"This one or that one?" Marta asked.
"Darker or lighter?
"Are you going to outline the tile or make the grout lines invisible?"
And so it went . . .
No, grout isn't the most exciting choice you'll ever make on a remodeling project, but it's significant just the same. More to the point, selecting grout means we are finally moving into the finishing phase of the remodel and that development excites me no end.
That's not to say my family will be moving back in anytime soon, but that the construction from here on out is forward progress we can see as opposed to the not-so-sexy sewer laterals, rough plumbing, and electrical cables that sit behind the walls and under ground. A solid foundation for all of the work to come is essential of course, but there's no thrill in new concrete or steel tie-downs (at least not to this gal who thrives on the visual. My engineer is probably ecstatic. )
I had already done the work of selecting the tiles and my contractor, PJ, had been by the shop to consult on square footage and linear requirements, so now, Jill and I were getting down to the nitty gritty of picking the grout colors for each of the different applications. Considering that Calmar now has four and a half bathrooms and two kitchens between the main house and the apartment downstairs (legal btw!) there really were a lot of design choices to be made . . . a grout box is akin to looking at a box of Crayolas.
Grout doesn't just come in white and beige any longer so it takes a bit of time and intention to get it right. For many people in the remodeling process, this is the part that can literally unhinge them. With so many options (both good and bad) from which to choose, be it grout, tile, stone, lighting, fixtures, faucets, appliances, hardware, windows, doors, wallpaper, etc., etc., etc., the choices are almost endless. (Take heed, a gold sink and trendy tile will cost you more and will undoubtedly age your property quicker. Stick to the classics for timeless design.)
"What color do you want us to stain the floors?" (Walnut.)
"Double-hung or casements windows?" (Both.)
"What color will we be painting the walls?" (I'm undecided.)
"What style of cabinet works best?" (Quaker.)
"Will you be need an ice maker in your fridge?" (Yes!)
It's a TON of decisions to be sure, but it's also great. Of course, the most important decision comes BEFORE you spend the money on tile and grout, on new windows and doors, and on new lighting, it comes when you decide whether or not to remodel in the first place.
If your marriage can withstand a good deal of stress (I'm not kidding about this one), if you are comfortable making quick decisions and adjusting for the unexpected, if you love your neighborhood (and your neighbors), if your location is good, and if your lot is nearly impossible to duplicate, then the answer is emphatically, "YES!"
If, on the other hand, decisions overwhelm you, if you are prone to second guessing yourself (and others!), if the next door neighbor is on you secret "hit list," and if the thought of drywall dust sends you straight to your allergist and screaming into the night, you are probably NOT a very good candidate for a full-scale remodel, in which case, may I kindly show you some replacement properties? (I'm absolutely available by appointment.)
The hard part of the equation really comes in a clear understanding of what it will cost to renovate versus what you will spend to move. In some cases, a move up is going to be cheaper by far than remodeling, while in others, the next step up represents a hurdle too significant to leap. Gone are the days when a $20,000 bump moved you into the next house. Now, it's much more likely that the next rung in the ladder will be in the neighborhood of half a million and your tax base will increase along with it. In both cases, you'll very likely spend more than you thought, OR more than you had budgeted.
That's unfortunately, the nature of the beast. Sharpen your pencils and don't forget to add for the transfer taxes, commissions, moving truck, etc., that a physical move entails, OR the rent you may pay if you need to move out during the course of a remodel. (If I tell you that it's all going to be okay, would you believe me? It is.)
Whatever the decision, the important thing is to make it and then move on to the next. The worst place to be in in limbo. Try to remember, it's a patio light for goodness sakes, not a life or death decision, so pick one and then keep moving forward. If you find yourself paralyzed with fear, hire a designer to help you with the more expensive choices that are exceedingly costly to correct midstream. Paint colors are easily changed while floor tile is not. A good interior designer can save you major bucks in the long run and think of things you may have entirely overlooked (like closets or shower niches).
Anyway, I think you get the point. Here's my final two cents on the subject: anything worth doing, is worth doing well, or you'll likely need to redo the work a couple years down the road. (You really do get what you pay for.)
Hey, gotta run to pick up some sinks in San Carlos; the stone man arrives next week to create the templates for the kitchen counters and I've got some absolutely exquisite Calcutta marble on reserve.
Do you think there's a 12-step program for serial renovators? I just may be addicted!
How can I help you?
"Do you like this wallpaper?" I asked my friend, holding up a sample I had just received in the mail. Ann and I are both in the middle of remodels so we are swapping design opinions on a regular basis and spending more than our fair share of time on sites such as Houzz and Pinterest. (Check them out if you haven't yet discovered them.)
"Umm, where's it going?" she asked.
"The powder room on the main floor."
"No" she said, shaking her head.
Say what? That wasn't the answer I was expecting. What kind of friend is that?
What I really wanted was for her to ooh and aah and tell me it was perfect. Geez, you think I'd have more control over my friend's opinions. (I don't.)
Of course, from a Realtor's perspective, the world is constantly being divided into categories:
Those who like wallpaper and those who do not.
Those who like modern architecture and those who do not.
Those who like pools and those who do not.
Those who like trees and those who do not ( Really? Who doesn't like a tree? Those with pools or views!)
Those who love carpet and those who do not.
