Tag Archives: real estate

Stuff Happens

Unknown-5More of my conversation with Claire Rubach a.k.a. “The Home Weeder.” Those who have emailed or called looking for help with their “stuff” can contact Claire at clrubach@gmail.com or check out her website: www.thehomeweeder.com. She’s a thoughtful, empathetic guide as well as a sturdy practical helper, ready to roll up her sleeves and assist in figuring out what to do with all your “stuff”.

Real Estate of Mind: We were talking about how often people say: “I don’t know what happened or how I managed to accumulate this much stuff!” It’s almost like they’ve been sleepwalking or maybe sleep-shopping through life, caught in the throes of a deep somnambulistic trance.

HomeWeeder: In some ways it is like sleepwalking. Most of us live unquestioningly within the established confines of our daily culture. It’s difficult to step outside long enough to shine a conscious light on our own habits.

REOM: Like one fish asking another fish “What’s water?” when all the fish are so used to swimming around in it that they never think of questioning it?

HW: Right. That’s the consumer culture we’re born into. The milieu of stuff. Making it. Advertising it. Wanting it. Buying it. Showing it off. Keeping it. Struggling with places to put it. The phrase “S–t Happens” is popular, but I think “Stuff happens” is a much better existential statement. So many of us just wake up one day, look around and wonder how “it” all got here.

REOM: We were talking about World War 2 and the economic expansion that followed, accompanied by the arrival of the baby-boom generation.

HW: And those baby-boomers had their formative years in the 1950s, when consumer culture was really coming into its own. They/we were imprinted by non-stop notions of new and improved, dream kitchens, the latest fashions, keeping up with the Jones’. Madison Avenue had more products to promote even as the average consumption of TV increased to 6 hours a day.

REOM: Planned obsolescence was even considered a good thing in many ways.

HW: Growth in industry was fueled and sustained by growth in consumption. Buying stuff became an inexorable part of our Democratic Ideal. During the height of the Cold War it was considered anti-patriotic to save too much rather than buy more things.

REOM: Here we are more than a half century later. It’s been quite a ride hasn’t it?

HW: Fast-forward the culture and our attachment to stuff has been super-sized. We’ve got Walmart, Target and Costco. More things are mass produced and getting even cheaper. Planned obsolescence morphed into instant gratification. Order almost anything on Amazon.com and it can be there the next day. Our houses are bigger so we furnish them with more stuff. We have closets as big as the bedrooms we used to sleep in. And his and hers closets so we don’t have to share.

REOM: And as super-sized as our houses are, we¹ve almost outgrown them. There are acres of Storage Lockers to rent. PODS. Tough Sheds. Places like IKEA that offer new ways to hide your stuff in plain sight. There are Flea Markets, Craigslist and Garage Sales. And many of us still have two car garages that haven¹t seen a car in decades.

And so it goes! Next week, we’ll try to get to the bottom of our stuff once and for all by offering baby-steps for baby-boomers trying to get their houses in order.

The Fog of More

Unknown-6I know I’ve been piling it on recently, but I promise, this is my last column on the subject of people and their “stuff”. Even if the “stuff” in our lives isn’t going to go away or fade quietly into the night just because we stop talking about it. Heck, that¹s how it all got there in the first place.

As the population ages, more baby-boomers and their octogenarian parents are facing profound transitions. Many of those challenges are requiring them to down-size and re-evaluate their relationships with their own “stuff.” Coming to terms with the baggage we carry around with us is an inevitable part of life. Just like aging is an inevitable prelude to what comes next.

In more lucid moments, most of us know we “can’t take it with us.” Even though, when we’re locked into the unconscious routines of our daily lives, most of us keep stashing it away – outta sight/outta mind ­ stuffing it down instead of pausing to come to grips with the cumulative weight of it all. And even though, the most common default solution is to “leave it all behind” for someone else to deal with after we’re gone.

My thanks to Claire Rubach, (thehomeweeder.com). She’s a thoughtful observer of the human condition. A great helper/guide when it comes to the paring down and cleansing of stuff. I encourage anyone wrestling with their “stuff demons” to give her a call. Each person’s stuff is unique. An objective voice shining the light of consciousness on our collective tendencies is a helpful service.

Here are some other last thoughts about people and their stuff and the “fog of more” that so many are caught up in:

Human beings are wired to chase after stuff. Neuro-marketing studies have pinpointed parts of the brain that release increased dopamine levels at the mere thought of buying things. We don¹t experience the same cocktail high of brain chemicals once we actually own them.

