Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Name Game

A recent client said farmhouse was his family's style. He was very clear. Farmhouses were it and everything else was out.

Yet something was wrong when we started looking at homes. Nothing seemed to be quite what he wanted. Farmhouse after farmhouse went by, and nothing struck him.
Then we showed him a house that might best be described as French/contemporary. More along the lines of the picture below.
He flipped.
"Yes! This is exactly what I meant! A farmhouse!"

And I learned something important.
What clients say and what I think that means aren't always the same thing.
In this case, a farmhouse was some vision he had of a country home with contemporary style and few accents that gave it a French feel.
So just in the interest of better communication, here's what I think of when the following styles are named.

Arts and Crafts. Craftsman.

It's a style that tends toward the square, lots of wood, an overall "amber" glow and lots of built - ins. Most Sears catalog houses were Craftsman style. Bungalows were a popular style, and big, block-y pillars and porches tend to be part of these homes. Gustav Stickley, William Morris, Rennie Mackintosh - that's Arts and Crafts.

Gothic. Gothic Revival.

This style makes me think of castles, fairy tales, medieval churches and Tim Burton. There should be arches somewhere, dark woodwork, a "vintage library" feel. It can be whimsical or it can be formal, but all Gothic decorating has a certain "Dark Shadows" feel.

Victorian/Cottage Style
These beauties range from over-the-top gingerbread extravaganzas to simple farmhouses with just a little bit of detail that makes them more than simply utilitarian. Ceilings tend to be high and windows large. I have a weakness for Victorians. I admit it. They're the dominant old houses in the Midwest - where they were the style of choice by the time the first settlers started moving west.

These are the grandaddies - the first fancy houses built by European settlers in America. There's a variety of styles depending on the part of the country you're in. Here in New York, there are a lot of Dutch Colonials - built by the state's original Dutch settlers.

MidCentury Modern

 This was the home of the future in the fifties and sixties. It was bright, open and generally low to the ground. After years of languishing, it's a style that's cool again.
I think with every style, the best of it comes back into vogue eventually.  And then it becomes a classic.


This may be the toughest style of all to pin down.  Contemporary means those angular wooden homes built in the 80s and 90s. But it means the glass-walled open concept homes, the steel and glass industrial style homes, just about anything you can imagine that's being designed now.

There are many more, and many variations on the basic themes.

I suspect this will not be the last time I get tripped up by a label.

Perhaps all my client really meant is he wanted a house on property he could farm.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Little Houses with Big Surprises

 Imagine having this view in your backyard.  It's my idea of heaven, actually.  I love the mountains, but open fields and big skies - ah.  Nothing better than lying out at night and looking at the stars.

The surprise is that this amazing backyard view is behind a cute starter ranch on a main road.  From the street, you'd never expect it.

In fact, the front yard also looks out at a lovely view - one I'd never noticed when I was driving.

It's a surprise - a happy one.

I like houses with surprises.

There's a fairy tale cottage for sale in our town with a little door midway up one bedroom wall.  When you open it, you discover a huge, peaked roofed room that looks like the perfect place for all  the grandkids to line up their sleeping bags, giggling in the summer night as the grownups admonish, "It's time to go to sleep!"

Here's what I picture it could be on a smaller scale, though right now it's just empty space.

It's not sold despite being on the market a long time. I hope someone falls in love with its surprises soon.

I fell in love with a surprise house once.  Downstairs veered between dreamy and ridiculous - lots of old cast iron casement windows, a big fireplace, mountain views and a pond - plus a long, hard-to-categorize cement-walled room with deep brown carpets that my guy immediately christened "The Mr. Hankey Suite,"  and a crazy little head-sized window beside the fireplace that looked down from the master bedroom stairs.

There was only the master bedroom and bath upstairs, but what a bathroom it was!  French doors led out to a long porch on the roof of the Mr. Hankey Suite.  Sunlight poured in and yet it was completely private - a very, very secret garden.

