Last evening the Piedmont high School class of 2015 graduated and my son, Tristan, was among the crowd of talented, hopeful and excited students (free at last).
For me, the feelings are far more bittersweet (tissue please).
On the one hand, I am an extremely proud parent and on the other, I'm not quite ready to say 'goodbye.' So I've been struggling with constructing some meaningful "pearls of wisdom" to pass along to this bright young man, whom I will miss profoundly, and who now stands at the precipice of a life unexplored.
Like any loving parent, I want my son to live his life well (however he defines that), to make a difference in the world, to discover his true passions, to find and give love, to follow his dreams, and to be of service to others. That's more easily said than done.
I've known many of these boys and girls since they were tiny tykes and now, they've all blossomed into young, beautiful adults who really haven't a clue . . . It's no small order, this business of growing up and striking out on one's own. As parents, we know that a GIANT LEAP into territories as yet unexplored, requires tremendous faith and trust, and quite frankly a tool belt few of these kids have yet acquired, let alone mastered. (We hadn't either at their age.)
Our older son, Case, who recently graduated from college, is wrestling with many of the same issues as well, but they are far less esoteric and much more about paying the rent, doing the next right thing, and putting one foot in front of the other as he diligently tries to figure it ALL out and become a full-fledged adult.
That works too. . . .
(News flash: you're never going to figure it ALL out so let that illusion go and enjoy the ride.)
What's more, if our kids don't carry compassion, care and consideration into their next four years and far beyond, they'll have gained nothing, irrespective of what they achieve on paper. Truly, an astute moral compass will move our children further than any ambitious career direction they may have mapped out for themselves.
No matter the journey, walking through life with a modicum of grace for most of us will be our greatest struggle. (I'm still trying to accomplish that BIG feat.) Seriously, it takes years, if not decades, to accomplish "grace under fire" which often requires disciplined consciousness here in the real world.
Having the advantage of experience over youth, I've come to believe that life is composed of a series of hurdles we learn to navigate. Some gates you will jump with ease, others you will run around, and a few you will run straight through in your race to be the swiftest and fastest. Regrettably, some of these hurdles will trip you up and slap you down. Some will absolutely knock the wind right out of your sails. That's okay, the toughest lessons prove the most important. In fact, your failures will undoubtedly shape you much more than your successes.
But in that rareified moment in time, for our young princes and princesses of Piedmont, it was all about the cap and gown and excitedly moving forward to the next chapter in their young lives - college. (Uhh, or Grad Night.)
While my husband, Cliff, set a course and then faithfully stuck to it, I'm not embarrassed to admit that it took me a much longer time to find my stride and a lot of painful missteps along the way. False starts, misdirected efforts, and restless energy probably best describe my wandering youth and yet here I stand - a contributing member to my community and to society at large - in spite of every wrong turn dead end, or bump in the road I managed to hit along the way (and I hit many.) I'm proof that no experience is ever wasted.
What I want both Case and Tris to really truly understand (deep down at their very core) is that most of the attributes you will need in order to succeed, come from walking through the tough times with integrity - not from a fancy degree (although that never hurts - fo' sure). Never underestimate the power of simply showing up and persevering. A strong work ethic, a sense of humor and TENACITY will move you much closer to your goals than any degree will ever provide - no matter the pedigree.
"Don't be afraid to make mistakes and take risks," Cliff reminds our kids, "That's where the valuable lessons lie." And so they do.
Earlier this week, I was struggling with a couple of difficult closings, a stressful marketplace, a fight over semantics, and lack of sleep when I remembered that there were times when my phone didn't ping quite so often, when referrals were few and far between and when I worried incessantly about whether or not my boss was going to fire me for lack of sales volume.
Which was why I started writing this column all those years ago. More important than what I sought to say to you, it helped me sort through the challenges specific to buying or selling a Bay Area home and lit the way . . .
As it turns out, those challenges are universal, regardless of the circumstances. Through both good and bad times, it's evidently the human condition to struggle with fear in all of its unwelcome forms: anxiety, stress, uncertainty, irritability anger, resentment and defensiveness, just to name a few . . . Because while young graduates are excited, they are also worried and scared (embrace the fear).
Last night, my sister, Jill, sent me this passage that probably best sums up the journey of "finding oneself" and like most great quotes that resonate (for me anyway), it comes from a beloved children's book.
"It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept . . ."
So be fearless kids, develop a thick skin, and give yourself time; you have the advantage of having years of it before you. There's a great big world out there just waiting for your contributions so go find your own way up the mountain (your path needn't look like anyone else's.) and most importantly, be of value to others.
If I know nothing else, I know this: your choices matter, your decisions matter, and your actions matter (not your intentions, your actions!). That's how we each make a difference in this big scary world - we do it one person at a time. Go find the person you were meant to be!
How can I help you?
(Trivia Contest! What book is this quote from and who wrote it? Free lattes to those of you with the right answer!)
"Give me five sets of jump rope, 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off." Dave instructed.
