Real Estate: At the rate we’re going

Rising interest rates are looming, inflation is inflating the cost of everything, and limited inventory is putting the Boston buyer in a pricing predicament. A pickle if you will, and not the sweat and sour kind that I adore with a turkey stuffed sandwich. This pickle is the prickly kind that warns you not to make an emotional decision. It would be so easy, and understandable, to attend an open house and run into swarms of other would be buyers, and think to yourself, this will be the only property. Look at all these people, they are validating my belief that its a good one, one that I shouldn’t let slip through my fingers. That’s emotion talking. It’s the evil voice in your head that has you placing offers that are overblown, on properties that you may, or may not, even like that much. It’s the voice that responds to the “Best and Last” offer request with an increase in your price.

That voice must be silenced. Try asking it: “What if I am only bidding against myself?” How stupid would I look then. It’s the voice that must be silenced with reason, with data, with an understanding that there is no more powerful a place to be, than to be in the place you are willing to walk away from. I am not suggesting that you don’t have any emotion at all. That wouldn’t even be possible, would it? A little passion, a little desire, is necessary to ensure you bring your best to the home, the investment, the property. You owe her that. She’ll likely have had lots of owners before you came along. Many will have neglected her, cheeped out on renovations, deferred her maintenance, when attended to it was what she really needed. There would have been bad design decisions for which she had no input. Some owners might have treated her better, but left her to start a family, and what she needs is someone that will both invest in her, and be invested in her. Emotion, you can’t get away from it, but you can’t let it rule you either.

Run the numbers, consider the supply chain issues, the cost of labor, if you can in fact get that crew to show up for you, and remember that inflation will make even the most mundane materials astronomically more expensive. You’ll long for the early days of the pandemic when you were only dealing with increases associated with the bottleneck when those inflationary costs start to land on your renovation spreadsheet. This is real, and I hope that you are a fan of Mies van der Rohe, because you will be getting a whole lot less for a whole lot more.

I’m not saying don’t bid. To the contrary, bid away. You’ll get so much more insight into the market by playing in it. I love putting bids in on properties. I put one in just this week. I looked at it once, went back again to take a harder look, to evaluate the cost per sf, the location, the amenities, the necessary renovations in the next few years, and put in a price that I was certain wouldn’t result in a win, but was more than fair for the property. I lost, but learned that there were eight bidders, and that an over ask, no finance contingency, and no inspection contingency wasn’t enough to seal the deal. That’s good data. It will make my next offer that much better.

I passed on two others that I took hard looks at. One needed the type of work that comes with a thirty year tenant, and nary an upgrade during that time, and the numbers didn’t pencil out. Too high a price for the assumed risk, for a property that I never intended to live in. You’ve got to be willing to live in it, or rent it, until you can sell it for a profit, or fish and cut bait so that you can free up your cash to make a smarter decision the next time.

The last property was dreamy. Needed the kind of love I could have given her, but was out of my price range. I knew it when I looked at it, but feel better knowing that she had three offers at over ask. How do I know, I asked. It was on the sunny side of the street, but if you are stone cold broke, no amount of sun will warm you up if you’ve made a decision that leaves you house poor.

The year is off to an exciting start. Stay warm this weekend.

UNMET Needs, Endless Aspiration and Small Spaces

There is something romantic, intriguing, and comforting about small spaces. They are the warm womb of security that is often missing from the cold expanse of our global existence. They are economy and ingenuity, they are the hostess that makes you feel seen, special, attended to, despite the room full of other guests. They are the double take, and smoke and mirrors of a master illusionist. They are the embodiment of Mies Van Der Rohe’s old addage: “Less is more.” – = +

Amir Khamneipur may be the most inventive small space designer of all time. Check out the mirrored back wall that makes the space seem huge, now, the kitchen island – same thing, it’s not a piece of furniture, it’s an island, and what about the bench seating for dining that doubles as two single beds for his nephews when they come to stay?

Done right, a small space invites you to climb aboard and stay a while. Done poorly, it can leave you in a cold sweat, shallow breaths that never get past your collar bone, oxygen deprivation causing a charcoal smear on the perimeter of your lens of vision. Throw down the sash of that new/old Art Deco Orient Express cabin window and inhale the cool night air. Even a 30sf cabin aboard a train can be made to feel palatial with thoughtful detailing.

Seeing is believing.

