In School I Hated History, But Now I am Reformed

I hated the subject of history as a kid because it was all about memorizing dates and learning about the mechanations of various wars.

Much later I realized I learned nothing about women in any of the war stories, and even later I realized the curriculum through high school did not include complete world history, only history from the Western World, European perspective (and I attended top rated schools in the country). Not a word about ancient history.

What does this have to do with real estate, you say? Well, my ignorance continued through much of my young adulthood because I lived in Suburbia, where there was not a trace of history to be found, anywhere. Everything was white-washed, sidewalks, paved parking lots, cookie-cutter, ticky-tacky houses.

In graduate school I began to get a real education of the world, and the timing dove-tailed with my move to Santa Cruz.

As a Realtor, I  was fascinated by all of the amazing local architecture in Santa Cruz. I began exploring, interviewing people, and eventually writing about local history. In Santa Cruz, compared to Suburbia, you can actually see the history because a lot of it has been preserved. There are tons of old buildings, historical houses, and stories about key local history makers and characters.

I love it when I have a client whose taste runs in the “interesting architecture” category. I do special property searches for such properties and it is so much fun to tour these special homes.

Now I gobble up every historical morsel I see, hear, or read about. I have made some wonderful older friends in Santa Cruz, people who have lived the history and have told me amazing stories. I cherish these connections and feel so grateful to have been the recipient of these first-hand accounts. It makes it all come alive for me. I have the idea that I can actually see through their eyes, while hearing the details of the stories. It makes me notice neighborhood nuances and makes life so much richer for me. I hope by sharing some of these stories, that others can also be enriched or are able to relate on some level.


You Can’t Live in a Mutual Fund . . .

I don’t know if it is obvious, but you can’t live in a mutual fund, or a regular stock, for that matter. But you can, and likely do, live in your real estate investment.

When reading the Sunday paper, I always get a chuckle from the “expert” investment advise articles that warn against the dangers of investing in real estate. I always fast-forward to the byline usually at the bottom of the article, and find contact information for an investment counselor. Big surprise!

I have heard, but haven’t been able to substantiate, that in the United States there have only been two times in history when real estate values in aggregate, dipped, and that the graph shows a steady increase over time.

Of course there are particular markets that fare better than others, but overall, real estate has always been a good to great investment, depending upon where you live.

Where I live, in Santa Cruz County, the cliche is that they are not making beach front real estate like this anymore . . . well, at least not until something like the earthquake that was predicted  in the late sixties that the book The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California, (Curt Gentry) said would split California off from the rest of the U.S., and would give the Central Valley some nice, new beaches.

Real estate is the only investment that can provide shelter and comfort, as well as phenomenal returns on investment!

What could be better than that?

What is Your Ideal Community?

Before I moved to Santa Cruz County in 1997, I dabbled with the idea of moving to Half Moon Bay. At that time, I was working in Foster City and was just beginning to think about what would be a perfect community for me. Every chance I got, I would truck on over to Half Moon Bay, exploring beaches, neighborhoods, and the charming downtown area. What I liked about the area was it was historical – the downtown was charming, and the community had been preserved, not overdeveloped. The beaches were spectacular (Moss Beach, Mavericks, etc.) I spent a memorable birthday lying on Moss Beach – sun beating down, not a soul in site, waves rhytimically crashing – such peace!

I would say that I spent a year or so exploring the area before I decided it was too windy for my taste and it didn’t have the mental stimulation that I thought a university town might provide. So it was on to Santa Cruz.

I had spent much of my childhood and teen years in the Santa Cruz area, so I was already familiar with it, but as I began to explore it again, it was like discovering it anew.

It’s hard to say exactly what drew me to Santa Cruz, but it would have to be the combination of fun (via the Boardwalk, specifically the roller coaster), intellectual stimulation (bookstores, events, the influence of the university), the amazing natural beauty of beaches, hills, mountains and redwoods all converging in one geographic area, the vitality of the downtown (actually bustling with people, street artists, restaurants, funky shops and the basics: movies, bookstores, cafes). I was sold.

Now all that was left was finding a house. I called a few agents, and looking back, I wonder what their problem was – not many followed up. I finally found one fantastic agent who made it all happen for me and the rest is history.

I understand from my own experience that the buying curve can be quite long. It takes as long as it takes to know in your bones what is right for you and the timing has to be right, as well. I trusted my instincts and couldn’t be happier with where I ended up.

I love to play a part in other people’s journey to this magical place.

Escrow: It’s Not Over ‘Till . . .

Before I became a Realtor, I had no idea how mindboggling an escrow can be. Once an offer has been accepted, the work for agents has just begun. There are dozens of things that have to be done, and hundreds of things that can go wrong.

Properties fall out of escrow every day, for a myriad of reasons (funds not deposited, the “approved loan” had some lender requirements that couldn’t be met, the inspections turned up nightmares and the buyer backed out, the seller refused to pay $25.00 to fix something and the buyer backed out, etc., etc., ad naseaum).

