instead of someone else enjoying the fruits of your labor. A healthy home is a smart investment and I suspect you have worked hard to earn it. Now make sure your home stays in "fine form."
Speaking of "fine form," I've got to run, BOOT CAMP is calling. There's always more maintenance that's required. Just get used to it and do the work.
I glanced over at my new Buyer, an expectant mother who was just a few months along. She and her husband had recently arrived in the East Bay by way of Florida, and the three of us were on a car tour of the Oakland neighborhoods, while I described the pluses and minuses of each. Because of the topography of the hills and the expansive area to cover, it's an incredibly windy tour at best. Due to years of aggressive San Francisco driving and the limited time restraints, it was a bit like being in the car with Mario Andretti (my apologies, I really should slow down).
"How are you feeling?" I asked her as I curved my way down the hill, recognizing the all too familiar "green around the gills" kind of look I had experienced with my own two pregnancies, several years ago.
"I'm a little carsick," she meekly responded, as nausea began to creep in.
"Hang on, we're almost done," I said, heading back to the Village, "I know exactly how you feel" (and regretfully, I did).
Listen, I know there are women who weather pregnancies gracefully, but I wasn't one of them. Morning sickness? Please!!! I wrestled with it morning, noon, and night for forty weeks, only finding relief after giving birth - and still managed to gain fifty pounds with each son (that's just too cruel).
In contrast, my girlfriend carried so effortlessly, that she agreed to be a surrogate for her brother and his wife, who were unable to successfully carry on their own. That's true grace. Not me - extreme morning sickness had prevented me from trying for that elusive girl, although my husband, Cliff, passionately argued in favor of another attempt (you carry it). After two very "green" experiences, no way I was going back in for round three. I literally, couldn't stomach it.
That's a bit how my sellers felt recently as we worked our way through the sale of their lovely home. After wrangling on a price, waiting patiently for inspections, and then negotiating once again, they sincerely began to wonder at what point the whole thing would just be over. Mind you, their sale wasn't atypical; in fact, it was very common as home sales go, with several rounds of showings, inquiries, zealous inspections, and yet, more questions. Still, it's pretty nauseating in the moment as each side wonders what is left to be found and if the deal will finally give birth (it did).
Hang in there, selling your house is a bit like pregnancy; there's a longer gestation period than you would like, but the end result is usually worth the wait.
With respect to inspections, here's the thing you need to remember. Inspections protect the Sellers, as much as they protect the Buyers. So important is the "due diligence" process that The GRUBB Co. really frowns upon waiving it - even when buyers are more than willing to do so.
Why? Because disclosures - no matter how thorough - can, and often do, miss something that is likely to come back to haunt you down the road. Ironically, the longer we live in our homes, the less likely we are to recall imperfections or to point out items that may be of legitimate concern to potential buyers. Frankly, as homeowners, we tend to overlook the small defects (or even the large ones!) so its easy to make the mistake of thinking "if it doesn't bother us, why should it bother them?" And therein lies the trouble . . . .
In truth, that barking dog next door that you rarely notice because you work five days a week, can become a HUGE issue to the new buyer who is a stay-at-home mom with a young infant. The negligible amount of water that gets into the garage when it rains, becomes an EXPENSIVE lawsuit when the buyer mistakenly assumes that the garage stays completely dry, and the driveway you thought you shared (but don't actually have a recorded easement to) can really cost you BIG TIME if that agreement suddenly becomes something else once the new Buyers take possession.
In reality, an item that might carry virtually no weight - if known prior to the close of escrow - can and does, becomes a MONUMENTAL deal when discovered after the new Buyers move in and discover that their expectations (or your representations) haven't been appropriately met.
So don't just disclose 90% of what you think is true, DISCLOSE IT ALL - especially if there is something ambiguous that needs clarification. With a running start, these issues can usually be resolved or dismissed, and no serious Buyer will think less of your property, BUT he or she will be much better informed as a result (and rightfully deserve to be). With full disclosure, Buyers are hard pressed to claim ignorance and sidestep responsibility later on. Avoiding any unwelcome surprises with respect to a home sale from the start, makes everyone happier and less litigous in the long term. Ah ha, now I get it! (I thought you would.)
With respect to pregnancy, it's a different story. If we really knew what lay ahead - both with the pregnancy itself and the years of parenting that come after - it's doubtful most of us would go through with it at all.
Thank goodness babies are cute. They almost make up for the months of waiting and better yet, they are still years away from turning into surly teenagers (but that's another column).
"Can I help you find anything?" the hip, young salesman at J. Crew eagerly asked. "Yeah, you can help me find my youth," I thought as I beat-feet out of there. It took only a quick glance through the racks for me to realize that the J. Crew fall collection was NOT designed for my middle-age demographic.
First of all, there was nothing above a size four in the store, and second, there was nothing above a size four! The same can be said for the majority of other "women's" shops I visit these days that seem more suited to pre-teens than to any of the women I see or know. (Just who are they designing for anyway? Not me!)
While I'm not yet ready to surrender to elastic waistbands and drawstrings, let's get real - the days of mini skirts and hot pants are well behind the majority of us forty (plus!) gals. With the rare exception of Jennifer Aniston, I find that looking good as one ages, is more and more about creative draping and skilled tailoring.