"Head over here for jump squats, 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off," he commanded.
"Now, hit the floor and do five sets of modified burpees, 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off!" A sadistic exercise if there ever was one. (I think Dave likes his job too much.)
Can I just say that modified or not, I REALLY hate those things and 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off sounds really easy until you hit round three and then those last two sets turn your legs into rubber. Frankly, burpees are for younger bucks with sculpted abs, not middle-aged women who just want their waistlines back.
Stoically, I complied with his directions even though I have to admit that my best jump roping days were in grammer school. (that's right, I ruled at recess!) But here's the good part, after each exercise, Dave walked over to the chalkboard and made a check mark by each completed callisthenic!
After several months of working out together, Dave, a former track star and Cal graduate, has figured out that I'm a gal who's motivated by a list. I love the organization of it, the way it clarifies the tasks at hand and especially, the check marks as I get each event accomplished and head toward the last.
"Do you sometimes put things on your list, you've already completed just to check them off?" my husband, Cliff teased.
"Yes," I admitted, "I do!"
"So do I?" he laughed. (Clearly, I'm not the only nutcake in the family.) There's something incredibly satisfying about the tangibility of those check marks on so many levels. The days I like BEST are the ones when I get everything checked off with time to spare. (Say what?)
What's a typical list look like for a Relator on a daily basis?
Today's list begins with:
It's jammed packed to be sure, but gratefully, I don't work alone. I have fantastic support from my own assistant, in addition to the dedicated in-house staff here at The GRUBB Co., which is why last night, we gathered together to show them our love and appreciation with a man-pedi, cocktail party. (They earned it - especially the cocktails!)
However, my list pales in comparison to the checklist I received yesterday from my clients' mortgage lender, which seems nearly insurmountable by comparison. Unless you're like my OCD dad (a Quicken aficionado) you're going to have to start digging through your files to quickly gather the necessary documentation a bank requires in order to fund a loan!
For those of you who are self-employed (and I share your pain) the requirements to simply qualify for a loan are nothing short of Herculean and far more stringent than for those who collect a W-2 on a regular basis. Long gone are the days of "stated income" and so they should be, but truly, getting a loan is no laughing matter.
You want what?
In order to avoid their previous mistakes and in what may be an over swing of the pendulum, lenders have created new ways to extract a pound of flesh. They're not exactly burpees per se, but they're the financial equivalent. In addition to the reasonable inquires, you'll need to answer questions like, "Where did this $35 deposit come from?" (Really?) and "Did you know you paid your gas card late? (No, I didn't.)
Try not to get flustered. It's the PROCESS and entirely unavoidable unless you're an ALL-CASH Buyer. But even if you are, you're going to probably put a loan into place after you close escrow to take advantage of cheap money and the work will be much the same. If a loan is what you seek, you'll need to bare down, take a deep breath and just dig in.
Hey, there's a reason I work on this side of the transaction and NOT on the lending or escrow end where the paperwork is just too cumbersome for even my controlling personality, but I'll happily refer you to an excellent mortgage lender who will walk you through this process from beginning to end, so that's one item down. Go ahead, check it off your list. Doesn't that feel great?
How can I help you?
"Yeah, we're totaling your car," Jessie, the claims adjuster said over the phone. "You'll have an additional five days to shop for a new one until your insurance stops paying for the rental. The check will go out as soon as its approved."
I appreciate the call, but I'm not sure if that's good news or bad. I certainly don't want the car back, given the extensive damage from the head-on collision, but I'm painfully aware I can't replace the wagon I've been driving around town for the depreciated amount the insurance company will now send my way. (A 10-year old car doesn't count for much - even when it's a Mercedes.)
To be fair, the outcome wasn't entirely unexpected, given that both cars took a MAJOR HIT! It's just that buying another automobile this year wasn't high on my priority list, especially as Cliff and I had already purchased a used truck for Case's college graduation last spring (go forth and prosper my son) and honestly,we need every available dime for the BIG remodel on Calmar Avenue that has just begun. (Look for my new blog:"Renovation Riptide.com" to debut next week. Less talking and MORE photos to inspire and motivate.)
This would be a good time to remind myself that these are gold-plated problems in the BIG game of life. "Boo hoo, poor me, I have to shop for a new (used) car this weekend . . ." (Unlike houses, cars are depreciating assets.)
Frankly, I don't much like the whole car shopping experience under any circumstances, let alone this unwelcome turn of events (I like fixtures and tile back-splashes, lighting and furniture, fabrics and finishes . . . I love homes!) Not only do I dread shopping for automobiles, the truth is that I know nothing about them. Should I lease or purchase? Go big or go small? Go electric, diesel, or gas? There's more choices than I care to trudge through, when what I really want is just a happy Disney ending.
