Like many of us in the Bay Area, I've just returned from a brief respite in Tahoe and while the lake was unquestionably low, it's still an incredibly beautiful spot to visit. Frankly, Lake Tahoe is tough to beat when it offers so much in the way of awe-inspiring vistas and activities.
"Let's rent some bikes and clock some miles," my husband Cliff suggested as he excitedly unpacked the tennis rackets and other assorted sports paraphernalia. (Cliff is not a sit-on-the-beach and read-a-novel kind of guy.) The two of us have signed up for a Bay Area Backroads bike tour coming up in a few weeks and I'm a little worried that I won't be able to keep up (not that you're really required to) so Tahoe presented the perfect opportunity for some much-needed practice. Regrettably, it's been too many years since I spent any real time in the saddle and boy, did my body feel it. By day three, I wasn't exactly a happy camper. I could barely sit, let alone peddle that bike. Normandy? Brittany? I gotta say that the van is looking exceedingly more inviting to me than the bicycle right now. (What's with those hard seats anyway?)
Still, the old adage, "it's like riding a bicycle" wasn't just a metaphor in this case, it was my reality as I quickly relearned how to manipulate the gears and navigate the ups and downs. (Hint, it helps to change the gear BEFORE you hit the incline.) I'd grown up in the era of the 10-speed and later did my fair share of mountain biking as a young adult so I'm happy to report that it's true; one never forgets how to ride a bicycle. If I take my time and several breaks along the route, I'm certain I'll manage just fine and really, who can complain about a bike trip on the coast of France? (Not me.)
In analogous 'Piedmont Perspective' fashion, I'd like to say that selling or buying a house is much the same; that we quickly get up to speed and back in gear, but it isn't. The truth is that most people only enter the marketplace once every ten years or so which makes for an uphill ride. Many of you may be out of the market for DECADES and rightfully so; that's the nature of the beast, or as one prospective client exclaimed just this week: "We've never sold a house before . . . so we don't know what to do!" (That's where I come in.)
From new disclosures to swinging market trends, to stricter lender requirements, to changes in Buyer and Seller psychology, unfortunately, Real Estate isn't as easy as learning to ride a bike. In fact, it's far more nuanced and multi-faceted. If you react and change gears while going uphill, it's often too late. Moreover, just because you've traveled that road once or twice before, doesn't necessarily make the journey any easier this time around.
"What went wrong with that listing?" Sellers have been known to inquire, while watching a neighbor's property go sideways and sit far too long without any offers. Sometimes nothing. More often than not, a lot . . . From overpricing, to poor preparation, to poor timing, even today's go, go, GO (!) marketplace can be extremely punitive for those who misstep along the way. (Greed is rarely rewarded in ANY market. )
By way of illustration, I stopped at a FISBO in the Temescal last Sunday (For Sale by Owner) and was reminded of just how easy mistakes can be made and how much CAN indeed go wrong. A tattered "Open Home" sign out on the street was the only obvious marketing, a crabby Seller who seemed less than happy to greet me, a very worn house, a shabby flyer, and then the piece de resistance - an unrealistic listing price to boot! (Wow.) Let me count the ways . . .
"My neighbor's house sold for more than a million dollars," the Seller defensively said, as he handed me the Zillow estimate he'd copied off the Internet. (I hadn't said a word, but my look of amazement must have given me away and btw - while I'm a fan of Zillow, the "Zestimates" are rarely accurate.) This guy was certifiable if he thought the two houses compared in the least. (They didn't.)
"Good for your neighbor," I thought. I'm certain the list price didn't start there. I'm also sure that the house was beautifully staged, clean, well marketed, professionally photographed, available to the public, thoroughly investigated, AND represented by a licensed REALTOR.
As I often point out to my own Sellers when meeting for the first time, great results don't come about by accident, but through careful orchestration and strategic planning. Teamwork, hard work, and thoughtful preparation really shouldn't be underestimated, nor should attractive pricing or an emotionally engaging presentation. (It's ALL about the "value proposition!")
Does that mean we get to control the outcome?
Hardly. . . and any agent that tells you so, would be lying. But it does mean we have a much better shot at procuring a result that reflects the true market value of your lovely home and isn't that the result you are hoping to achieve? Sure, you could get lucky, but I wouldn't count on it. Our Bay Area homes are far too large an investment and the transfer of property is typically, too emotionally charged as well. I wouldn't leave such an important transaction up to chance, nor should you. While buying or selling a home isn't necessarily as easy as hopping on a bike, as with riding a bicycle, Real Estate takes good balance - there are a lot of moving parts and miles and miles to traverse.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.