"Volleyball at Dracena Park is on!" the email said.
I'd been receiving these postings for several weeks but was hesitant to join in and play. Truth be told, I'd actually met my husband, Cliff, during a "wallyball" clinic at a health club on Telegraph Hill more than 25 years ago and we played both wallyball and volleyball almost nightly, so I don't just love the game of volleyball, I'm nostalgic about it.
Moreover, our gang were regulars at Crissy field on the weekends and along with my sister, Jill, I had even started a weekly, outdoor volleyball league for architects and designers in San Francisco culminating with a BIG annual tournament each year in Golden Gate Park. Still two (plus) decades later . . . I wasn't sure that any of the skills I had acquired long ago would still be readily (or physically) accessible.
As sports go, I truly believe that volleyball is the most collaborative of all team challenges. With 2-6 players on a side, there's a tremendous amount of choreography and communication that has to happen in order to win the point. Without clear communication, you're sunk. I gathered my courage and convinced Cliff to come with me and within a few moments we had essentially taken over our teams. (Neither of us are exactly shrinking violets.)
"The second ball is always the setter's," Cliff instructed. "If you can't get to it, yell 'HELP!'"
"Flatten out your forearms," I suggested to another player" or your knuckles will send the ball flying in all directions. (That would never do.) "You'll get used to the pain."
"Up, up UP!"
And so it went until darkness and mosquitoes chased us off the lawn.
"That was so much fun," Cliff and I said to each other as we walked back to the car. "I've missed that."
"Do you suppose," I asked upon reflection, "that the other players are wondering who the hell invited those 'bossy' Gardeners?" (You can thank - or blame - Dhira.)
"I'd be surprised if they didn't," Cliff responded. "They're probably going to sit down to dinner tonight and and say that 'they just came out to have fun'."
"Who plays games just to have fun?" we both said in unison before breaking into laughter. (It's a very good thing we found one another.)
With a nod to just having a good time, it's no fun playing without the proper technique. In fact, I'll argue that the fun in volleyball relies completely on the technique; the dig, the set, the spike and the rhythm of the back and forth; where everyone is moving, talking and responding in kind; the high-fives, the "great set," "good save," and "way to be there" kind of moments. It's a GREAT feeling to block at the net, to dive for the ball, and to ultimately win the point! But win or lose, it's how you play the game.
I should preface this by saying that Tuesday night wasn't the first time Cliff and I have crossed the line from taking a friendly game into the realm of competition. We are merciless at cards, Pictionary, and word games (don't even get me started with spelling games - I've almost lost friends over it).
I guess you could say that we both like to compete, whether it's on the field, at the game table, or at a friendly volleyball match. It's not about winning, per se (although that's a bonus), it's about acquiring skills and using them to your advantage.(If only I could turn laundry or making the bed into a competitive event!)
Not surprisingly, in the world of Real Estate, I'm often asked to compete, not only for the listing where it's almost a given, but often for the sale as well. With too little available inventory to meet popular demand, most well-priced properties are receiving multiple offers in mere days, so like it not, if you are house hunting, you and I ARE going to find ourselves in heavy competition.
Like any competition, there's a technique involved in "crafting the deal" that requires conscious forethought, hard-won skills, and a plan of action. (A bit of luck never hurts either.) Without a preconceived game plan, we will be scrambling to catch up - and as an aside, chasing the ball instead of being in front of it, is never where you want to be in any sport, but especially not in the game of Real Estate.
Thus, the first critical step when house hunting is to meet with a local lender. Before you fall in love with a home, please, please, PLEASE (!) establish your credit worthiness and GET PREAPPROVED for a loan. (I can't stress this enough.) With tougher lending restrictions firmly in place, what you think you may borrow and what you actually can borrow, may be the difference between what you want, and what you can actually afford. Better to know the boundaries upfront than be disappointed in the moment.
And while we're gearing up to compete, here are a few more successful strategies to put into action:
DO get familiar with the marketplace. With the advent of the Internet, your Realtor is no longer the gatekeeper. Stay on top of what's for sale, what's pending and what's sold so that when it comes time to enter the game, you have context. Without it, you'll be lost.
Write to win - or don't write at all. While "winning isn't everything," losing the house of your dreams sure feels crummy. A lukewarm offer merely pushes everyone else's offer higher and in turn, sets the winning bid as the bar for the next go round. If the numbers seem too high to compete, wait for the next opportunity or opening. It's sure to come.
Understand the difference between a negotiation and a battle: one serves the deal, while the other undermines it. Being adversarial for no good reason never works to your advantage.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! The best interactions come about with strong communication - even those in which I've been called to the mat by an unhappy Buyer or Seller. If I don't know what you need, I can't deliver it, address your concerns, or correct what needs correcting, so speak up. We're here to teach each other. Yes? (Yes.)
Finally, if I come off as "bossy," I'm shamelessly unapologetic about it. Without the 'win,' I'm not much help to you, nor will you want me on your team for very long. While my volleyball skills are exceedingly average (at best) I believe that with respect to Real Estate, you are counting on me to bring my considerable experience and skills to the forefront and I'm intent on doing so. Otherwise, why align with an agent at all, especially one like me who, admittedly, is aggressive by nature. (Okay, it's true.)
In other words, who plays the game just to have "fun?" Isn't that what jigsaw puzzles are for? I want to win.
Serve it up. I came to play!
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.