Buying, collecting, saving “things” is a way of trying to fill some of the holes we feel in our lives. Some lack of something. Some less than something. Some wound that needs patching.

It’ s tough to consider rolling up our sleeves, marching out to the garage, chucking it all into a dumpster and hauling it away. That almost feels like we’d be tossing away a portion of ourselves in the process. The things we own and save morph into imagined physical expressions of who we think we are. Surrogate alter-egos rather than true selves.

Most of us unknowingly practice a form of sympathetic magic ­ the same kind of ritual that people often made fun of in older native/indigenous cultures that believed inanimate “things” possessed special powers. We like to invest the objects we own/save with power. We try to park our life force in them. We confuse the thing with the emotion. The stuff for the meaning. The item for the memory. Like “it” resides out there instead of inside us.

I have yet to meet anyone who was able to confront the little voice in their head saying  “wait, I might need that someday” before summoning up the energy to get rid of most of their old baggage, who didn’t feel much lighter and happier afterwards. Maybe freedom is just another word for nothing left to keep.

The Stuff Whisperer

Unknown-4Continuing our discussion about “stuff” and the way that it impacts Real Estate. Below are excerpts of a conversation with The Home Weeder, a thoughtful observer of the human condition and an empathetic advisor/guide for those trying to reorient their relationship to stuff. She offers a full-service approach for those feeling a little overwhelmed. I call her “The Stuff Whisperer” – a title she hasn’t officially sanctioned yet, but anyone that needs help with their stuff, should contact her. Claire Rubach/clrubach@gmail.com/thehomeweeder.com

HomeWeeder: There’s a phrase I hear over and over again when I first meet people to see what kind of help they need: “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know where I got all this stuff.” And yet, there it is.

REOM: So how do you explain our penchant for more “stuff”

HW: I’ve been a social worker for 25 years. Experience tells me that almost every big issue people struggle with takes place in the context of the social milieu they live in or were raised in.

REOM: And what’s the larger cultural context relating to people and their stuff?

HW: Most of the people I work with range in age from 50 to 90 years old – aging baby-boomers to their octogenarian parents. Both generations had profound experiences that shaped their notion of stuff when they were growing up.

REOM: One grew up in the Depression Era.

HW: Right, our parents or grandparents were raised during the Great Depression, a time of significant hardship and deprivation. The basic necessities of life were difficult to obtain. Food. Shelter. Jobs. Clothing.

REOM: My parents were both born in 1925 and they never want to throw anything away. It’s almost part of their DNA. It is shameful to waste anything. When you do get something, take care of it. Make it last forever. Hand it down to your kids.

HW: That’s right. Then figure that that generation was just reaching adulthood, when they plunged right into WW2, a time when severe shortages and rationing of goods was a way of life.

REOM: And shortly after the end of the war, all those baby-boomers started to arrive on the scene.

HW: Yes, the wave of births came with the end of the war. Suddenly the incredible industrial effort that sustained the US through the conflict was directed back home. The country launched into one of the longest periods of economic growth the world has ever known. Suddenly there were Levittowns springing up. New products and new inventions. America emerged from WW2 as the most powerful nation in the world. We were on a roll.

REOM: And then?

HW: Well in some ways we¹ve been on a roll ever since ­ promoting the values of our consumer culture. And of course, television, which had actually been around since the 1920s in some form, finally exploded onto the scene, helping to usher in Madison Avenue.

REOM: And Madison Avenue was all about inventing new and more sophisticated ways to get people to buy stuff.

HW: That¹s right. Kind of sounds like Google doesn’t it?

REOM: Reminds me of my favorite quote about the internet: “I saw the best minds of my generation inventing new ways to get people to click on things.”

Next Week: More of the conversations

Can’t Take it With You

UnknownToday, we are going to talk about a subject that all Realtors are intimately familiar with. Something near but not always dear to their hearts. A factor that¹s part and parcel of just about every single home transition they have or will ever be involved with – to a greater or lesser degree.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about that huge umbrella of a euphemism that fits under the heading of “stuff”.

You know, “stuff” as in all the stuff that people collect and fill their homes with. All the stuff that people form strange attractions to. All the stuff that’s in their junk drawers and closets and attics and garages. In bags and boxes. Piled high on shelves and jammed tightly in corners.

The stuff they are saving. Or the stuff they can’t bring themselves to throw away. The “stuff” that over time, gets stuffed down like baggage from the past until it is overflowing or taking up way too much room or has gotten so heavy to carry around (physically and psychically) that it makes it harder to actually conceive of picking up to move.