And so it goes . . .
Personally, I'm thrilled wallpaper is back in style. My sisters and I all learned to hang wallpaper when we were still in our early teens and there's almost no choice that so dramatically changes a room for so little investment. To this day, I am still installing my own wallpaper and I suspect that I will dig out my brush and blade for Calmar as well. Admittedly, wallpaper should be used sparingly, but in a powder room, it's makes the space a living jewel box.
As much as I respect Ann's opinion, I may have to go my own way on this one. I really, REALLY like wallpaper!
It isn't that I'm right and she's wrong; it's that we disagree and we each have our own opinions. That's perfectly fair, but when it comes to decorating my home, my opinion weighs much more heavily. After all, I'm the one living with my design decisions so I'll have final say, and frankly, that's as it should be.
That's not true for everyone. In fact, there's a fair number of people who really need the opinions, or should I say the permission, of others before they feel comfortable making a choice. As much as Buyers hate the concept of a competitive marketplace and what is essentially become a blind auction, they are often paralyzed in the face of none.
In fact, I'm convinced, that buying a home almost always requires the confirmation of the heard. (We're pack animals when it comes down to it.)
"What's wrong with the house?"
"How come nobody else wants it?"
"Why is it still available?"
These may be legitimate questions, or it may be an opening, depending on your point of view. For those of us in the know, the most significant reason a house sits without an offer is usually the list price paired with unrealistic expectations on the Sellers' part (a lethal combination) so keep an open mind. You may have just found your shot in the dark. Often, an overlooked property can be a real opportunity (OR it can be a real dog) but don't dismiss it offhand without deciding between the two.
Short of overpricing or condition, it may be bad timing, a tough location, poor design choices, or unusual architecture that requires a very specific buyer; in which case, the home IS going to take longer to sell (BTW - home sellers in almost every other state besides New York and California work on the assumption that their home will take MONTHS to sell - not days.)
When it comes to purchasing a home, it's natural to want the opinions of others (and by others I mean you parents, siblings, contractors, friends . . . ), including your REALTOR, but in the end, what we think, isn't nearly as important as what YOU think. Take it from me, deals have been killed with the simple well-intentioned phrase from a friend who simply utters: "What else is out there?"
So if you love the home, the only opinion that should carry any real weight, is your own. (Of course, your spouse should have a vote too; that goes without saying.) If you can afford it, if it fits your needs, if the timing is right and if it makes good sense, give yourself permission to buy it and then invite your friends and family to the housewarming party after you close escrow when they're much more likely to ask. "What can I bring?"
Ah, that's much better. A bottle of wine. Thank you.
How can I help you?
Forget the challenges on Survivor. You know, the ones where the scantily clad contestants have to swim out to a buoy, dive for sunken puzzle pieces, scramble back to the shore while tied to one another, navigate eight million knots, and then solve the jigsaw in order to raise the flag and win immunity for their team?!?
Granted, that's difficult to be sure, but it's got nothing on the challenge of trying to put my 89 year-old mother-in-law's freshly laundered, too tight, white slipcover back on her couch - while she looks on and gives directions!
"The seams aren't lined up correctly," she insists, "they're supposed to run straight across the front."
"It's pooling right there, try and smooth that wrinkle out on the arm."
"My cleaner in San Rafael would have done a better job."
"My housekeeper could whip these on in a minute and a half. She never had any trouble . . ."
And so it went until at long last, the job was completed to her satisfaction. For a gal with cataracts, she sure sees A LOT!
Hey, where's the "slip" in slipcover anyway?
My sister, Jill, and I pulled, pushed, prodded and manipulated those damn cushion covers (and their seams) into place for nearly 40 minutes before all was right with the world. Not since wrestling with a wet suit that was two sizes too small, have I experienced anything so difficult to squeeze into. (Actually, getting the wetsuit OFF after the dive was just as bad, but I was in my 20s back then and had more stamina.) In other words, it wasn't easy. But whether its a slipcover or something more daunting, there are persistant household chores that need attention on a regular basis. Following are just a few action items to keep in mind as you look around the house. Granted, these seem like no brainers, but it's precisely because they are "no brainers," that they are often overlooked and taken for granted as if they'll somehow get accomplished on their own. (They won't.)
1) Let's just start with light bulbs. If your house has grown dark, it may be as simple as burned-out bulbs. Replace with new energy efficient ones and they'll have a much longer life and you'll need to pull out the ladder less frequently.
2) Change the filters twice a year in your HVAC system. Some people never change these and as the air in your home is filtering though them, it's a task that's not only well worth your time but significantly improves the air quality of your home. This really is a "no brainer."
3) Change the batteries in your smoke and CO detectors annually - unless you now have the new 10-year detectors.
4) Clear the gutter of debris at least once a year. You'll need to do this more often if you have large trees above your roof line as I do.
5) Power wash pathways and exterior surfaces as needed. Bricks, especially, can become mossy and slick over the winter and slippery pathways are dangerous!
6) Wash windows inside and out. Nothing feels as fresh as sparkling windows. Frankly, I'd do this quarterly if the budget allows.
