"I think there's a view in my future," my colleague, Jane proclaimed while touring properties last week. We'd just seen a number of new listings in the Berkeley Hills and each had offered incredibly captivating views. Even when the homes were less than memorable, the vistas of the sparkling bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the unmistakable San Francisco skyline could not be denied. (We're so lucky to live where we do.) No wonder Jane was smitten; that's a dream many of us covet.
As dreams go, I think there's a BIG front porch in mine - outfitted with a bench swing, freshly painted Adirondack chairs, and a ready pitcher of cool lemonade for neighbors passing by. Of course, there would be a garden in full bloom and a renovated kitchen with thick Carrara marble counter tops, LOTS of open shelving, and a big farmhouse sink . . .
Homes conjure up all kinds of images (and memories), from seaside cottages, to slick modern edifices; from classic Brown Shingles, to sunny courtyard Mediterraneans; from Cape Cod Traditionals, to sexy Mid-Centuries; whatever your dream home, there's a viable option for you here in the Bay Area, where almost every house is unique and separate from the next.
That's both good and bad from a Realtor's point of view, as no two houses will present the same, nor follow the same course of action with respect to marketing, preparation, investigation, or value. Moreover, such breadth and diversity often makes defining one's ideal, a very difficult task indeed as we move from house to house in search of the perfect "dream" home.
The plain truth is, as much as we might crave perfection, I have yet to find it (or deliver it) - no matter the price point. So while it is incredibly important to dream, it's just as important to temper our vision with a dose of reality and a good understanding of where we are in our lives and what we really need in the here and now. If you will be running down the hill for a gallon of milk every few days for the baby, perhaps, like Jane, you'll want to delay your move to the ridge until your little ones have flown the coop. (That's a very steep climb to push a baby carriage.)
The list of "needs and wants" changes dramatically as or families grow and evolve, as children arrive, and then depart (and then move back home again). Some of you are looking to expand your living space, while others are downsizing accordingly. A few years ago, I helped empty-nesters secure a beautiful turn-key townhome in Hiller Highlands. Their goal was to travel six-months of the year and happily, they achieved it. Such a property requires little more than locking the door and asking your neighbor to collect the mail in your absence. Now that defines "easy living."
If it's a view you desire, it's likely your home will be more vertical than horizontal.
Is there an urban farm in your future? Get ready to spend a good deal of time planting, pruning and maintaining it.
Center of town location? Absolutely, but you'll give up privacy in return.
Jack London Loft? Certainly, but you will inherit a Home Owner's Association in the mix.
And so it goes - with every property, there will undoubtedly be trade-offs, just as there are with each phase of our lives . . .
My point is there are pluses and minuses to each situation and we should not only expect these compromises, but happily anticipate them (these are gold-plated problems for sure). Outline your wish list and then decide on your "non-negotiables" with the understanding that if the house is a seven or eight on a scale of ten, it is probably worth pursuing. (The Buyers who hold out for a perfect ten will never find it.) Sign the papers and make whatever changes you need once you own the home in order to move closer to your idea of perfection.
Nothing is quite as frustrating as overhearing a Buyer who walks through a Sunday Open and rejects it based on the color of the walls or the lack of a lawn. Really? These are fairly easy fixes.
There is a caveat here, which is to say that some defects are fairly correctable, while others are clearly NOT (!) That's an important distinction when deciding on a home. While you may reject a built-in swimming pool, that's a drawback that can be filled in and covered (for a price). On the other hand, a busy street, will be forever thus, and an awkward floor plan may be too expensive to adequately address on a budget. Gather your facts and listen to your heart, but don't let it carry you away.
The decision to buy a home should fulfill your dreams, but it should also serve the way you live your life now, and for years to come, on a very pragmatic level.
Now go live your dreams!
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.