Mind you, this isn't necessarily a size or weight issue, but candidly speaking, clothing tends to hang a little differently than it did when we were younger (and hadn't yet given birth). The truth is that no matter how well we women keep it together, there comes a point in time at which we should adjust our personal style and donate what no longer accentuates our best features (uh, that would be my ankles). With respect to "flaunting what you've got," perhaps it's time to pass this mantle on to a younger, hipper, braver generation (also known as our daughters)!
With respect to Real Estate, there are moments in the heart of a deal, when I can literally hear and see my Buyers struggling with the "fit" of a home. They like the house, but they are not quite sure it meets ALL their needs. OR . . . they are in contract and have discovered unwelcome surprises that now make them uncomfortable moving forward. OR . . . they are worried the costs to maintain or remodel the property will be too great. OR . . . they're not really sure the East Bay is really the right move for their family after all - and so it goes . . . .
There are a host of good reasons why a house that initially caught your eye, no longer "fits" the same as it did before and why the bloom has fallen off the tree. At which point, I want to assure you that whatever choice you make about moving forward or exiting the deal, it will be okay. However, if you want to see it through, even the most dire objections can be overcome with a talented architect, a skilled contractor, and some well-intentioned negotiation.
Brick foundation? Yes.
Lack of permits? Yes.
Extensive drainage issues? Yes.
Fear or paralysis? Probably not. The fact of the matter is, if you are squeezing into size four jeans - when you actually need a ten - the "fit" is going to suffer. Not that you can't fool yourself into thinking everything still looks good; it's just that maybe you shouldn't force the fit. If you have to "talk" yourself into a home, it's probably not the right property for you in the long run. Let it go and move on. As hard as it is to say good bye, there will be other opportunities and other homes that "fit" much better (I promise).
On the other hand, if you decide to move forward - despite your initial objections - than you'll have to accept the "unknowns" on the house; "own" the decision and embrace the process. Have some faith, if you love the property enough, you'll work through the imperfections and take on the risks (hmmm, sounds a bit like marriage).
In either case, understand that "the perfect fit" probably exists only in magazines - and even then, those multi-million dollar homes are professionally styled for days before the photographer shows up and points the camera. With no curtains, pillows, or miscellaneous items out of place, these architecturally, perfectly designed homes don't really reflect reality; they reflect our fantasies. Don't get too caught up in the "perfect image" - it isn't real.
Speaking of reality, I'm off to the semi-annual sale at Nordstrom's -they're not exactly fashion forward but at least they have pants in my size!
I love the look of fresh mulch in the garden. Proudly surveying my hard work last week as I was obsessively preparing my home for the Piedmont Neighbors and Newcomers Annual Progressive Party, I suddenly thought, "mulch is the Botox of the garden!" (Profound, right?)
Hey, I know, that you know, that it's only ground cover, but that thick carpet of fresh loam makes all the difference in the world. While mini bark is a whole lot cheaper than Botox, it works pretty much the same way - it beautifully hides flaws and smoothes out the imperfections (um, not that I would personally know anything about that).
And let's not underestimate the value of smoothing out the imperfections in the sale of a home - or of addressing minor flaws for that matter. I'm not talking smoke and mirrors here, just a little bit of effort, a good deal of muscle and some well-orchestrated touch ups!
So aside from mulch, here's a list of some of my other easy suggestions for getting your home in good order and in quick measure, prior to marketing it for sale - or when having a hundred of your new friends over for sangria and wine (nothing says "organize and clean-up" quite like an impending party . . .) .
After all that gardening (and company), I could use a good manicure - and I am probably overdue at the dermatologist's as well. (At my age, I need heavy mulching. . . ).
I'm falling back in love with my home once again. Thanks to a fantastic renovation that has virtually doubled the way my family utilizes our space, along with a sensational Spring bloom that has featured magnolia, cherry blossoms, lilac, dogwood and now two varieties of clematis that are prolifically climbing their way up the gazebo, I am actually quite smitten once again (our payoff after all that rain!). Even after viewing the "selected properties" on the CSL Home Tour last week, I still feel that I would rather come home to my house at the end of the day, than any other (warts and all) and that's pretty darn special.
That's not always how I feel about my "home-sweet-home," especially during the dark days of winter when heavy rains periodically flood my patio (too many pine needles blocking the drains) and the redwood forest I call my front yard has deposited 30' branches that require a hacksaw and some real muscle to access the driveway once again. With rubber waders and manual labor, Cliff and I manage to tackle most of these jobs in good stride, but the shortened days (I don't "get" Daylight Savings Time and never will) adds to the gloom and doom. During those times, I'm slightly less enamored and frankly, ready to sell. (Make me an offer - please!)
Welcome to Home Ownership. It's a Love/Hate Relationship.
Let's get real, no matter how wonderful one's home, owning (as opposed to renting), isn't always a "bed of roses." No one enjoys paying property taxes for instance (%^##^!) and spending hard-earned dollars on improved drainage or a new roof can hardly classify as "fun." When you rent, a clogged sink is the landlord's problem - not yours.