Even if each and every one of us knows somewhere deep in our heart of hearts, that it is all “stuff” that we aren’t going to be able take with us when we die.

Maybe the ancient Egyptians were able to pack a few important possessions for personal use in the afterlife, but there¹s not enough real estate left on the planet to start burying even modest members of modern consumer culture with a fraction of the stuff they’ve accumulated.

To get into a better mood for this discussion, try Googling the old George Carlin video on “stuff”. It brilliantly captures our weird, addictive, all-too-human love affair with things.

We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about the huge importance of homes in our lives and their dual roles as our biggest assets and hallowed psychic centering places. Is there anything that ranks higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs than home does for human beings?

But how ironic is it that home so often acts as a huge repository for all kinds of junk that so many people can’t quite seem to figure out how to recycle back into the flow of the world.

It’s my passionate belief that in order to figure out more graceful strategies for growing older, facing change and moving ahead in life, all those aging baby boomers out there are going to have to get better at rethinking their relationship to the stuff they define themselves by.

What’s important from this point forward?  You can’t move down unless you are ready to give some things up. You can’t shrink your debt and conserve your personal resources if you can’t quit buying things. You can’t open yourself up to all those “life experiences” you’d dearly love to have before you leave the planet unless you are willing to empty your rice bowl.

Yogi is My Yogi Redux

Unknown-3Two stories caught my eye this week. One – heightened concern about new regulations for residential loans (google TRID) going into effect after Oct. 3rd ( almost certain to cause delays in escrow.) And the other – the passing of Yogi Berra, all-time great Yankee Catcher. The synchronicity of these two stories was an eerie reminder of a column I wrote back in 2009, when underwriting guidelines were getting increasingly convoluted (causing frustrating delays in transactions.) At the time, I invoked the wisdom of Yogi Berra and as I reprint portions of that column below, on the eve of the Oct 3rd date, I feel compelled to invoke another famous Yogi-ism: “Holy Cow! It’s déjà vu all over again!”

Excerpts from Real Estate of Mind, October 2009

I’m wracking my brain. Looking for a simple expression that comes within a few million miles of explaining this to you. This odd place real estate has stumbled into. This strange dream it has woken up in. This brave new world where some kind of unintelligible intelligence has hijacked the process.

I don’t mean one transaction. I mean all of them getting sucked into the same wormhole that grabs socks between the time they go into the washer and are supposed to come out clean and smooth from the dryer. Welcome to escrow. The new and unimproved version. Where transactions go to drag on, in a bone-numbing, jaw-dropping, torturous drip of delay-without-closure.

What do we call this period between when escrows are supposed to close and when they do close? Purgatory? The Twilight Zone? Extra Innings? The old notion of Close of Escrow (COE in Realtor-speak) was something you could count on. It wasn’t a liquid. Or a gas. It was a solid you held in your head. There was a contract. Wheels were put into motion that would eventually converge in time and space. And voila – the deed would record and money would change hands. Now COE has become a fuzzy, moving target, constantly getting pushed back in time.

Didn’t underwriting get the memo? Or perhaps they did and they lost it? Maybe they got the memo but want us to verify that we insured it? Or certify in a separate memo that we really sent it in the first place? And that needs to be a non-faxed, non-scanned memo with wet signatures delivered in person to the processor, who will move it along to the closer, who will run it by the committee, who will assign it to the great decider-er for a really quick turnaround.

Folks, the system is in the throes of a grand mal and my brain hurts. I’d love to explain it to you but I’m waiting for someone to explain it to me first. In the meantime, all I can do is summon the wisdom of Yogi Berra, the man known as Mr. Malaprop, for answers to the avalanche of malaproperty-isms we are experiencing. Yogi-isms are just about the only things that do make sense in this impasse of an escrow juxtaposed between the now and maybe never.

Try this one: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Or: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” And if you are in the middle of an escrow that isn’t closing:. “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Me? I’m sticking with this one: “I wish I had an answer to that because I’m tired of answering the question.”

To List or Not To List?

Unknown-2Here we are, heading into the fall. The season is shifting. Days are growing shorter, The year is beginning to wind down. And for some, the real estate market is rapidly approaching one of those existential moments of truth. To List or Not to List… that is the question.

Yep, it’s that time all you Sellers. Or at least all you would-be Sellers who are wrestling with the age-old questions that would-be Sellers always torture themselves with this time of year – when it feels like the market is running out of time.