I think it started with I Dream of Jeannie’s bedroom in a bottle. What little girl wouldn’t want to climb up that ladder and alight on that plush velvet boudoir of a bed. As my sister would say: “purple promise”. We’ll leave it at that. I was hooked. Then came the Merimeco curtains my mother made for the Curlew, our 54′ Slip Jack Catch, my very own first apartment with its hidden doors, secret compartments, and furniture on invisible wheels, it was part of the fixed cabinetry one moment, and serving up cocktails to the guests in the middle of the living room the next. Surprise and delight, surprise and delight, surprise and delight.

Whether you are building a set on a stage, an apartment on steel wheels, or jetting passengers half way across the globe, it truly doesn’t matter the size of the space in which you do it. It matters how you make “them” feel, and by “them”, I mean YOU.

As I search for a fresh take in this new year. I return to some of my old favorites, find new jaw-dropping inspirations, and offer thanks to my mother, and the universe for never allowing me to get a Barbie Dreamhouse. It is the unmet need that fuels my real estate ambition.

’22 and the Moody Hues

Browns, creams and saturated tints will rule the year.

They are stories in silk, woven with the wondrous, and fantastical, the realistic, and the magical. Of the moment, of the mythical, of the mountain majesties, the desert plains, the soundless ocean floors, and royal castle doors. They are imagination gone wild, splicing worlds together, blending and blurring and ever obscuring boundaries. The thinnest of barriers sit between night and day, childhood and adulthood, between East and West. It’s a cacophony of carefully curated chaos, so artistically and intricately executed that to be lost in it, is to find yourself enchanted.

For those that track color trends, they offer the fullest expression of the hues of twenty-two, with their moody blues, and saturated shades. There are earthy tones, warm creamy neutrals, and muddy greens, browns, and roses. They hint at depth and texture, and detail, all of which will play starring roles in the new year. While they are unadorned, the images they depict are anything but. There are flowers and feathers and fringe and finery. The “more” of the maximalist methodology that will dominate the year. There will be layers of texture and pattern that don’t even try to hide their playful abandon.

Marry the muddy and moody with a the fantastical. Nature will find its way into homes in a big way.

Embrace the contradictions in action. Like the eponymous brand, Hermes was a thief and an athlete, a soul guide and a shepherd. The God of boundaries, music and speed, wit and sleep. He was a protector of travelers, and a source of good luck. His winged feet are emblematic of his role as messenger, which seems fitting for a year that is likely to be filled with Yes-No directives.

Whimsy won’t be outdone, so don’t be afraid to have a little fun. Hermes Tea Time Scarf.

Get lost in the details. Confusion, such as it is, is just another way of letting you know that you can never be wrong for long. Let the experimentation begin.

Reflections of: A Real Year of Estates

27 Willow Bend . Chatham . SOLD!

I wonder what crypto currency smells like? I’ve started to dabble in it. An attempt to stay hip, to do what I am imploring my readers to do, to take a little risk. Of course the risk that I am asking them to take is tangible. You can touch it. Observe its lines and massing. Appreciate the ways in which it draws attention or detracts. It has an identity, a distinct style, a personal scent. Crypto is ethereal, celestial, ghostly, many would say that it’s not real at all. I guess that’s where faith come in. I’ve converted some of the “real” dollars I made on this years real estate transactions, into an idea, a concept, a different currency. Who knows if it will pay off, but I’ll always remain true to my first love.

2021 has some bad parts to be sure, but I’m not going to think about them today. The year resulted in some very big firsts on the wealth building front that are worth reflecting on here. First, 27 Willow Bend was transformed from a frumpy old lady into the hip new girl on the block, and I mean fly. Not as in flashy, but as in super sophisticated classy. She shines in all the right places. This first was a JV with my dear friends. While I was only a nominal investor, it presented an opportunity to do something I had never done before, like an actual budget that we followed, a whole house, and yard, and a schedule that we drove instead of being taken for a ride. When I say “we” , I really mean that I observed my talented friends as they made all of this happen. Gratitude and awe at your facility, determination, and heart, Tiffany, Jeanne and Al.

They doubled my little pile of money, which led to my second first. I got a kids seat at the development table for a commercial investment. This is a very big deal. Women are not on the call list for developers in search of investors. In fact, there is so much money out there, held by a few, that developers with a good reputation hardly need to break a sweat to raise the funds for their next venture. Getting in on the action was a result of an enterprising young gals desire to change the investor profile to look a whole lot more like her, or in my case, an older version of her. We share a similar ambition, and desire to help women build wealth. To my dear friends Lauren and Kristin, thank you for connecting me to Jen, for supporting me, and for making the slog silly fun.

