"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 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.