7) Caulk cracks in and around the shower as they appear. Water does more damage than anything else to a house. Small cracks in the grout can add up to thousands in repairs left unattended. This is a classic example of how an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
8) Touch up and paint as needed. Hallways really should be repainted every few years as they take the heaviest beating but painting a room is very affordable and delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
9) Remove dead plants and mulch beds in the fall and spring. Few chores are as rewarding as the garden which gives back in spades with new growth and colorful blooms and mulch is the botox of the garden!
10) Vacuum out the lint in your dryer vent. This is the number one cause of home fires in America.
11) Purge your closets and donate any unused, unworn or unwanted items so that clutter doesn't begin to rule your home. Anything your children have outgrown can find better use elsewhere.
12) Consider a pest or home inspection on a tri-annual basis. If you catch small problems early on, they won't become BIG, unwelcome surprises later on.
AND if you really want to get your "TO DO" list accomplished, throw a party and hire a handyman prior to the big date. We've become so specialized that these fairly basic chores aren't so basic for many people (like my husband) but trust me, nothing gets you moving quite as quickly as inviting guests over, and believe me, a good handyman is cheaper than a marriage counselor by far!
So short of wrestling with your slipcovers, how can I help you?
"These are the rocks of King Herod," Lior our Israeli guide pointed out.' "They're distinguishable by their large size and shape . . ." With all due respect to the painstaking and labor intensive process of uncovering and preserving past civilizations, AND at the risk of sounding terribly sacrilegious, one rock pretty much looks like another to my untrained eyes (no matter how sacred) whether it's from the Byzantine era or the Ottoman (but maybe that's just me).
Having just returned from the "Holy Land," I can tell you that Jericho is the oldest continually occupied city in the world, dating back more than 8,000 years (give or take a few) so no matter where you look in these walled cities, there's something of historical significance to see - and ALL of it matters; wars have been waged over these sacred sites.
Moreover, Israel, is essentially one large mass of limestone, meaning there's no shortage of "sacred" ruins to explore. In fact, like modern day Legos, these chiseled blocks were constantly being reused every 600-700 years as one monument was destroyed, only to be replaced by another. Given the massive weight of these stones, it only made good sense to leave them put.
Along with aqueducts, recycling was invented by these early builders long ago. I'd wager that there are more churches, mosques, and synagogues in Jerusalem than in other place on earth. Dubbed the "Land of the Bible," Jerusalem is not only the place where Christianity was born, but where Judaism and Islam took root, so when visiting this small nation, one gets a much better sense of what and why these rocks are so darn significant and as importantly, why, thousands of years later, they remain very much so.
"What's holy, remains holy, " Lior patiently explained to our group and by "group," I mean "me." I was touring with some intellectual heavyweights who had done their homework prior to boarding the plane. Luckily, you don't have to be Indiana Jones to understand that even back then, Real Estate played an important role in the life of its inhabitants - and still does . . .
When archaeologist and geologist dig, they don't just uncover one site, but often, several generations (those crusaders weren't kidding around with their pillaging and what not . . .). While I don't profess to be a religious scholar by any means, renovations are something I know a thing or two about. (Now you're talking my language.) So how's mine coming along you ask? In a word - S L O W L Y!
Like the Romans, Cliff and I might have been better off leveling the place and starting from scratch. Certainly, it would have been easier in many respects and I suspect, less expensive as well, but we wouldn't have honored the home and that's important to us both. As it turns outs, we're preservationists.
So what have I learned through my half dozen renovations and home improvement projects that might be of importance to you?
1) Renovating is always more expensive than you think and takes longer than you thought so leave room in the budget for some flexibility AND be ready to make some compromises along the way. Staying anywhere close to your budget is largely going to be a matter of compromise and staying sane - a matter of patience.
2) The more ambitious the project, the more likely unwelcome surprises are going to manifest. While unwelcome to be sure, roll with the punches. It's too late to go back so the only way through, is forward. Onward, there will eventually be a light at the end of the tunnel. (I promise.)
3) A reliable, trustworthy contractor is worth his weight in gold so select your team carefully. Not only will you be spending an inordinate amount of time together, when it comes to construction, you truly get what you pay for. Like good lawyers, you're not necessarily looking for the cheapest bargain in town. Experience typically costs. Do the work correctly the first time and you shouldn't need a second pass for many years to come.
4) Demo happens quickly, the rebuilding takes quite a while. Don't let those first few weeks set unrealistic expectations for the timeline. You won't actually see real forward momentum until the foundations, rough plumbing, HVAC system, and new electrical gets put into place. "Form follows function" is absolutely true with respect to home improvements.
5) Remodeling is a mess! There's no way around this. If you have to live through it, prayer (or drink) may be in order. If you have another place to stay, do so and come back after the painting has been applied and the floors have been finished. The drywall dust alone is worth the inconvenience of moving twice.
6) Renovations require 1001 decisions. From where to hang lights, to the selection of stone, tile, cabinets, flooring, windows, knobs, etc., etc., etc., it can all be a bit overwhelming. If you aren't working with a professional designer (and yes, they can save you thousands of dollars in mistakes so consider a designer as part of your team) you'll need to learn the art of decision making in short order. If quick decisions aren't your forte, consider selling and buying a "turn-key"property instead.
7) Establish a design theme and stick with it throughout the house. Don't make the mistake of thinking every room needs to be different. Schizophrenic homes are unnerving and they don't necessarily add value; they detract. While there's too many interesting finishes from which to choose, let your home's architecture guide your choices. An ultra modern kitchen in a turn-of-the-century home is going to look out of place, just as old-world finishes are going to chafe in an uber contemporary residence.