My third first was the sale of 34 Lawrence Street. My fifth property – all these numbers, added up to a loss. That’s right. I sold the property for just under what I invested in it. That was definitely the first time that had happened to me, leading many, myself included, to ask, “does she really know what she’s doing”? Who ever can be entirely sure? I’m taking the long view. I might have lost this hand, but I’m still in the game, searching for the next deal, the next lesson, the next home.

Wishing you a new year filled with prosperity and plenty of firsts.

Color is a Fickle Friend: Choosing Paint

Beige peeked out between the stacked corrugated cardboard moving boxes, penned in red Sharpie. The dim light of a dreary rainy day contributing to the institutional look of the rental unit. The exposed concrete deck, with its polished finish finding favor with the glossy grey cabinetry in the kitchen, completed the totality of color. Neutral, bland, basic.

Troy . The Neutral Zone

While I am sure there are plenty of people that would move right into their rental unit and leave it just that way, adding a splashy pillow or throw to bring a pinched cheek of color to the pallor, I am not them. My feelings surrounding my departure from No. 5 matched the unexceptional setting that I was entering, which wouldn’t do at all. New beginnings should be approached with excitement, anticipation, or at the very least a prickle of uncertainty about what the future will hold. Yes, I wanted that, and though the market has been decidedly bereft of interesting offerings, I was going to plan, as if a property was right around the corner, the tale of which was just waiting to be whispered to me, or posted at an unusual hour – standing by, for me to pounce, and pounce I would with a color palette preplanned, and prepared for painting!

Poor, many pennies less in my purse, me – I had my sample blotched living room wall painted on the Monday after my Wednesday arrival, only to arrive home that evening and decide with a decisiveness that removes any question that there was ever doubt, that “Soft Jazz” would was not going to be a headliner in my club. I hated it. To say that the pictures didn’t tell the tale of the tastelessness of the tint, is an understatement. Picture an 18 year old boys dorm room blue. Image the aroma of sweat, unwashed sheets, and days old pizza fossilizing in cheap cardboard flats on the floor. That’s the color blue that I had splashed on my walls, and it had to go.

More samples, more hand wringing, another late night return to the home two days later, one eye closed in anticipation of a second costly failure. No, I nailed it. I think Heather Blue is going to be the color of 2022. Thank you Ben Moore for delivering a Christmas miracle.

Not Nothin’: Another chapter closed

I’ve been as apathetic about the sale of No. 5 as one might be. I’ve been nervous, even angry about how the negotiations went on passed homes. I’ve conceded, and dug my heals in. I’ve been nasty, and gracious, and expectant. I’ve promised to be better, and do better, and failed, and tried again. Strong emotions all, but not this time. This time I said, buy it, or don’t. Agree to my terms, or not. I want to wash the taint of the pandemic off, but not at any cost. This property, I conceded, I would take a loss on.

Not exactly an exclamation point over the fireplace, but an end.

The loss would be nominal, $2500., but it stung more than I thought it would, or should. I wanted to place that blame on anyone, but on myself, and I certainly owned a part of it, didn’t I? I bought it after all, in all its ugly ducklingness, but that was just the outside. Doesn’t everyone always say the most important thing is what’s on the inside? She was ugly there too, but I didn’t know that when I bought her. She was abused and neglected, and I cared for her, when others had not. I can’t regret doing the right thing by her. I just wish the payoff had been greater.

As I prepared to embark on my next mini-chapter, I toured, and analyzed, new tower complex, after new complex, and went back to a few that I had visited before. What I discovered is that these places in the South End are outrageously expensive. I’d give back the dog shampoo station, the swimming pool, and the on-line match making service for residents, in exchange for $1500. off my rent a month, which got me thinking. I paid $4000. a month in mortgage payments over the course of 35 months. That’s $140,000. That’s not nothin’, and it made me smile, and think a little more kindly of No. 5. It might not have turned out the way I had hoped, but it wasn’t all bad.

I’ll Have a Blue Christmas

Just 4 days shy of my three year mark, I’ll be saying good-bye to No. 5. We were an on again, off again, property listing. Putting ourselves out there, and then retreating to question what went wrong. Why we were the only one left at the dance, still leaning against the wall. We wanted answers, but the answers we wanted had nothing to do with the truth, just a truth that we could swallow. A truth that wouldn’t place blame on us, but rather on something else, something out there, out of our control, that’s the kind of answer she and I were looking for, because it couldn’t be that we weren’t pretty. We’d worked hard to make ourselves presentable, to work with what we were given, to shine and polish, and impress.

