It's 5 am and I'm awake again. (The older I get, the earlier I rise.) Admittedly, there's been a lot on my mind what with an active Spring Market and the pressure that invariably brings, so sleep is a commodity of which I am in short supply. With too little inventory from which to choose, the expectations from both Buyers and Sellers have never been more demanding. As a result, we are all feeling varying degrees of concern, worry, and sleeplessness.
It's no surprise that Buyers feel frustrated and confused in a rapidly-rising marketplace (you're not alone), but Realtors are often feeling the same as we struggle to guide you in an appropriate fashion as to where to write on the property you've just fallen in love with. We know you'll be in heavy competition, but where the other interested parties will write is anybody's guess. Moreover, there's no clear-cut pattern as to where a house will sell or how we get to the"winning number," which, often, becomes a moving target as we get closer to the offer date and Sellers adjust their expectations (always UP!). Welcome to a "Sellers' Market."
Perhaps more surprising, Sellers also feel highly anxious about where their properties will trade. Of course they can't help comparing their home to the house down the street that just sold ("Ours is better.") and often set aside, or altogether ignore, the differences in style or defects in condition: a small lot, a roof that needs replacing, a busy street, an outdated kitchen, a foundation that is crumbling, etc., etc., etc... These shortcomings are difficult to overlook for the average Buyer, no matter how emotionally appealing we prep your home with trending paint colors, catalog-worthy staging and inviting landscaping. So while I cautiously advise my Sellers to please temper their expectations, the heady news of each subsequent sale in town can make for tense negotiations and realistic expectations nearly impossible to maintain.
Yes, we'll look at nearby competition, market trends, price per square foot, and the most recent sales, but in the end, the property will sell to the Buyer who definitively steps up and offers the most money for it! Multiple offers are never won in a "photo finish." Write with the intention of nudging out the next party by a few thousand dollars and you'll find yourself in a "multiple counter" situation which is best avoided, whenever possible.
In truth, selecting the number to write is more gut intuition than plain science; thus the "art" of selling (and why experience is often the best teacher). When it comes down to push and shove, you'll have to decide what you are willing to spend in competition, and more importantly, what you aren't. In other words at what price have your reached the tipping point wherein you are comfortable walking away and conceding the win - without second guessing your decision!
That's often easier said than done. Looking back and wondering what you might have done differently is an easy trap in which to find ourselves. I'm as guilty as the next person in doing so, but it's never productive to live in "what ifs?" (As an aside, it doesn't hurt to listen to your agent's recommendations whether buying or selling. We make our living trading homes so we typically have a pretty good beat on what it's going to take to successfully get the job done and meet your high expectations.) In an uncertain marketplace that provides little clarity and lots of question marks, Buyers and Sellers absolutely need to trust the process and move forward with the faith that everything will work out in the end - one way or another. (It always does.)
I'm reminded of my own recent Piedmont home sale where I sweated over every minor detail, in spite of the fact that I was in extremely capable hands with Jane Anderson, a GRUBB Co. colleague I admire and had personally mentored. (In hindsight, I might have been a little too emotionally invested.) But once I let go, the most wonderful Buyers stepped in to fill the void. I stopped by a few days ago to pick up errant mail and was elated to see such well-tended gardens, to note the projects currently underway (improvements I had hoped to make, but could never really afford as the result of two college tuitions), and mostly to discover how much they love and appreciate the property that we had treasured so much as well.
Conversely, the house we sold in San Francisco before moving over the bridge was immediately painted dirt-clod brown by the new owners, the gardens and trellis were ripped out, the entire interior was painted white, and the house looks nothing like what I had painstakingly restored. (I wish they'd left well enough alone . . . and I wish I had never driven by!) Still, it was the successful sale of that modest home that allowed us to move to Piedmont which provided a stellar public education for our two boys AND room to grow in a truly magical setting within a fantastic community.
Could I have sold those houses for more today given the rising values? No doubt, but I would have subsequently paid much more for our replacement properties as well (the sale of the house next door last week just set a new bar for Crocker Highland's real estate values) and that would have made little sense with respect to our goals at the time, which included substantially reducing our monthly overhead as we move towards retirement (still a long way off) and providing a safe haven for Cliff's mother to live in relative ease in our current home. (Zee is a spry 90, but that's a different column for a another day.)
So in the end, the change was timely, irrespective of whether or not my "wishes"were granted. Actually, I think they were, so this is where gratitude comes heavily into play. (Thank you.) Perhaps "happy endings" are nothing more than our own perspective.
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.