8) Don't scrimp on lighting or windows. If your home doesn't have a natural abundance of light, add it through smart placement of recessed lighting, sconces, chandeliers, new windows and skylights. Good lighting reaps its own rewards, but also overcomes the objections of any future buyers who typically respond to the desire for "good light." Light ranks at the top of the list for most home buyers.
9) Ditto for exterior landscaping. While it's tough to come up with the extra money for outside improvements once the interior renovation has broken the budget, excellent curb appeal should never be underestimated. If you haven't the dollars to do the work this year, budget it for next. The first impression of your home happens from the curb.
10) Even if you think this if your "forever" home, chances are it isn't. While you may choose to have a black toilet and metallic tiles; it's unlikely that the next owner will appreciate these design elements the same way. The "classics" are classic for a reason. Make timeless choices, and you'll be much better served in the end.
11) Finally what we can't see in the renovation is undoubtedly more important than what we can, but it won't necessarily reap large financial dividends (sorry). New sewer laterals aren't necessarily sexy and they certainly aren't visible, but they're important nonetheless, and honestly, there's no point in creating a masterpiece up top if the home is sitting on crumbling foundation down below. Get the basics in order first and then address the aesthetics. That way, your home will still be standing for generations to come.
Jet lagged, but certainly wiser for wear, I'm home and ready to "rock" and roll.
How can I help you? (P.S. -You can follow my ongoing renovation on my new Blog: Renovation Riptide. I invite your comments and stories. )
My mother has never looked better. For a woman in her eighties (sorry to spill the beans, mom) it's amazing how tall and beautifully she stands, as opposed to my dad, who's gotten smaller - and shorter - with age (sorry Harry). Looking at them side by side, I'm filled with hope that I've inherited my mother's excellent genes and I can look forward to my golden years with as much poise and elegance as she possesses. (Her mother stood tall as well.)
"Mom, you look fantastic," I commented a few weeks ago while we were out to lunch.
"Thank you," she replied. "My mother always said you needn't be the best looking person in the room, but you should enter the world with 'presence'." (I'm sure grandma meant that as a compliment.)
In other words, "stand up straight!"
She's right of course. How we present ourselves is everything as first impressions are made in the blink of an eye.
That's true of homes as well as more and more Buyers begin their search on the Internet. In fact, more than 93% of new home buyers comb the Internet with regularity and who can blame them? Sites like Trulia, Realtor.com, Zillow, Redfin and our own beautiful Grubbco.com have never made the search easier. In essence, you want your home to stand up straight and tall, especially when compared to others.
In addition to the typical 'still' photos we typically view online, the newest cameras can capture our listings in 360 degrees formats that virtually allow interested Buyers to walk through the floor plan from attic to basement; a recent and astonishing technology that is going to have a HUGE impact on the way we market homes moving forward. It's a game changer for sure, so from where I sit, getting ready to sell can't begin too soon.
Recently, I've been asked to weigh in with several potential Sellers as to the improvements that should be undertaken in the next year or two before they bring their homes to market. It speaks volumes about the sophistication of Bay Area homeowners that they are thinking and planning months and sometimes, years ahead - and so they should. (BTW - I love these calls so don't be afraid to ask.) With medium price home in San Francisco now hovering around $1,000,000, buying or selling a home is a high stakes game! And no one wants to be on the losing end of that equation.
If we assume that the market isn't always going to fall in favor of the Seller (a safe assumption as ALL markets correct over time) then it behooves us to think proactively about how to present our homes in their best light, regardless of the economic climate.
Or put another way, if a move is in your future (even if it's several years away) it's highly beneficial to start thinking about what changes you should be planning for in today's world, in order to get top dollar in tomorrow's. As an added bonus, if you are likely to do the work when it comes time to sell, why not do it now and enjoy some of the benefits while you still live in the home?
On the top of my hit list:
That's enough for today. I've got two homes coming to market this weekend and my assistant, Jill, and I are busy planting pots for the entry way. Why? These little details make a BIG difference when presenting your home to the world - especially in photographs. If I've only got a few seconds to catch a Buyer's attention on the Internet or at a drive by, I better leave no stone unturned. As I've learned from watching my mother, "presence" counts!
How can I help you?
(P.S. -You can follow my ongoing renovation on my new Blog: Renovation Riptide. I invite your comments and stories. )
I wandered the aisles at the supermarket last evening trying to come up with a last- minute dinner plan and finally stopped at the meat counter looking for inspiration. (Admittedly, "last-minute plans" typically aren't the best way to proceed.)
"Can I help you?" the butcher politely asked.
"Yes," I smartly replied. "You can come home with me and cook dinner!"
Left to my own devices, I would rather have popcorn, so I'm truly in awe of my friends who cannot only cook with ease, but can whip up a sauce and literally throw dinner together with little more than a chicken breast and whatever is available in their well-stocked pantries. (As if!) For me,"DINNER" is a four-letter word.
Still, I can't exactly argue with any meal that provides my family the opportunity to reconnect,if only for a few moments each day. Every parent can attest to the fact that as our children age, they are home less often, lured away by friends, sports, practices, part-time jobs, and school activities (usually in that order).