Hang your stocking with care.

The fear of not being enough is a horrible one, so we wouldn’t allow ourselves to think about it. We were going to take ourselves home from that dance, and decorate for the holidays. We’d be so blingy, you’d be blinded by our beauty when you walked through the door. We’d be bejeweled and bedazzled, festooned, and fiercely festive. We were going to go all out, but just as we were reaching for our coats and preparing to exit, the unexpected happened.

Isn’t it always the way. The offer came in, and we accepted. What could one twirl around the floor hurt. We didn’t have to stay until the end, but in the end we decided we would. It was good. No. 5 and I would consciously uncouple, and I would forge out on my own, alone again, free, a world of possibility at my fingertips, the only sadness, no holiday decorations in the city for me.

I do so love to decorate every square inch for the holidays. Maybe I’ll have enough energy after the move to get a tiny little tree, a couple of garlands, a few bows. That wouldn’t be too much work now would it?

Specificity: The Art of Getting it Right

When I first started in this industry – this industry – design and construction, I sat behind a reception desk, answering calls, furiously filling out Pepto Bismal colored slips, that got carefully torn from the spiral bound note book, and deposited into the circular plastic caddy, for all those important enough to get messages in the first place. I received deliveries – lots and lots of deliveries, and sets of drawings and specifications that would make even the most ardent supporter of the gym, laugh at the facilities ability to prepare you for real life. Drawing sets were hundreds of pages, thousands of symbols, and stank of the acrid aroma of blueprints. The spec book, which completed the pairing – one element useless without the other, was the size of Gideon’s Bible – I do so love the underdog Rocky Racoon – this post bound book was daunting. “Who”, I wondered aloud to myself, “would ever want to read, or write this thing”?

I may not have wanted any part of it, but as I sit looking at my reupholstered chair, and coordinating pillows, I have to ask myself, “Could this experience have benefited from a sketch, with narrative instructions to the upholsterer”? I do wonder how it went so wrong. Maybe my instructions got lost in translation during the six months that preceded their arrival and the delivery of said pieces. We’ve all had it up to our eye-balls with news of supply chain challenges and delays, delays, delays, and I don’t even want to admit the ghastly cost of this imperfect endeavor, which if we are looking to place blame, could so easily fall on the germy shoulders of the pandemic.

Tight. Divided bolster pillows for the bed. Custom, not arts and crafts.

Placing blame, will not change the reality that they replaced my perfectly round edged seat cushion, filled with fluffy down, with a modern foam filled substitute that is squared off at the corners, and hangs, ever so indelicately, over the chairs front edge. A pedestrian mistake. I had it happen once before with a mid-century modern sofa, I had reupholstered. I took all the cushions back, and demanded that they cover the old cushions. ” I never instructed them to be replaced”. I huffed. And what of the edge banding, that was supposed to be navy blue velvet piping? And the pillows – they aren’t even the correct fabric. While they all coordinate, they are a far cry from the vision I had for the bedroom design.

Now who’s wishing they were a spec writer. Next project, sketches, diagrams, arrows, sample boards, narratives, and a signed contract will accompany my deposit. Has this ever happened to you?

How do you Identify: Holiday yes, or no?

The season will adapt to whatever you have at home if you give it a hand.

I identify as a Christmas person. The type that starts playing Christmas songs in July when I am working on concepts for my company’s holiday packages. You have to be in a festive frame of mind, even if the heat is being generated by the sun instead of a crackling wood burning fireplace. Co-workers pass by my office, I spot a raised eyebrow as they lean closer, outstretched hand on the long black pull of my sliding glass door, lips forming words of admonishment. “That’s not Christmas music that you’re playing, is it?” They ask tentatively, and with a note of remonstration in their voice. I reply chirpily “absolutely, and please kindly close the door, so that I don’t disturb Theresa who is putting the pennies, ever so carefully. in all the right columns.” Thank you!

I won’t be shamed into pretending I’m too cool for decorations, packaging that sparkles, jingles, and begs to be touched. I won’t let go of the excitement that I felt as a kid, in the months, weeks, days that led up to that special holiday. I mostly have to be serious, or worried this, anxious that, how will I get it all done, and the done is just followed by more need for doing. No, I refuse. Christmas makes me happy, it makes me nicer. It makes me more creative.

