"What do you think? Cliff said, "Should we go for it?"
"I don't know," I said. "It seems silly to drive all the way up there and back in the same day. We're not actually going to buy the house."
For years, Cliff and I have dreamed of owning a vacation property on the water, (never mind that we couldn't afford one; that's why it's called a 'dream.'), vacillating between Santa Cruz and Lake Tahoe. But a few weeks ago while staying at Sarah's cabin in Homewood, we rediscovered Fallen Leaf Lake and fell under the spell of this more remote Alpine location while hiking along the water 's edge with our dog, Riley.
A throwback to the 1950s, we watched canoes drift lazily by as paddlers waved hello, while small motorboats set tiny waves in motion on the glassy surface. Never mind that the one-lane road leading there leaves something to be desired and winters are probably an icy adventure at best. (There's definitely a 4-wheel drive in our future.)
So we began to dream once again, only this time we had banked a little savings. Could we? Should we? Would we?
Sure enough, no sooner had we arrived back in Oakland, than we received an e-flyer for a small cabin right on Fallen Leaf Lake that surprisingly fit our budget. So against all odds, we turned around and jumped into the car at 6:30 am last Saturday, arrived at the lake in time for our early morning showing (one of seven!), and after a mere 15 minutes to look around, made a bona fide offer the next afternoon. (Is it crazy to buy a house after only 15 minutes? Don't answer that.)
Like most of the Buyers I've represented over the past 15 years, Cliff and I found ourselves on a roller coaster of emotions when we discovered that two offers had swelled to four, that one of them was all cash, and another was being represented by the listing agent herself. In short, we didn't stand a chance. Still, with steady coaching from an experienced local agent (thank you Jamie Blair of Team Blair Tahoe), we submitted an offer "just in case," AND then redrafted the first page as the competition grew stiffer. I threw every clever trick in the book at the Sellers hoping to beat out our rivals and block a second round of negotiations. (All's fair in love and war.)
I felt sick to my stomach. I felt emotional, AND desperate, AND out of control, AND I understood everything my clients feel when they are in heavy competition and at a Sellers' mercy. Suffice it to say, I didn't sleep well that night.
On Monday morning, came the reply:
"Thank you for your offer. We are inviting everyone to submit their final and best."
I redrafted our offer, wrote a new letter explaining how much we LOVED the house, and then threw in my share of the commission for good measure. And then we waited, and waited, and waited . . . by 8:30 that evening I was convinced we had lost out and started loudly organizing the cupboards (but that's another column for another day.) We had certainly bid more than we intended and had inched our way out onto that proverbial limb. (Sound familiar?)
"Now that you know you're willing to go for it," Sarah said. "There will be others; John and I looked for months trying to decide between size or location before we found the right one."
I knew she was right. I knew we'd regroup. I knew it had been a long shot, but still . . .
And then came the unexpected text: "Congratulations, your letter resonated with the Sellers and you edged out the competition! I'll have the signed contract to you in a few moments, and I couldn't be happier for you and your husband." (What a class act.)
Say what? I was dumbfounded. Honestly, it's the first vacation house we've ever seriously considered, the first one we've actually toured in person, and the first one we've ever bid on. (Please don't write me and tell me I've made a terrible mistake.)
So now I'm sick to my stomach for another reason. Having found ourselves in escrow before we had time to wrap our heads around this purchase, I've got to get the loan in place, insurance drafted, meet with an inspector (in South Lake Tahoe no less), remove contingencies, and come up with a viable plan for managing the house. (Families have been renting it for years.) It's both exciting and a little overwhelming. Still, it's a luxury problem to be sure. Oh, and did I mention, it comes with a little boat and more importantly, a slip? (It does!)
While I can't promise the same "one-and-done" result to all my Buyers, I can certainly empathize with your fear, your hopes, and your dreams, but now, I also REALLY understand your journey in today's hotly-contested marketplace.
How can I help you?
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.