So while I don't entirely disagree with the concept of "dinner" per se, I'll be the first to confess that I'd rather do without. In fact, when it comes to dinners, I find the whole process nearly overwhelming. (What's so wrong with waffles for dinner?)
Unfortunately "overwhelmed" is the word most often used by many home Buyers facing the gauntlet of purchasing in today's current climate. Not only will Buyers be competing in what is certainly the most aggressive marketplace in more than a decade, they'll very likely need to establish credit as well. (And you thought finding the house was challenging.)
While lending institutions have certainly rebounded from the startling 2008 meltdown, the lending requirements post 2008 have remained incredibly restrictive at best, leaving many to wonder, "where do I begin?" (At the beginning, of course!)
So here's the skinny . . .
There's money to be had and at historically low-interest rates to be sure, but unless your credit history is well established, your FICO scores are above reproach, you have ample assets for the down payment, AND you can trace your income to the penny, you may find that borrowing the necessary funds is a bit of an uphill battle - especially if it's JUMBO dollars you seek. ("Jumbo loans" are defined as loans greater than $625,500.) And by "an uphill battle," what I really mean is: "a pain in the you know what!"
That isn't to say that banks don't want your business (they do) and to be fair, most loan officers are exceptionally good at their trade, but when seeking a loan, DO be prepared to turn over your entire financial history - and your first born as well. (You've probably got one you wouldn't mind trading anyway.) All kidding aside, with the exception of a root canal, there may be nothing quite as probing as applying for a loan - OR more painful.
"Julie, we'll need your and Cliff's last two year's tax returns," my loan officer requested. "A W-2 from your employers, a Profit & Loss Statement from each of you, your retirement accounts, your financial portfolio, signed affidavits, these 15 forms filled out right away, and oh, can you please explain that $30 mystery deposit from six months ago? (Uh, no I can't.)
Holy smokes, Batman!
My best advice? Select your lender as carefully as you choose your Realtor (I have some excellent recommendations) and then follow their orders and supply the documents they require in order to supply the necessary funds. (Remember, they are actually on your side.) Nobody wants to make your life miserable, but make no mistake, you'll EARN every dollar you request. Once more, without a pre-approval letter you won't even be in the game should you find the dream home you seek. In this market, you absolutely need a reliable lender, so don't put this off.
But why make it so tough?
That's an excellent question. The reality is that lenders have strict guidelines they must adhere to - especially in the wake of 2008 - and to be fair, all this paperwork and inconvenience IS having the intended effect of protecting the final investment . . . the equity in your home. Thus, those who DO qualify are far more likely to actually pay back their loans, and that (coupled with plethora of "ALL CASH" purchases) means we are far less likely to see the flood of foreclosures and dramatic value drops the market experienced not so very long ago. (Oh, that makes sense and 'cents.'.)
Moreover, because jumbo loans aren't government backed (as are conventional loans) each lender may have a different set of criteria to be met before final approval is granted. In other words, acquiring a jumbo loan can be bit of a moving target.
To further complicate the equation, where one institution will easily grant an exception, another will turn you down flat. (Ouch.) Finally, because underwriters are actual human beings (at least that's what they tell us) the underwriters themselves will ultimately judge the credit worthiness of an applicant, meaning that even within the same institution, each individual underwriter may have their own unique set of rules.
Oh brother! (I couldn't agree more.)
Like all things, the list of requests are best met by putting one foot in front of the other. (Not by exasperation; I tried that and it doesn't work, believe me.) With rates hovering between 3.625 and 4.250, it's well worth your time and energy to dig through your files. With pre-approval in hand, you'll be ready to attack the market with vigor AND you'll be in a position to win.
As a bonus, you may be so busy rifling through last year's bank statements, you'll have to order in pizza. (Finally, the silver lining!)
How can I help you?
(P.S. -You can follow my ongoing renovation on my new Blog: Renovation Riptide. I invite your comments and stories. )
"Now that the ceiling is open, can we remove those struts and square off the ceiling to capture more height?" I asked.
"Yes, you can," my architect, Ahmad, explained. "In fact, I like the idea very much."
At which point we turned to our contractor, PJ, who affirmed that the struts were purely ornamental.
"Great, let's do it then," Cliff and I agreed.
There's nothing quite as startling as seeing your home deconstructed (that's not bomb damage folks, it's demolition) but it does give you and your team the opportunity to see the "bones" of the house and to make changes early in the process.
Interestingly, the bones of our house look a lot like an upside down ship's hull. There are rounded corners and coved ceilings in many of the rooms, which add to the overall charm and elegance, but unfortunately, shorten the ceiling height considerably.
Moreover, coved ceilings - while pretty - make for an absence of square angles. As this room is set to be Cliff's new study, the plan is to add bookshelves, thus the coved ceilings are problematic. On the other hand, I wouldn't dream of removing this lovely design detail in the hallway where it makes a dramatic entry even more so.
Since the house is all but down to the studs, now IS is the appropriate time to make such changes. Once PJ's crew begins framing, I suspect there will be a few more change orders in store for us (and by us, I mean him) as well.
Renovations are like that. Sometimes what makes sense on paper, doesn't necessarily work once the walls begin to go up and are put into place.