Sing it with me: "Oh you, pretty chitty bang-bang, pretty chitty bang-bang, we love you, AND in chitty, chitty bang-bang, chitty-chitty bang-bang, what we'll do. Near, far in our motor car Oh what a happy time we'll spend Bang ,bang, chitty chitty bang-bang, our fine four-fendered friend." Luckily, I don't have to know a lot about cars: I just have to trust that the person who is helping me with the purchase knows much more than do I, and then trust that he or she has my back.
Okay, some of you are snickering about now, but gratefully, one of my closest friend's husband is a partner at the BMW/Mini Cooper dealerships in San Francisco. Michael and Teresa have not only used my services for several real estate transactions, they also referred me to Michael's brother last year when it came time for Patrick to buy a home. So while I liked that Mercedes Wagon a great deal, I truly feel I owe my business to Michael. (Isn't that the way it works? Or should?) More importantly, I trust him to look out for my best interest - as I look out for his, and his family's.
Granted, 'trust' is no small feat - especially in the world of sales; especially with respect to the things that matter the most to us: our families, our homes, our investments, our futures. How do we truly "trust" someone else to meet and understand our needs?
Therein lies the rub.
First and foremost, we need to vet the people we hire. Reputation and experience DO matter, but so do personal stories and interactions. Do check out your agent and ask for referrals. Then listen to your intuition. If it's not a "fit," don't force it (even if it's a close friend or family member).
My insurance salesperson doesn't have to be my best friend, but she does have to return my calls when I need her and guess what? She does. (Thanks very much Ruth). And I don't have to be everybody's perfect "fit," but I DO have to work diligently on my clients' behalf and provide a track record that backs up my claims. That's only fair. Trust isn't given freely, it's earned.
Second, COMMUNICATE your needs and speak up if things start to feel less than satisfactory. I have no problem holding people to their word or putting their feet to the fire, NOR do I take offense when others expect the same from me. It's my job to see you through to the end. Once more for good measure; trust isn't freely given, it's earned. Please let me know what you need and don't hold back. I work for you.
Third, once having found the professional that meets your needs, may I politely suggest that you let go (just a little?) and turn it over. It not only frees you up to focus on the next part of the equation, it relieves you of the heavy lifting. If you feel compelled to micro-manage the workload, you'll only make things harder on yourself, both physically and emotionally. Hire great people and then let them do their jobs. It's called delegation.
In my experience, no amount of fretting or worrying is going to change the final outcome. (Yes, I know that's easier said than done, but give it a try.) From one control freak to another - just know that the solution is going to make itself clear, irrespective of our concerns or posturing. We can't manipulate the results, no matter how hard we try, so let's stop trying and play it out. You may be pleasantly surprised.
TRULY, so much of what throws us for a curve is our preset expectations. Divorce yourself from those, and you'll be open to wherever the road leads. In other words: "Follow the yellow brick road."
So surround yourself with good people, take a leap of faith, and trust that things will work out in the end. (They always do.) To paraphrase what I recently said in the San Francisco Chronicle, "All things begin with faith and trust. Without them, everything else is moot." I don't know what car I'm buying this weekend; I don't know that it matters all that much, but I do know it's going to be fine. (It's just a car after all.) In the end, I just need it to run and be dependable. That's kind of what we all need, isn't it?
How can I help you?
It's time once again for Piedmont's annual Fourth of July celebration!
Like always, the day begins with a community Pancake Breakfast at the Veteran's Hall at 7:30am, followed by the Fourth of July Parade which starts promptly at 11:00. (I personally LOVE the bagpipe bands).
Music in the park spans much of the afternoon, accompanied by homemade picnics and dancing, much to the horror of our teens who wander off to swimming pools and gatherings of their own - sans adults!
The barbecues heat up after lunch, and the block parties extend well into the evening, capped by a stunning fireworks display at Jack London Square. (Oooh, ahhh!)
This is 'Americana' at its best - and no one does it better than Piedmont, in my humble opinion.
It's difficult, on such a patriotic day, to deny the many benefits of small communities such as ours or hometown hospitality (I've got Evites to three parade parties and I plan to attend them all; thank you very much.)
Perhaps no one is more welcome or more appreciated than our own Mulberry's Market purveyors, Chad and Laura Olcott; the "Grand Marshals" of this year's parade. They couldn't be more deserving. ( I hope this means I won't have to curtsey when I see you now.) Isn't it nice to honor these two extraordinary Piedmont citizens for a change? (Why yes, it is.)
Whether you'll be participating in the festivities, feasting from the sidelines, or sipping lemonade at a cabin in Tahoe, I want to wish you all a glorious red, white and blue celebration! On second thought, maybe just red and white - the day is too much fun to bring in the blues . . .
Happy Fourth of July!
It's official! The moving truck pulled up last Friday morning and by 8 pm the crew of five strong men had finally finished the heavy lifting (BTW - I highly recommend "Big Family Movers" who never once complained about the amount of boxes or the GIRTH of my antiques AND came in UNDER their bid price. Who does that, especially in Piedmont?)
Now the work of unloading begins . . . By midnight, I finally called "uncle" and headed for an overdue bath.
