My son, Case, turned 21 last Saturday and as his overbearing mother, I have incredibly mixed feelings about it, ranging from melancholy wistfulness to abundant pride. (Unbelievably, we both made it!) Regrettably, the years have flown by way too swiftly.
Sigh. Either he grew up too fast or I got old too soon!
As every parent discovers, raising children is a labor of love, but it also takes a tremendous leap of faith. AND like many journeys, it's full of surprises as well . . . . Having survived the roller coast called "adolescence," not to mention skinned knees, broken hearts and all manner of mood swings, it's a mystery to me why anyone willingly takes on the challenges parenthood invariably brings.
Nonetheless, we blindly go forth, happily unaware that parenting a child is both heart wrenching and all encompassing. Still, I'm convinced that our kids are the greatest gift we receive. (I'm not certain who teaches the other more!)
Not surprising, home ownership is a bit like that as well. It too, can be overwhelming, all encompassing, and very rewarding, but it's also a labor of love.
However, buying a home has one BIG advantage over parenthood: when it comes to Real Estate, there is typically MUCH MORE disclosure upfront! And that's a good thing - but it's not a perfect thing. Even in the best cases, DISCLOSURE isn't a perfect tool.
Disclosure is a pragmatic approach that allows consumers to make an informed choice, based on what they know to be true about the house in its present condition. The belief is that with clear facts in hand, Buyers can intelligently craft a purchase offer that makes good sense moving forward and eliminates nasty law suits down the road (a definite plus for both Buyers and Sellers).
Gone are the days of "Buyer Beware" when Sellers could pass off flaws and defects in the home without so much as a mention. The onus now sits squarely with the Seller to DISCLOSE what they know to be true about a home and its surrounding property prior to bringing it to market.
Sometimes this is easier said then done. I recently helped clients who had set their sights on a lovely home here in Oakland and as is customary, I asked for a "Disclosure Packet" to be promptly emailed to my office. Due to the bumpy economy, this home has previously sold two other times during the last decade and as a result, the disclosure packet consisted of both previous sets of disclosures as well as the current set. (Wow, that's a lot of disclosures. About the size of a phone book!)
With more than FIVE sets of pest reports, THREE home inspections, several differing foundation opinions, and an overabundance of Seller disclosures, it was nearly impossible to tell exactly what had, and what had NOT, been addressed in the home. In fact, it was so confusing, that the Buyers ultimately decided to pass on this unique opportunity altogether (an unsatisfactory result for everyone involved).
In this case, too much information created less clarity - not more. (Hint to the Sellers: if you find yourself in this unfortunate scenario, create a bullet point sheet that easily explains the improvements you have made to the home during your tenure.)
Moreover, neither Sellers nor Buyers are certified home inspectors, licensed engineers, or contractors and thus, don't or won't always recognize what might ultimately prove to be an impending problem with a house. While Sellers are required to reveal what is material fact about their home, they cannot see into the walls - or into the future - so they can't very well disclose what they don't know to be true.
For instance, a Seller can't know that the next big storm is going to knock down the majestic Oak out back, or create a pond on the patio (true story). Moreover, minor defects that have been acceptable to the Seller throughout the years, may easily be overlooked and therefore, failed to be mentioned at all. Hmmm . . . whatever the circumstances, the Buyers should have a very strong sense of what they ARE purchasing by virtue of the disclosure packet and the inspections readily available. And then they should conduct their own inspections as well!
Even so, it's unlikely that even the most informed Buyer will know everything there is to know about a house, regardless of how thorough the Sellers have been. To really know a home, requires time. It requires moving in and discovering that the stairs squeak on the third step, that the larks build a nest behind the porch light every Spring, or that your neighbor's sprinklers inconveniently run down your driveway. (Ugh!) It requires occupying the home to really know it - inside and out. So even with the inevitable surprises, would Cliff and I have still bought our current home? Yes, we would and we did, as well as several others along the way (and they all had "unknowns").
But when it comes to our kids, it's probably best NOT to know everything. The surprises (both good and bad) are all part of the journey and make love truly undefinable. Cheers to you son. I love you heart and soul (no matter what your disclosures). It's been a privilege.
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.