"Hmmm, I thought there would be more room in the hall closet."
"Can we move the washer and dryer over here instead?"
"What about if we . . ."
At our last house, we moved a bedroom wall a foot and a half after framing to make the two bedrooms more equitable in size; a decision that ultimately made better sense, but did add additional expense to the job. (It was worth it.) It's not something we noticed on the blueprints, but once the framing was in place, there was no question but to adjust the dimensions.
I'm expecting a similar journey with the Calmar house but on a much larger scale. We had pursued the purchase thinking we would simply redo the bathrooms and kitchen, add a downstairs apartment and live through construction. Voila!
Uhhh, maybe not. Once we moved in, it was clear we couldn't stay (nothing functioned properly) and when a second sewer lateral was discovered only after it backed up into the basement, that was our cue to beat a hasty retreat and abandon ship. "Abort, abort, ABORT!"
I feel a little like "Alice" in Wonderland as she fell down the rabbit hole. The house now has doors that open up to nothing and staircases that lead to nowhere. (That's ALL going to change.) As luck would have it, the job has morphed into a reinvention, instead of a renovation. Still, now that we are squarely underway, there's nothing to do but embrace the change. Or as Alice was fond of saying, "Curious and curiouser."
I realize now that the other five renovation projects Cliff and I undertook over the past 25 years were merely warm-ups to what I hope, will be our final renovation (but in all likelihood, won't be). It's inevitable that as homes get older, they are going to need some updating.
BTW - "change orders" typically add to the expense of your project, so DO get a sense of what those changes are going to cost upfront so as to avoid unwelcome surprises when you are billed for them later on. Your contractor has bid on the project - as presented; therefore, if you show up on a daily basis to question the process and ask for "changes," be prepared to pony up!
Removing a few ornamental studs from the framing should be a nominal expense while removing an entire chimney will cost much more, so if you are on a tight budget, consider what trade-offs you are willing to make to cover the additional work. Whatever your projected costs, DO pad the budget by 15% to absorb the unexpected along the way - some of which you'll naturally create because you can (and will) and others due to discovery when opening the walls on site.
Finally, I'm often asked, "Should we renovate or move?" In our case, Cliff and I did both simultaneously, which is a story for another column and another day, but the short answer is: "It depends."
If you enjoy making a million and one decisions, if you have the wherewithal, if your marriage is sound (I mean really sound), if you can roll with the punches, if you love your neighbors and the street on which your current home resides, if your lot is virtually irreplaceable, and IF you enjoy the process of rebirth - than yes, you should renovate your current home.
On the other hand, if you hate the upheaval, can't live with the mess, don't like workmen in your home on a daily basis, will go ten rounds with your mate over every decision, and will wonder half way through why you ever began this horrific remodel (?!?), then please let me help you find a replacement home. From my experience, it is actually less expensive to buy UP in many cases, than it is to renovate and stay put (although your tax base is likely to increase so there is THAT to consider).
Whatever the journey, I'm here to guide you along the way.
How can I help you?
(PS - You can follow my renovation escapades, missteps and misfortunes at www.renovationriptide.com . It's full of "oh wow" photos and "OMG" moments. Or put another way: What can you do when you live in a zoo? It's going to be great when it's completed. At least that's what I keep telling myself!)
Ever notice that when a piece of mail arrives that says: "Important Document Inside," it rarely ever is?
Instead, it's some unwelcome credit card you never requested, OR even worse, a search offer for documents already safely stowed away in the bank deposit box.
With respect to Real Estate, there's so much boiler plated paperwork now generated with each and every transaction that it's often hard for Buyers and Sellers to identify what's truly important from what is NOT . . .
Unfortunately, between the pound of flesh exacted, and the heavy stack of disclosures and reports that are now required in today's more litigious world, who can blame the consumer for wanting to ignore it all? (Please don't.) And for added aggravation, what's with the redundancies and outrageous disclaimers Sellers and Buyers will never realistically come up against?
A Tsunami disclosure? Really? That makes no sense.
"I haven't sold a property in 25 years," my lovely Seller said in exasperation. "Why do I need all this stuff?"
Ahhh, good question, grasshopper.
This "stuff" is designed to protect you. Disclosure and investigation is the Real Estate Industry's attempt at providing clarity upfront as to a home's inherent defects and flaws, thus avoiding unwelcome surprises later on. So while time consuming and frustrating (to say the least) I am going to politely encourage you to tackle the job, read the disclosures thoroughly, and then answer the questions to the best of your ability. It's worth the effort to be thoughtful about your answers and diligent in your research.
Perhaps the most important documentation among the reports, AND home inspections, AND seller questionnaires, AND transfer disclosures statements, is the permit history. (Bonus points for those who have closed out all their open permits.) This is where the story of your house lives and yes, it matters!
Recently I went on a listing appointment where the elderly Seller - a retired contractor of all things - sheepishly admitted that "No one actually ever finals a permit, do they?"
Why yes, they do.
Moreover, they should and here's why: permits that are initially opened, but never closed run into the unfortunate position of needing to be "finaled" prior to the sale of the home, OR alternatively, of disclosing that the work was done "without permits." (Ouch.)
As you might guess, retroactively closing a permit requires the seller to meet today's current codes - as opposed to the year the improvements were actually undertaken. (In Piedmont, this might include ripping out a perfectly good deck, second kitchen, or full bathroom. Oops!)