That's when things got really interesting . . .
"Aunt Julie! THERE'S WATER COMING THROUGH THE KITCHEN CEILING!" my niece shouted.
We'd bought a "fixer" so we knew going in that the systems weren't exactly up to par, but silly me, I'd failed to realize that the tub was just 'decorative' and that the plumbing wasn't hooked up correctly. (Up to par? How about SUB-PAR!) Unfortunately, when I drained the bath water, it found its way through the light below and onto the kitchen floor (OR what's a bucket for?)
By Sunday, after the washing machine had flooded the basement, the fuses had blown repeatedly, and my teenage son has disavowed me, I'd begun to doubt our decision to move. (Yes, there's a "BIG PICTURE" plan here, but the short term doesn't look very promising.)
I'm loathe to admit it, but what, exactly, have we done !? Leaving Shangri-La and a home we loved for yet another major restoration project? "Breathe," "pray," and "EAT CHOCOLATE " was the timely advice from most of my good friends and colleagues. (Have I said "thank you" BTW? I really appreciate your support.)
In between hyperventilating, I have to remember that here's what we HAVE done:
In short, we are planning for our future.
Ahhh yes, that's why we did it - for sound financial reasons that should serve us well for years to come . . . even if the present day seems daunting.
As for the remodel? It's going to be a massive mess, terribly inconvenient, HELL to live through, and will no doubt, run WELL over budget. So what else is new? It's also going to be very exciting; a chance to put our stamp on yet another home and garden.
As I explained to my unhappy son, "It's either a total POS or it's an opportunity. The choice is yours."
OR as I have often reminded my clients, "These are the problems the rest of the world aspires to!" (It's time to take my own advice.)
Our previous home is now in the hands of an extremely capable, younger family who have the energy to keep up with a large property, while we concentrate on restoring the very neglected house and much smaller yard we have just acquired. It's a cycle Cliff and I understand well and one we appreciate.
In the meantime, I'm remembering a quote I love (unfortunately I don't know who said it): "Life consists of two kinds of experiences: those that are great and those that make GREAT ANTECDOTES!"
I'm clearly in an "anecdote" phase. How lucky am I? (Pretty darn lucky.) "Eat, pray love," and then, give gratitude. If nothing else, I'll have great copy for upcoming Perspectives!
Watching my son graduate from college a few weeks ago from the University of Arizona, I was filled with a mix of relief and joy. Just between you and me, there had been more than a few moments in high school when I worried that Case wouldn't actually make it into college, let alone finish. So the fact that he not only did, but graduated in four years (and with strong grades to boot) was tremendously rewarding. (Good job, son; sniff, sniff.)
"You are an elite group of only 6-7% of graduates the world over," the commencement speaker announced, "so recognize your exceptional achievement and GO MAKE YOUR MARK!"
Those are inspirational marching orders, but more easily said than done. The truth is, that while some of these exceptional young graduates have already been accepted into medical or law schools (or better yet, have paying internships lined up) the vast majority of them are feeling rather anxious and untethered. (Ironically, they felt the same way going in.)
It's beginning to dawn on them that after four years of a structured, supportive environment (not to mention the "gravy train") the world is no longer looking at them as "kids." It's time to leave the safety of their schools and venture forth into the big, wide beyond . . . They're ready. They just don't know it yet.
If I had to sum up their feelings, I think it would be:
Ah, that's the $128,000 question. (It used to be the $64,000 question, but have you paid a college tuition lately? Ouch.)
Regrettably, unless your child (excuse me, young adult) had the foresight and the aptitude to learn how to code (mine did not) college graduates aren't really trained for real-life jobs at all - a lesson my talented niece (a recent University of Washington graduate) learned after getting rejected from one company after another until finally landing in the training program at YELP. It may not be her "dream job" but she's developing all kinds of great skills to carry forward and isn't that part of the journey as well? (Yes, it is.)
They'll each have to figure that out on their own . . . and they will.
In Real Estate, the "What Now?" question typically arrives halfway through the process once Buyers and Sellers successfully get into escrow, followed closely by "What's Next?"
While I don't have the answers for my son's immediate future, let me take this opportunity to illuminate the "next steps" moving forward for Buyers and Sellers as they enter into contract . . .
(BTW, if you thought prepping your house for market was a tremendous amount of work, you'd be right; however, the crux of the deal actually happens IN escrow. If we are not mindful (and often, even when we are) the escrow process can be a bit like falling down the rabbit hole.)
For those who aren't tracking . . . "Escrow" is the neutral third-party process by which a home actually transfers ownership. Once a purchase agreement has been ratified, a copy of the fully executed agreement is sent to the lender and the title officer and then "escrow" is officially opened.