But when I am entertaining on my patio on a balmy evening while hosting a birthday party for my mother, and the twilight is filled with the scent of night jasmine and lively conversation, I can hardly imagine being anywhere else - and therein lies the magic!
I'm not a "Pollyanna" by any stretch of the imagination - I am actually quite pragmatic by nature. Given our limitations, my husband and I have bought every home with an eye towards "value" first and foremost. We've had to. In fact, it's taken Cliff and I many years to get to the point where we could begin to create the home we envisioned when we first purchased our current property several years ago. It hasn't been a quick fix (a promise I made to Cliff when we "stretched" to buy a home we could barely afford at the time) but it's been rewarding just the same. Like many of you, we didn't factor in the economic meltdown or "softening" values, so by circumstance and timing, I have had to adopt a completely new philosophy about home ownership and here it is: "A home doesn't have to pencil out - at least not in the short-term."
That's a fairly radical statement for a girl who bought, renovated and sold four homes in the space of twelve years to get to the bigger, better "prize." But with hindsight, I've abandoned that concept in favor of stability. Bigger isn't necessarily better, and all of us have learned that living within our means is a very good idea indeed.
And here's the real reveal . . . had I sat on the very first flat Cliff and I purchased in San Francisco (when we were young newlyweds) we would have reaped the same rewards with respect to appreciation, without the dust, inconvenience and higher property tax base we have accumulated along the way. (What a concept!) As it turns out, TIME is a homeowner's best friend.
So I am done moving and I am staying put (at least for now). Rain, or shine - bring it on. I am finally learning to accept my home - flaws and all (my husband too!) - and I'm appreciating the fact that we have earned every square inch of it (and then some). I know eventually, I'll get around to addressing some of the imperfections (or I won't) and that's okay too. I'm truly grateful in the moment.
In the meantime, I am building memories in a community I love and that value, may just be immeasurable! What's Happening?
Unbelievably, interest rates have dropped again! If you missed out on the re-fi boom earlier this year, jump, jump, JUMP to it. With the price of gas moving UP (I knew I should have bought that Prius last year) why not take advantage of rates that are adjusting down? At least that's within your control. www.lasallefinancial.com
A few weeks ago, I had a really festive time enjoying a friend's fiftieth birthday party with more than a hundred and fifty of her closest friends, coworkers and relatives, at the Veteran's Hall here in town. These large social gatherings always offer an opportunity to reconnect with people you don't get to see as often as you'd like. High heels on and dressed in party attire, I was ready to dance the night away. (Yes, I've still got it!)
Talking, giggling and holding court with several friends and their respective mates, a girlfriend discreetly leaned over and said, "Um, Julie, I don't know if you meant this to be a fashion statement or not, but your shirt is on inside out." (Or maybe I don't !)
Oops! (What was in that soda water anyway?) Mortified, I slunk into the coat closet and quickly made things right, but I'd been wearing my shirt inside out for at least half an hour before someone had the nerve - or the grace - to inform me. (Thank you Dale!) AND to make matters worse, I hadn't even had a cocktail to justify my fashion faux-pas!
I suppose that's what comes from hurrying. I had taken a long walk with the dog prior to getting ready and as a result, had found myself with only a few minutes to shower, wash and blow dry my hair, apply make-up and get dressed - all while simultaneously nagging my husband and son to do the same (if not me, then who?). Clearly, fifteen minutes wasn't adequate for the job at hand . . .
When I show up at a client's home with a stack of disclosures big enough to rival the Encyclopedia Britannica, sellers frequently want to hurry through this time-consuming task. Having made the decision to sell, they are down to business and are often anxious to get their homes to market as quickly as possible (I can appreciate that) but rushing through these important disclosure documents can only hurt you in the long run. Take it from me, slow down!
Designed to protect you from buyers seeking to renegotiate their offer price based on "new discovery" or worse yet, suing you after the close of escrow over "undisclosed information," these seemingly redundant questions about insurance claims, dog noise, water intrusion and how long you were in labor, seem like overkill (they're not).
Sellers often ask, "Do I need to mention ___ (fill in the blank) ?" Let me stop you there. If you are asking, you more than likely need to disclosure. Offset pipes? Yes. Backed up drain? Yes. Death in the home? Absolutely! Visiting raccoons? Of course. Visiting mother-in-law? Umm, let me think about it. If it's a material fact, you need to disclose it!
Listening to a colleague on the phone explain this to her client, I could hear her frustration as her seller insistently argued with her about a property line dispute he didn't want to include. BIG MISTAKE! While worried he'd be "tainting" his property, he missed the much bigger picture, which was that his conscientious Realtor was trying to protect him from unknowingly stepping on a land mine. Listen up!
For your own sake, disclose everything you know or suspect about the property. While it's likely that you won't remember every repair or even know about previous conditions prior to your taking possession, it's hard for fully informed buyers to argue with the truth - especially if their love for the property - or for the seller - has worn off six months down the road.
So slow down, take your time and be as thorough as possible. Then check the mirror. You don't want to attract attention for all the WRONG reasons (much like wearing one's shirt inside out).
It's so not cool!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.