The Scene: My cubicle upstairs at The GRUBB Co. It's 5 pm and my desk is covered with papers, my fingers are flying across the keyboard. I'm working like there's no tomorrow.
Ring, ring, ring . . .
"Hey Mom, it's Tristan. We need to be at my school's ceramic show tonight at 7 at the Community Art Center, you have to buy my art project pot, AND you need to bake cookies."
What!?! (A little advance notice might have been nice.)
"Yeah, sorry," Tristan replied.
I was currently at my desk preparing a listing agreement, organizing showings for the next day for out-of-town Buyers, and waiting for a purchase offer on a home I currently represent. In fact, the Sellers were set to show up in the next few minutes and I was rushing to get prepared. Baking cookies wasn't exactly going to make it onto the agenda in the next two hours.
"Honey, you'll need to get a box of brownies down out of the cupboard and follow the directions," I replied. "I'll wrap things up here as quickly as I can and pick you up right after." (There's always Betty Crocker for just such emergencies.)
"Okay," he hesitantly replied before hanging up. Baking isn't really his thing. Oh well, time to learn.
Not that baked goods constitute a real "emergency" in my book, but when one is juggling parenting and work commitments (as most of us are) SURPRISES of any kind aren't particularly welcome. In fact, they are down right inconvenient.
They're NO GOOD with respect to Real Estate either. The plain and simple truth is that if there is anything to be discovered about a home, the Seller is better served controlling that information. If they don't, it is very likely that the Buyer will, and when they do, they will most often return to renegotiate their previous purchase offer (and it won't be in the Seller's favor). No Buyer ever came back and said, "The property checked out so beautifully that we are actually prepared to pay you MORE!"
That isn't to say that every surprise can be avoided (they can't) but to the extent that you can sidestep the majority of unwelcome surprises through full disclosure and reasonable anticipation, you owe it to yourself to gather the pertinent information and HAND IT OVER! If the roof will need replacing soon, get a roofing bid. Ditto for an engineering report when drainage is your sticky wicket (it's almost everyone's here in the hills) DO replace the sewer lateral (it's now a "Point-of-Sale Ordinance in the East Bay) repair defects if possible, order a pest report, and clarify any easement issues that might exist with respect to the property - just to name a few.
In addition, make sure to get professional BIDS on any work that may be outstanding. It's of little offensive value to disclose that the retaining wall may need replacement if you haven't established the price to do so. In such a case, you will only raise a red flag. Remember, "new discovery" is always negotiable, so quantify the improvements, or the Buyers are sure to.
If you are wondering whether or not something needs to be disclosed while filling out the piles of paperwork I will invariably be handing you - it does. Always error on the side of disclosure. You'd be amazed at what slight oversights come back to haunt a transaction and unravel a sale - especially for first-time Buyers unfamiliar with the inherent risk of home ownership.
Speaking of unraveled, I'm going to have to talk to my son about some advanced warning next time around. These last minute surprises don't work well for me AT ALL!
Cut to: The Piedmont Community Center for the Arts. It's a beautiful spring evening. Smiling, laughing, sun-tanned kids are spilling out of the building and onto the manicured lawn out front. Inside, the walls are lined with pen-and-ink self portraits, colorful landscapes, and still-life paintings. There are ribbons next to the pieces that have won awards and merit special recognition, but ALL of the drawings are incredibly impressive. I'm in awe of the level of talent from these high school students. Clearly, several of these gifted kids are on their way to professional careers in the arts.
Yeah, my son's probably not one of them.
He walks me over to the table full of misshapen clay bowls and plucks his orange and green mottled creation out from the group while I dutifully hand over a $2o bill to his art teacher, Miss Simons (a donation for the Alameda Food Bank). Not surprisingly, Tristan's art work looks a lot like his dad's - there's good intention, but not a lot of innate, natural talent. (I might have overpaid for the bowl).
"Tristan created a beautiful glaze on that piece," Miss Simon comments. (She understands where her bread is buttered.)
Tristan nods and takes the comment with good humor. He may not be the next Rodin but he doesn't lack for a sense of humor (also a gift from his dad). We had a good chuckle on the way home and the bowl now proudly sits on my bedside table. Hey, ART is subjective and it makes me happy.
But unwelcome surprises? Not so happy. Let's keep those to a minimum.
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.