During this time frame (typically 30 days) "good-faith" monies are deposited, inspections take place and are lifted, an appraisal is ordered, renegotiations are argued, addenda bounce back and forth, request for repairs may be issued, title is searched and satisfied, pay-off demands are sent, loan docs are prepared, funding is put into place, homeowner's insurance is ordered, pro-rated property taxes and transfer taxes are assigned, any outstanding liens are retired, a new trust deed is recorded, and ultimately the home successfully transfers ownership. AND all of that happens after a contract has been ratified!
Usually, the transaction takes place without a hitch, but I'd be less than honest if I were to say that it's always smooth sailing - especially in today's go, go, GO marketplace where quite often, the timelines have been shortened from 30 days to 21, or shorter still, to 14. In one ALL-CASH transaction I represented this spring, we closed escrow in just seven days!
From the Buyers' and Sellers' perspectives, that's fantastic news, but with the exception of the loan in these "all-cash" circumstances, the same amount of effort has to take place, and that's frankly, a tremendous amount of work in a very short period of time. Escrow officers, inspectors, loan officers, Brokers, and yes, your local Real Estate Agents, are working around the clock as we try and meet the growing demands. (I'm writing this at 5:00 am in the morning while waiting for a document to be returned that was sent out last night.)
As with parenthood, much of our work (and our support) takes place behind the scenes. In fact, the majority of it does as we try to keep "feelings" out of the transaction to better serve the deal (an almost impossible task given that we are almost ALWAYS dealing with a highly emotional transaction when transferring a home).
So hang in there, like those bright-eyed college graduates, the answers become clear as we move forward with purpose (not to mention some dignity and grace). Remember, if it doesn't serve "the deal" don't do it. The sale of a home is a business transaction, first and foremost. If we keep our eye on the objective, we will usually arrive on time and in good shape (not always, but usually).
In the meantime, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and try to do the "next right thing" even when (especially when) things become challenging. Almost every outcome involves some stumbles and falls along the way, some recalibrating, and some adapting, AND Real Estate is no different. When struggling, I'm often reminding not only my clients, but myself, that ALL issues are surmountable with good intentions and at this stage of the game, I know that to be true. In fact, that's essentially the same advice I gave to my son upon graduating.
Now, go make your mark, honey; the world awaits! (We're so proud!)
"I teach a plein air art class on landscape painting," my Buyer said as we looked at the spectacular bay views,"perhaps you'd like to join us sometime?" "I would," I responded, "but I have a BIG problem." "What's that?" he politely asked. "It's a talent problem," I replied, "as in . . . I have none!" "Talent," he kindly responded, "is highly overrated . . ." (Thank you, I appreciate that.) I'm reminded of this every few years watching our Olympic athletes take center stage as they compete for gold, silver and bronze. No matter the sport, no matter their background, these young men and women have all dedicated countless hours to learning their craft, AND performing under heavy pressure when it really matters. Sure, they may have been born with excellent genes, a predisposition to high endurance, superhuman balance, and above average hand-eye coordination, but even so, they haven't found their way to Sochi by relying on raw talent alone - they've prepared for the world stage by repeating and perfecting their skills over, and over, and over. . . And so goes with any endeavor we pursue - whether we are swinging a bat, arguing in a court of law, or selling Real Estate (which sums up my family in a nutshell). It's the practice and the preparation that makes one excel above another. While it's true that the vast majority of us "simple folk" will never reach the exalted peaks of our extraordinarily gifted Olympic athletes, many of us will aspire for excellence in our own right - both professionally and personally. However (and this is the tough part for many of us to swallow) true excellence cannot be achieved WITHOUT a few tough lessons along the route. In fact, it's the challenges that create real growth and the willingness to risk that propels us forward. Sometimes, you have to just "get into action" and let the chips fall where they may . . . Much closer to home, my beautiful niece, Anna, is looking to "get into action" herself, having just graduated from the University of Washington and seeking to join the work force as a full-fledged adult. And while she's studied both here and abroad over the past several years, she really has no clue as to what it is she'd like to do from this point forward (being a grown-up is a BIG leap from sheltered student). To no one's surprise, a degree in "Art History" is largely theoretical. (Stimulating, but theoretical.) But that's to be expected; college isn't intended to be a trade school; it's about exposure to many disciplines. (Note to our kids, learn to CODE if you want job offers beating down your door upon graduation.) Nevertheless, these well-intentioned, college educated kids are anxious to join the work force and contribute. They're just not exactly sure how to do so. (I've got my own college student graduating in June so I understand the drill all too well.) "Envision the perfect job," my good friend, Lois, an HR director counseled Anna over lunch a few weeks ago. "Realistically assess your strengths and weaknesses, and THEN understand that you're first position will look nothing like it . . . What you're aiming for is an entry point and the opportunity to grow from there." In other words, it's not so much about one's talent, it's about the effort we put it in to it day in and day out. (Work, work, work!) Or as another friend recently reminded me who's spouse has made quite a name for himself at Pixar in Emeryville, "Computer Animation didn't even exist when my husband graduated from college. The company came about with hard work and vision." It's never been more true: there's a world of opportunity for those who work for it. So let's get to work. (Yes, of course we had to segue into Real Estate at some point. You didn't think I'd really let you off the hook; did you?) Whether you are selling or buying this spring, I am here to help and gratefully, I am not alone. With nearly 50 years of local experience, 67 full-time agents and a team of in-house marketers, graphic designers, photographers and Brokers, you'd be hard pressed to find a firm more in step with the East Bay marketplace, or more goal oriented then The GRUBB Co. In short, when you work with one of us, you gain the collective wisdom and experience of us all. (And isn't that nice? Yes, it is.) But don't just take my word for it, we've got market share graphs to prove it and I'd be happy to send them your way. They speak more eloquently than my words ever could (just send me an email request). Hey, let's go for the Gold. (And if anybody's hiring, please let me know! I know a couple of great kids who need jobs.) What's Happening? Rates went down this week as the stock market took a hit over concerns about China's weakening growth. (We live in a global economy!) Whatever the financial news du jour, rates remain historically low meaning that NOW is a great time to buy. (But please check in with your lender, lending criteria has also changed in 2014, making it tougher to qualify.) ARMS (adjustable rate mortgages) are back in play so there are several fantastic options from which to choose, depending on your circumstances and long-range plans.