Is it too late to list? Has your window of opportunity already closed? Are there any Buyers left out there? Is it foolish to put your house on the market now? Will it just sit and gather days on market while the weather and Buyers continue to cool? The market won’t get any better as November approaches, will it? Won’t Buyers get even more distracted by all the holiday hoopla?

Should you just stop worrying about it and get your house on the market as fast as you can? Even if it isn’t completely ready? Maybe you’ll get lucky and catch the last big wave before things die down? Some homes are still selling aren’t they? With so few listings your property might be worth even more. There must be Buyers out there who lost out in multiple-offer contests this summer. They’re probably anxious to get in when there’s less competition. Are those the kind of Buyers who will pay more or less for your house?

Or should you just put things on hold and dial everything back? Take time to reset and plan for a better launch date in 2016? And if that’s the case – what time frame should you shoot for? Is January too early? Is May too late? Should you wait until the flowers bloom and things are green again? What if we have that Godzilla El Nino they’re talking about? How will that affect the market? Are we in a bubble now? Will it burst before you put your house on?

And… finally, if you do decide to sit back between now and next year, do you just wait and do nothing? Become a passive observer on the sidelines? Or are there more things you could be doing to prepare your home for sale and get better results? What steps should I take? What should you be aware of ? Who should you talk to?

Sound familiar? Did I cover most of those nagging fears and what-ifs that are competing for attention in your heads? What’s it going to be? Door number one? Door number two? Or door number three? Hold off or get it on? Put it off till next year and work to get it really ready?

It’s become fashionable lately to see Realtors using the tech-inspired buzz-phrase – hyper-local.Hyper-local hype is all over the internet. But I think we should chuck out hyper-local and replace it with hyper-personal – because the answers people are seeking are sublimely personal. Each person’s life is unique. Everyone’s situation is different. Write or give me a call if you want some hyper-personal advice.

In Search of the Grail

Unknown-1It’s official. Real Estate of Mind has been rattling around in my head and floating around in the local ether for twenty-five years now. Are we there yet?

I remember taking my first real estate exam in the Scottish Rites Hall in San Francisco after religiously cramming every factoid I could, into my brain. I was a true believer. A supplicant vying for admission into the secret order of all things REAL. Walking out afterwards, I experienced a huge core dump as all the information I had memorized, spontaneously fled my body. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first auspicious real estate sign. I had to empty myself of everything I thought I knew and start practicing real estate each day in order to find its hidden grail.

Along the way, I’ve shown property at midnight, written offers on the hood of a car, gotten frantic buyers’ remorse calls at two am and once listed and sold a house in less than five hours. I’ve met looky-loos, nosey-neighbors and tire-kickers by the score. I’ve represented buyers who had to grind every last penny and others who had a million dollars burning holes in their pockets. I even saw a client try to bring cash in a suitcase to close escrow.

Along the way, I started carrying a box of tissues in the car for those convinced they could never afford a home in Santa Cruz. Later, I upgraded to an EpiPen when anaphylactic sticker shock became the norm. I earned a masters degree in grief counseling with a minor in hand-holding during the early 90s at the same time I learned what it meant to chase the market down.

I also learned how to find lost septic tanks by bending ordinary coat hangers into the shape of dowsing rods. I have occasionally employed a psychic house cleaner to clear away dustballs of bad energy that accrue in people’s lives. I also hired Crime Scene Cleaning Service once, when I sold a compulsive hoarder house filled with thirty years worth of rotting possessions.

Along the way, I’ve seen more Michael Jordan posters and more odd doll and scary clown collections than you can possibly imagine. I’ve shown houses where bongs were sitting on kitchen tables and naked college students were running around in blissful oblivion. I’ve run out of gas in the boonies with clients in the car and somewhere along the way I seem to also remember sitting an open house where a parrot with a huge vocabulary of swear words greeted each visitor.

I’ve worked with Tibetan Lamas and the other kind of llamas. I’ve worked with Fortune 500 execs, motorcycle club members and middle-aged sex therapists – all in the same day. I’ve sold ego homes wondering how people could wander around in that much space and homes under 500 sq ft wondering how people could possibly live without strangling each other after the first week.

Along the way, I’ve been called the Bodhisattva Realtor, a Male Midwife, a Consummate Professional and a Dirt Pimp. I was also once accused of breaching the Realtor Code of Ethics for suggesting that Realtors should carry a moral compass with them at all times.

Have I arrived? Nope. I’m still on the bus with the license plate that reads “Further” and yes, what a long strange trip it’s been. Strange and endlessly fascinating.