Warning Will Robinson!
This nagging task may not be so difficult to accomplish if you put in a snazzy new bathroom just last April, but if you put one in ten years ago, it's very likely that the powder room you thought was "up to code," no longer is. In fact, it's almost a given that it is NOT. A finaled permit freezes the requirements to a specific date in time.
Moreover, rooms that were added with no permits can't be counted in the advertised square footage and that can lead to a significant disconnect for prospective Buyers, not to mention a hefty discount in price. Appraisers don't give the same value to "nonpermitted" or "nonconforming" spaces as they assign to "legal " additions and improvements - no matter how seamlessly they blend in.
As you might surmise, building codes only become more stringent over time - never less - so when contemplating renovations on your home, check with the local building statutes, pull a permit IF required (cosmetic fixes such as new paint often don't require a permit, while anything involving new electrical or plumbing components, exterior windows and doors, or changes to the facade almost always do) and THEN have the improvements signed off on once the work is completed.
Important! Keep a copy of the permit history, the job card, and the receipts for future reference. (You'll absolutely thank me when it comes time to sell.) Receipts allow a Seller to itemize a property's improvements so that the net proceeds aren't as heavily taxed should you realize a healthy profit.
For the record, a single Seller may take a non-taxable gain of $250,000 on the sale of a primary residence, while a married couple can receive as much as $500,000 in tax-free gains. (That's not chump change!) However, you can bet Uncle Sam is going to want to see some proof that you did the work you claim, and that it actually cost what you reported. In other words, you can't just make this stuff up; you'll need the paperwork to support the higher basis. (Please check with your CPA or tax advisor for more information.)
Finally, even if you claim your "nonpermitted" home improvements meet current codes, the cost in perception for the suspicious Buyer is infinitely more expensive than the permit would ever have been. In my experience, this is when a prospective Buyer turns to me and says, "Well if they didn't get a permit for this, what else are they covering up?" When it comes to your home, don't be penny wise and pound foolish.
Without the report card (aka: 'permit history') there's an inherent bias that something is amiss; that somehow corners were cut; (even when they weren't); that the Seller is trying to pull a "fast one." (Not you, of course. I know you meant no harm.)
The moral of the story?
If home improvements are high on your list, do so with the building department's seal of approval. Yes, I know planning departments can be a pain in the you-know-what, and your neighbor's objections may be a whole other story best suited for the therapist's sofa, but it's far worse to begin a job only to have the uninvited inspector show up and plop down a "Cease and Desist Order" that not only stops the project in its tracks,but levies heavy fines to boot. A building permit is worth the extra time, trouble, and expense. In fact, it's gold.
Trust me on this one. It's IMPORTANT!
How can I help you?
Sing it with me: "It's a hard knock life for us, it's a hard knock life for us . . . " Say what? The moving truck arrived (once more?!?) last Friday and we loaded the basics and headed to our temporary quarters on Echo, off Piedmont Avenue (the broken sewer pipe in the basement was the last straw).
Cliff, Tristan and I will probably camp out here for the next several months while construction gets underway on Calmar Avenue. The rest of our items have gone into storage and probably should be donated altogether, but that's another story for another column, and a job for another day (I'm beat).
Although our current space is much smaller than our last home, I couldn't be more thrilled to have a working shower once again and to be able to walk to restaurants and the theatre. I'm discovering that it's an incredibly convenient trade off, as is the ease of compact living.
It's also a sweet respite from the funk we've been living in the past several months and the unnecessary stress that has been endured by the entire family. After half a dozen remodels, you would think I would have known better.
You would think . . .
In hindsight, this should have been our move from the start; as it turns out, the renovation is just too ambitious a project and there's virtually NO room that will be left untouched once we begin. Between you and me, I'm too (a) neurotic (b) OCDC (c) impatient (take your pick - they all apply) to live in chaos (been there, done that). Sooo I guess the big take away is to look ahead and then plan appropriately.
Given that Sellers have one last opportunity in the Fall Market to sell before the holidays set in and the market softens, as is typical this time of year (no one likes to move between Thanksgiving and Christmas), I'm speculating that unless your home is already headed to the marketplace, you may be looking at NEXT spring to sell and that's exactly what you should be doing as you plan ahead.
Moreover, you should be interviewing Realtors now to help you achieve this all important goal. While there's always a good deal of blood, sweat and tears involved with any move - no matter the circumstances - the best advice I can give you is to roll up your sleeves and get to work well ahead of your projected sales date.
Having just been a Seller myself, I can speak on this topic with some authority. In fact, the smartest thing I may have done last year (besides hiring a GRUBB agent to co-list our house) was to prepare our home early so that the property was completely ready when the Spring Market bloomed. (No, Christmas vacation is NOT too soon and it has the added benefit of allowing your college-age kids to sort out their belongings while they are on break.)
Because of the unseasonably sunny weather last January and February (aka: the "drought") the spring market arrived earlier than expected and with a few final touch ups, we were set to go. As a result, our sale on Littlewood Drive had a nearly unprecedented result. In short, we weren't chasing the market - the market was chasing us (!) and how sweet is that? (Very.)