Aloha, welcome 2014. I hope your holiday break was everything you had hoped for - and more. I spent the first part of mine with my family in Hawaii and the New Year in Phoenix at a the world's most elegant and understated wedding (how refreshing), which means it's time to get back to work to pay for these lovely holiday getaways.
Our scenic vacation in Oahu included long walks along the beach, tennis with my husband, and snorkeling among the reefs, which also meant (alas) that a new swimsuit was in order (sigh . . . ).
"I'm not getting in the water," I complained bitterly to my sister, Jill, over the phone just before boarding the plane. "I look like the whales I plan to be watching." (I'm prone to hyperbole).
You'll get in the ocean," she calmly replied: "ONE, because it's Hawaii and you've worked hard to have time away with your family, TWO, because you'll be swimming with turtles for goodness sakes, and THREE, because our bodies are practically weightless in the water! (I love her so much.)
While I didn't spy any turtles, I did eventually throw vanity to the wind, and donned some flippers and a mask (a ridiculous get-up even for the fittest of Sports Illustrated models) and was met with schools of colorful fish and balmy sea waves. Yes,Virginia, there are still some rewards for being brave, OR as my husband, Cliff, joked while putting on his own swimsuit, "Some clothing is truly 'aspirational' at our age." (I love him even more.)
Homes are 'aspirational' as well. In fact, I think they are the very definition of "aspiration" as I push to complete my long-overdue kitchen and look ahead toward spring for the next 'DIY' project that lies ahead. (Maybe there's a 12-step program for that.)
I was reminded of just how "aspirational" a home can be this week by a Buyer far less experienced than me, but with vision of his own. He had called me out of the blue, having found my site on the Internet (glad to know someone's looking online) and then sent me a long list of opportunities to see - many of which were already pending or had languished for months on the MLS (the Multiple Listing Service).
In truth, he was all over the map, so I kindly suggested that, perhaps, his vision needed a bit of fine tuning. (Okay, I was more blunt than kind; I'll add that to the 'Resolution's' List.) We then met up to tour the area and see several properties that were still available but after a long afternoon together, I'd felt we hadn't really seen anything that met this Buyer's specific "wish list," or would even prove a viable candidate, given our conversations.
That's unfortunately been a pattern as of late, what with too many Buyers and too little inventory to meet their growing demand, let alone their "needs and wants." In truth, we were grasping at straws and sadly, there weren't even any fancy little umbrellas in those glasses.
Mr. Buyer had identified "all-level living" as being high on his priority list and yet, there we were, touring vertical view homes on the ridge!?! This would never do. (Suffice it to say that I felt we were barking up the wrong coconut tree.)
Turns out, I was the one who was wrong. (That wasn't the first time and it certainly won't be the last.) A week later, Mr. Buyer texted me that he'd like to return to one home in particular with an architect in tow . . . (Your wish is my command.) And after working my magic (thank you Ahmad of Tecta Associates; it's good to have friends one can call on at a moment's notice), this very gifted architect identified where an elevator could potentially be placed and better yet, he discovered a Golden Gate view we hadn't yet incorporated into the growing list of possible attributes. Now, the home made much better sense for this successful landscape artist.
Long story, short, I spent New Year's Day writing an aggressive offer and Mr. Buyer is now successfully in contract as a result of following his own instincts and jumping feet first into the waves.
(Honestly, I don't know who's teaching WHO some days . . . )
So be brave and find your inspiration (wherever it lies) and swim beyond the reef. Who knows what's in your future??? Whatever it is (wherever it is) I am here to help - and looking forward to further growth.
Happy New Year and Mahalo; 2014 has started off with a resounding bang.
(PS - if you need help finding your "aspiration," call my friend Ahmad Mohazab, with Tecta Associates. He's very clever!)