Now I understand that some of you readers will be cringing at the mere mention of the season. That’s ok, I’m not trying to convert the universe into gingerbread baking, cookie making, gift giving, graceful, giddy, gals and guys, but nobody that I am aware of, was ever made unhappy by a little holiday crafting. You don’t even have to use the traditional red and green colors of the Noel. No, you go ahead and use any old color you want, but don’t be stingy with the sparkle. A little glitter never hurt anyone. A string of lights can turn brown and green wildwood into a magical forest. A sprig of holy against your blue and white chinoiserie takes on a whole new attitude.

This past weekend I took to the road, my mini pointed south to New Haven, and my dear, talented, artist of a friend Carol Anne’s studio, and I hot glued my way through dozens of vases, bowls, turines, and planters, stuffing them with Amaryllis and Paper Whites, blanketed them in moss, and bedazzling them to give their owner something to appreciate before the bulb explodes into a stock, and the stock erupts with a bloom, and the bloom arrives at a time when even those most resistant to the holiday season, have to cede to the reality that it has arrived. You mine as well enjoy it. Think what you too could create with a glue gun, some spray paint, a twig, a pinecone, and a couple of old ornaments. Hope you have as much fun as I did.

Who could resist that donkey, let’s not forget Mary road in on one of these little fellas.

Don’t Get Bested by the Cash Buyer

The Queen of Cash, is King Game, just may be Flyhomes. If you bought, sold, or forlornly submitted your rent check to your landlord, yet another month during a long, and unfruitful quest for a home of your own, you may have been outbid by a cash buyer. Boston has long been a city where perspective buyers beg their real estate agents to show a property to them first, before it hits the market, talk nice to the selling broker to curry favor, write a glowing letter to include with the bid that talks about raising your unborn children in the home, or starting a women-owned business that is going to change the world, or proclaiming a psychic had a vision of you living in this very house, interviewing Michelle Obama. Stranger things have happened.

I learned about Cash Buyers at the tail end of my search for my third home. I had been outsmarted eight consecutive times. Eight times, ouch. I was not happy. While I was carrying on about cash buyers, and lamenting the fact that I wasn’t born royal, I discovered something very important, not every cash buyer actually has the cash to buy a home. “How could that make them a cash buyer, I asked?” ” Isn’t that the very definition of one? ” I asked my broker Alan. It turns out that it is not. The allure of “cash” to a perspective buyer can be a number of things including; speed to closing, and/or an assurance that you aren’t going to run into trouble securing your financing, which is grounds for the deal to fall through, with no financial ramifications to the potential buyer. In other words, as long as they attempted to get at least one bank to lend them the money, and failed, they will receive their 5% deposit back, and the seller will be left with nothing, but a suspicious “Back on the Market” designation that may taint their ability to get another solid offer.

A sign that leaves a potential buyer asking themselves what went wrong.

I’m pretty competitive. I was born that way. I hated the idea of being outdone. It’s not as if I can’t accept a loss here and there, I’m evolved, but eight times. That’s ridiculous. Alan had an answer, and he just may have waited long enough into my humiliation cycle to spring it on me, to know that I would do anything, almost anything, things that were pretty risky, to get a deal to stick. This second type of cash buyer, I could be. It required me to waive my financing contingency. Refer to the previous paragraph where I told you that if you make an effort to secure financing (through a single lender), and it falls through, you get all your money back. That’s the part – I could waive that contingency. By relinquishing my right to get my 5% deposit back, I could own the title, Cash Buyer, and so could you. I warn you, it is not for the faint of heart, and not every seller will go for it, but there are plenty out there that hope your financing will fall through, and they’ll have their home, and your money (this isn’t exactly true, but mostly it is).

Not to long ago, in the midst of the Covid house buying craze that has turned the suburbs into a casino for high-rollers, I learned that there might be a better way. Six years ago an innovative company opened its virtual doors – Flyhomes will for a fee, be the cash buyer for you. Well isn’t that just the smartest thing you ever did hear? Founded by Tushar Garg and Stephen Lane in Seattle, Washington, in 2015. They launched here in Boston in 2019 – suspiciously great timing. One more great thing about cash offers, more often than not they aren’t the highest offer. They average 3% below market. You just may walk on air after your closing – also known as flying.