Unfortunately, far too many Sellers wait to see what the marketplace is doing before jumping in (along with the rest of the crowd). This not only makes for a very stressful couple of weeks of scrambling, but it also changes the dynamics substantially when you are competing with many other 'like-kind' homes in the neighborhood.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
- Thomas Edison
Or put another way, "What are you waiting for?" Anticipation and preparation are everything when it comes to attaining top dollar for your home. So once again: here's my Top 10 To Do List for those of you with a move in your future (whether it's sooner OR later) . . .
Oh, and you needn't navigate this list alone - assisting you is part and parcel of my services. In other words, that's what I'm here for!
How can I help you? (I'm setting my Spring calendar now.)
Trivia Time: From what musical is the first line of this essay? Lattes at Mulberry's for those who respond.
"You were totally on my mind," the card read, "until I started thinking about bacon." OR as my friend, Mavis (typically, a STRICT a vegetarian) says whenever she orders a BLT, "Bacon doesn't count; it's a condiment!" Ahhh, the things we tell ourselves. . . This is especially true of our homes and the value we place upon them, AS IN:: "I know my neighbor's home sold for 'X,' but mine is in better shape, more special, and has more style . . .". That may be so, but it doesn't necessarily follow that whatever improvements you have made to your home will directly translate to what others are willing to pay to own it. In fact, it's the nature of Home Buyers to poke holes in every property they see as they begin to move you out - and them in. So it's not just that Buyers are being hypercritical, it's truly (for better or worse), part of the process . . . "I don't like the color on the walls." "What were they thinking putting beige carpet in the bedrooms?" "Oooh, I hate the wallpaper." And so it goes . . . the list of cosmetic complaints can be as varied as the people coming to view the home. (It's why we ask Home Sellers to leave whenever the house is being shown. Trust me, you don't want to be there.)
As your Realtor, it's my job to point out to prospective Buyers that these elements can all be easily changed. True, some cosmetic changes and improvements are more expensive than others, but on the whole, most of a prospective Buyer's concerns are easily addressed with a good contractor and minimal fuss and expense. *On the other hand, moving walls and adding on to a home are much BIGGER challenges that may require not only an architect, but often, design review as well . . . so don't confuse the two.
Still, even "turn key" homes are rarely, "turn key." What's perceived as a plus for you, such as wall-to-wall carpet, may prove a stumbling block for someone else with dogs. That pool you love? It may be insurmountable for a family with young children. And granite countertops, while typically a good choice, may in fact, be off-putting if the new Buyer has their heart set on carrara marble instead. In other words, our choices are OUR choices - and don't necessarily translate into higher dollars when it comes time to sell. But let's just concede for argument's sake that your home is more special, in better shape, and worth more than your neighbor's house that just sold down the street (mine is). Even so, I'm still going to recommend that you price it appropriately and let the market carry it UP! Why? Because, strategically, it's nearly impossible to underprice a home, but it's almost fatal to overprice it. Today's buying public has never been more keenly educated on market values thanks to the Internet and they'll come in droves if your house is perceived as an excellent value, while conversely, Buyers will stay away if it is perceived as overpriced - even in an overheated marketplace. "But won't I get more if I start higher?" Not in my experience. Overpriced properties tend to languish on the marketplace and end up chasing the market DOWN . . . and that's a very tough road as you correct the price until it finally finds its sweet spot. This is especially true for multi-million dollar homes, that quite honestly, can be difficult to price. While square footage of both the house and the property are important factors, it's the "emotional component" that really drives the success of a sale. Which is why some charming, smaller homes often factor out for MORE money per square foot than do the mansions on Sea View or Glen View. Finally, given that every home in Piedmont is unique and special (there's nothing cookie cutter about our community), pricing is truly a subjective art for every agent - no matter the years in the game. Sometimes we get is right and sometimes we don't. BUT if you believe in your home (as I do) have a little faith; the market will deliver, especially with too little inventory and unprecedented Buyer demand. What I'm really saying is don't get hung up on the starting point when it's the finish line we are working towards. Hey, that's just my two cents for what's it worth. Not everyone agrees and they are entitled to their opinion. In the end, I work for you and I will price the home to meet your objectives (within reason). However, your objectives shouldn't be a moving target, so let's clarify them upfront and then work to bring home the bacon. Which brings me back to my original premise; when it comes to BLT's (and home sales), let's just agree that it's all about the bacon! I don't care what you tell yourself - that's non-negotiable. What's Happening? *HEADS UP! Please note that a new ordinance is in place with respect to home improvements that I suspect has much to do with the drought California has been experiencing these past few years. As of January 1, 2014, California Civil Code Section 1101.4(a) mandates that when remodeling or making improvements on your home, ALL nonconforming fixtures must be converted to low flow, conforming faucets, showerheads and toilets BEFORE a certificate of occupancy or a finaled permit will be issued! Say what? In other words, minor home repairs may just trigger more expense than you previously thought with respect to any nonconforming fixtures in other rooms. How broadly this new ordinance is applied with respect to "improvements," is anybody's guess. (Is a replaced water heater enough to kick off this requirement? How about a new roof?) While each city's planning department may ultimately decide to enforce this rule subjectively, DO expect that if a permit is involved, this ordinance will very likely come into play. Unfortunately, the scope is rather large and the wording rather vague. (Don't you hate that?) Yes, I do.
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.