Before we dive into 2014, I thought I'd provide a quick overview of last year's sale's results, specifically as it pertains to Piedmont . . . We ended the year of 2013 with a grand total of 107 homes having transferred ownership, which was slightly down from 2012, wherein 130 property changed hands, per the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).
As such, DEMAND was incredibly high for these fewer listings. It follows then, that the average price per sale rose in 2013 to $1,597,701, as compared to $1,475,011 in 2012 - as did the medium, which jumped in equal proportion from $1,367,500 in 2012 to $1,475,000 in 2013*.
The lowest sale of the year came in at $598,000 for a fixer on Rose Avenue, while the highest, was recorded at $4,900,000 for a stunning Mediterranean on King. (For a complete list of home sales, click here.) These figures speak to sales recorded on the MLS only and do not account for any sales sold privately.
As for 2014? All indications speak to another banner year where projections have the market rising another 10-18%! And this isn't just specific to Piedmont, but to most of our communities here in the East Bay, whether you are focused on Alameda, El Cerrito, Berkeley, or here in Piedmont, where I live.
Clearly, if a purchase is on your radar this spring, the sooner, the better.
Historically, our market sees the biggest jump between March and June, levels off somewhere in the summer and declines slightly in the winter months.This year, we had little reprieve in the escalating prices at any point.
Building Community, One Family at a Time . . .
It's hard to believe that today marks my 300th edition of The Piedmont Perspective! (Where has the time gone?) As such, I'm feeling rather nostalgic about the journey we have all taken together.
In essence, I've invited you NOT only into the world of Real Estate these past several years, but into my family's lives as well (often to their great surprise and consternation). Some of you have come and gone, and come back again, to see if there was still something to be said, and more importantly perhaps, to see if the information was still relevant. (It seems to have been; thank you for your timely comments.)
You've followed: baseball and football games, high-school graduations, college admissions, my dog, my kids, my husband, my BOSS, my mother-in-law, my parents, my friends, up-sizing, downsizing, reevaluating, and romance (we've shared a love affair with homes).
With respect to to your insights, you've resonated with teen challenges, household challenges, economic challenges, work challenges, life challenges, all kinds of unexpected challenges, and more happily - their resolutions. In fact, the more personal my stories were, the more likely you were to respond.
You've offered suggestions, contributed ideas and events, and supplied a kind word on more than one occasion. You've referred family, friend, and neighbors and entrusted me with your most intimate journey. Together, we've watched the markets expand, contract, and expand again, as financial institutions collapsed, the stock market fell, and housing prices corrected, only to have the U.S. economy rebound with record growth and renewed faith in the "great American dream" once more.
Whatever lessons I've learned along the way - both personally and professionally - I have hopefully passed along to you, tied up with a bit of humor and empathy, and some timely information for your consideration. In every piece, I have spoken from my heart, but in truth, was probably teaching myself more than I was teaching you with each passing week. Certainly, I was gaining real clarity around the issues we all face, both in life and in real estate!
So this morning while walking the dog, I was wondering exactly what more to say on what feels to be a rather momentous occasion (at least to me, anyway). Adventure, sacrifice, discovery, escape, rivalry, transformation, pursuit, temptation, love . . . they've all found their way into The Perspective with regularity. However, if there's anything I have learned in my MANY years of sales, it is that good marketing requires repetition before it eventually sinks in.
In any case, Buck and I mulled it over as we wound our way through Piedmont at dawn (actually, Buck just looked for tennis balls while I sought to be profound) down into the park, through the redwoods, past the tennis courts, and eventually stopped at Mulberry's Market for a quick refreshment, before attacking the long uphill climb back home ("over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go . . .")
What to say? What to say? WHAT TO SAY?
Hmmm . . . Here goes . . . I love to walk and because I used to jog through the Presidio in San Francisco (in days gone by) and I am entirely comfortable with the up and down topography that forms the Oakland Hills, and Piedmont in particular. Even so, I like to consider myself a "downhill specialist," preferring the easy breath the descent brings, as opposed to the huffing and puffing that takes place coming back UP. (I'm not looking to break a sweat here, I just want to get some exercise, if you please.)
Which strikes me as a metaphor for life, I suppose. Who doesn't prefer the 'easy' instead of the 'difficult'; a 'victory,' as opposed to a 'defeat;' 'glory' instead of 'humility?' (Or put another way, another valuable "life lesson!") Wouldn't be nice if everything just went our way and we never had to break a sweat??? (Yes, I suppose it would.) Wouldn't it be great if our kids, our families, and our clients never knew a moment of discomfort, of loss, of pain? If only we could always run interference on their behalf and provide the perfect answer? (Maybe not.)
While there's still so much to learn, here's what I know to be undeniably true after LOTS of years on the planet, and more than a decade in Real Estate. (Drum roll please . . .)