As a Realtor it is unethical of me to trash other agents, so suffice it to say that in every profession there are human beings who are nice, decent, ethical, competent, people with integrity, then there are people who aren’t so nice or any of the rest of it. Working with the latter is just no fun and can cause all kinds of stress for the “nice” agent, but more to the point, unless there are two agents working in good faith to bring the transaction to a successful closure, it might not get there.

If most people are like me, they thankfully have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, once they have signed on the dotted line. In fact, what goes on behind the scenes is one of the key reasons agents are so valuable – showing properties and negotiating contracts are one thing, but making sure the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed in escrow is another matter altogether.

If you had no idea this was the case, you have benefitted from the services of good agents.


What’s Your Architectural Style?

I love architecture and design. As a Girl Scout in 6th grade, I did interior design research (an exercise in career preparation). I was amazed (and at the time, overwhelmed) at all of the various and sundry historical influences.

As a Realtor, I find that as I engage with people about their dream homes, if I dig a little bit, virtually everyone has specific ideas about what they like and don’t like – some people crave open floor plans with elaborate kitchens with morning sunlight – others love Craftsman style details – some must be “steps to the sand,” others in the midst of old growth redwoods. It’s all about mood, lifestyle, identity, and every preference a person can have from paint color to flooring materials.

I bond most easily with buyers who appreciate “homes with character,” as that is a specific love of my own – but I have also come to appreciate styles I would not have thought I would like, through exposure to diverse style treatments and lifestyles.

I always appreciate thoughtful design, high-end materials, and innovation, but I wonder who doesn’t?

I have lived in ranch style homes (or ramblers, as they are referred to in other parts of the country), and even though this was the style in my formative teen years, it is not a favorite. But some people like the style and although it is difficult for me to fathom, I will do everything in my power to show the cream of the ranch style crop to people who crave a “ranch” home. Or, if representing sellers, I might suggest modest design changes that make the best of the design (for instance, if you happen to have a ranch home with a pink tiled bathroom, then my suggestion might be to vamp it up as much as possible – perhaps bright pink wall color complimented by a poodle motif toilet seat cover?) I like to insert humor into a home’s decor, especially when design elements are lacking.

I Moved to My Vacation Destination & Have Never Looked Back

While in graduate school (after my children were launched) – (yes, I am old as dirt – one of those annoying Babyboomers who litter the landscape), I decided to move to the beach where I had the romantic notion I would finish my dissertation in peace and tranquility.

Well, after three years of writing, I threw in the towel, but I have never looked back from making the move, even though my course subsequently changed so dramatically. Previously, I had lived in suburbia – never my intention, but once there, it seemed important to raise my family in one neighborhood in an attempt to provide roots through continuity. I truly feel suburbia is a stiffling dead-end in more ways than one (the subject for another blog rant), but the wonderful thing about where I live now is there is no part of Santa Cruz County that is truly suburbia (well, there are a few neighborhoods that might count, but the preponderance of homes are very individual and unique). That is one of the key features I love about Santa Cruz.

It is very cool to live in what used to be your vacation destination. Santa Cruz County has so many wonders I’d have to be six people to do all of the interesting things there are to do. It’s so nice to be able to easily make every walk a walk on the beach. These days I favor East Cliff Drive, just above The Hook and Pleasure Point. On those days where life gets the best of you, seeing the vastness and beauty of the ocean puts everything into perspective. And the rhythm of the waves and salt air are not just cliches – the combination is just magic in terms of a relaxation elixer.

Living in such a beautiful place makes me wonder why anyone would settle for less or live in areas that are not aesthetically pleasing, if they have the means to live elsewhere. I am sure there are a million reasons ranging from family roots, to job accessibility to obliviousness to one’s environment. I could never go back to suburbia (never say never, but I MEAN it!). I love the diversity and beauty of Santa Cruz County.

Incomprehensible California Real Estate Prices . . .

Is it just me, or can you really grasp the actual dollar-for-dollar value of homes beyond $800k  (or even up to $800k, for that matter)?

I bought my first house in the early Seventies for around $22k. A few years later, I purchased the second house for somewhere in the neighborhood of $37k.

Fast-forward thirty-plus years and the same houses are going for $700k to $900k. As a Realtor, I know how to price homes, but what I find oddly perplexing, is what these prices really mean.

In my market at this moment in time (early 2007), double-digit appreciation on an hourly basis seems to be a thing of the past and values are stabilizing. I think this is a good thing (otherwise no one would ever be able to afford to buy a home – it is difficult enough for the middle class as it is).

When viewing properties, I really scrutinize prices above $800k to determine particular variables. Up to $800k, the number of bedrooms and baths, lot size and square footage of the house, along with the condition of the house and where it is located make pricing it based on comparable sales information pretty standard (if there is such a thing in Santa Cruz County, which there isn’t because the most of the houses are not “cookie cutter” – they mostly have very different characteristics).

Can you really fathom the value difference between $800K, $825k, $850k, $875k, $900k, $925k, $950, $975k, $1,000,000, $1,250,000, etc., etc. (and all of the increments in between)?

How about the difference in value between $1,250,000 and $1,400,000? It kind of gets more and more vague as to what these differences are (could be location, architecture, or just throwing a number at the wall and seeing if it sticks).

I just marvel at the abstractness, at some level, of it all.