Each of these unexpected "life lessons" creates an opportunity for growth, for evolution, and for change - and often for the better. Or as Tom Hanks character so perfectly puts it in the movie, A League of Their Own, "If it were easy, everyone would do it. It's the 'tough' that makes it great."
It's the TOUGH that makes it great! Life's not always easy (certainly buying or selling a house is almost NEVER easy) and composing this column week after week, hasn't been particularly easy, but's it's always been a privilege, and a tremendously rewarding and creative journey, for which I am completely grateful.
As I've reached out to you, you've reached back. What I found there was love and laughter, fear and uncertainty, willingness and faith, but above all else, persistence, tenacity, and solutions. As it turn out, those damn hills are the Grand Canyon of life, OR what are hiking boots for anyway, if not to tackle the hills that come our way? (I hope my soon-to-be college grad is listening - I love you Case.)
Thank you ALL for listening. It's been a real honor for me. Here's to the next 300!
(Trivia question: Who plays the lead character in "A League of Their Own?" Complimentary lattes and treats for everyone who responds correctly - or who responds at all, I'm feeling celebratory.)
In honor of Halloween, I like to tell you a VERY spooky story. Before leaving town last summer to visit my college-age son who'd taken a seasonal job in North Dakota (no, that's not the spooky part) I called our long-time insurance company to make a claim for a broken passenger window, only to discover that they had canceled our car insurance (surprise!) back in January.
Say what?!? "Do you mean to say that I've let a teenage boy drive around for months with NO insurance?" I incredulously asked. (It appears so.)
This carrier had not only covered our cars for years, they had also insured our personal residence, thus the cancellation had resulted from a glitch with cross payments between the two accounts - a recurring problem that I erroneously thought I had straightened out several months earlier.
"We'll reinstate you - again," the agent finally conceded,"but we'll have to charge you for the back payments you missed, and add a 'reinstatement fee'" (aka: a penalty).
"I didn't miss them," I curtly replied, "the invoice is on 'auto-pay'. Billing didn't apply them to the correct accounts; that's on you. Why would I now pay for insurance your company hasn't been providing for months?"
And so the conversation devolved . . .
Frustrated, I finally called a competitor and promptly switched carriers on the cars, AND just to teach my old insurer a REAL lesson, I transferred my home owners' insurance policy a few days later . . . Here's where it gets scary. Three weeks after switching to a new insurance company, they canceled ME!
"Your home has large trees on the site, pine needles on the roof, cracks in the driveway, and sits on a down-sloping lot," the letter stated. "For these reasons, your property does NOT meet the underwriter's current insurance guidelines . . ." Huh?
Concerned, I called our new providers to clarify their position. "Listen, you invited me to move over ALL of my insurance needs," I insisted, "and I did. Certainly, you could have asked me about these specific characteristics when we went through the long questionnaire over the phone, BEFORE I cancelled my previous insurance.
"Some things are impossible to know until we see them," the unsympathetic representative nonchalantly replied. "You don't meet our company's criteria. Sorry." (Nightmare on Elm Street!)
"Redwood trees on a property or a down-sloping lot aren't 'impossible' to know," I spit out irritably. "It doesn't take a site visit to ascertain these restrictions and I would have happily supplied full disclosure had you simply asked the questions. In fact, if I'd known these factors would automatically reject our property out of hand, I WOULDN'T HAVE CANCELLED MY INSURANCE POLICY WITH MY PREVIOUS CARRIER!" (Tough luck.)
Now scrambling, I phoned my previous insurer and much more politely suggested they reinstate our insurance, only to be told they wouldn't, unless we installed a security system on the house and paid substantially more. Wow; "Trick" or "Treat?"
What's the moral of this haunting tale? Look before your leap? A bird in the hand? Restraint of pen and tongue? (You tell me.) All I know is . . . this could have been so very frightening.
Unfortunately, home insurance in the state of California IS getting tougher and tougher to come by. It's why I encourage ALL of my Buyers to shop for home insurance immediately once they find themselves in escrow.
Given California's penchant for unpredictable wild fires, earthquakes, landslides and other such natural disasters, securing home insurance has become increasingly difficult, and in some rare cases, nearly impossible to obtain. (Note: If your home carries a mortgage - as most of them do - you CANNOT close escrow without homeowner's insurance lined up, AND even if you have been lucky enough to buy your house in an "ALL-CASH" play, it would simply be foolish NOT to insure this very valuable asset.)
Long story short? I did manage to finally get insurance with a third party via the help of an insurance broker, but I am paying MORE than I used to and I am less than thrilled with the insurance industry as a whole. In fact, I'm rather peeved (both at myself for not understanding the consequences and at insurers for being less than helpful).
In the meantime, Cliff is diligently keeping the pine needles off of our roof, we are exploring bids to repair the cracks in the concrete, and I am holding my breath that another letter isn't heading our way that blames the down-sloping topography as a reason for immediate insurance cancellation. (There's absolutely nothing we can do about the lay of the land.)
Good thing I've got a fresh supply of candy and chocolate to ease the stress.
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.