A home I recently saw had delightful surprises everywhere - odd little steps up and steps down, little sitting areas, gardens scattered around the yard with chairs conveniently placed to enjoy them. Kind of like this...

I think when we say a house has charm, that might be what we're talking about....happy little surprises,  little quirks, things that give it a personality.  And when you find a house that has a personality that suits yours, you're home.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Storefront on the Green

I've long had this fantasy - a little storefront shop in my funky hometown. A window on the world, my favorite way to be in the world; just a little outside and apart.

Now here I am.  It's Sunday in Woodstock and our real estate office looks directly out on what we like to call the green.  In actual fact, it's covered with bluestone pavers, but there are a lot of plants that are carefully tended by very skilled volunteers, so I guess it's green.

Sunday afternoon in Woodstock New York means one thing:  drum circle.  It's a long tradition and one I honestly like a lot.  People gather on the green at four pm, drums are handed out, and the noise begins.  According to town rules, it stops at six pm sharp.  We wouldn't want to annoy anyone.

Right now, it's not a circle so much as a show.  The visitors don't seem to understand that they're invited to join in, so there are just a few of the regular drummers and a bunch of people watching.

Well, not everyone's watching.  There is a man dancing.

I don't recognize him.  I don't think he's one of our resident free spirits. He's quite an ordinary looking person, really.  If he was wearing a suit and tie I'd say he probably runs an art gallery.  He might also be a writer or a filmmaker.  But he's wearing shorts and a polo shirt and he's dancing around the center of the stone circle like he can't help himself.

He's all alone, his arms waving and his feet thumping and he seems completely un-self-conscious.  He is spinning one way, then another and to tell you the truth, he's really boogieing.  There's a lady shimmying on the sidelines, too, but she's not quite ready to get in the middle with him.

Now there's another man...shirt tossed off, fanny pack swinging, and he has taken his solo in the middle of the circle.  There's a young boy with him, looking horribly embarrassed yet clearly dying to join in.  The man dances wildly, then leaves the circle to wild applause, and the boy stays.  His feet start moving, he grins self-consciously, and he's doing a modern version of the hokey pokey.  That lures in a young girl, giggling and covering her mouth, then joining him.  As the drums continue, the boy tries to do some freestyle, something that clearly isn't his forte.  But he's got an audience and this is becoming a show.

Off to the side, a group of teenage girls dance together.  A beautiful young model-type finds her way to the center while her companion, a thin young man all in black, tapes her on his iPhone.

But my particular favorite is a man I'll call Connecticut Man.  Despite the horrific heat, he's wearing a white Polo long sleeve shirt and long khakis.  And suddenly, he moves to the center of the circle with sinuous movements, slinking around in a highly unexpected way.

This is usually a percussive circle with a big crowd of people sitting and making noise.  Somehow today, after two weeks of no-rain and oppressive heat, it's become a dance performance. I'm hoping it's a rain dance.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of Mountain Views and Stone Tunnels

As a kid, I dreamed of living in a castle.  I loved fairy tales and Guinivere and fairies, a romantic and air-brushed version of medieval life in the country.

Imagine how I felt when I first saw a modern stone castle just minutes from where I live - then multiply that by a thousand when I found out it has a two hundred foot long underground stone tunnel!

It's for sale and I've visited it several times now, taking pictures, checking in with the owner (a stone artisan who sells stones for a living), just wandering the grounds.  It's got a great feeling - wide open skies, long views, a gorgeous quarry pond and a house that, despite its grand-ness, feels homey.

Maybe it's the stone. There's something really comforting about stone - it creates an instant sense of stability, a "Don't worry, we'll be okay through anything."

If a castle is a fortress, this is a castle fit for royalty. And I strongly suspect there are fairies watching from the woods.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Settin' a Spell

I spent awhile today sitting on the front porch with a lovely woman I'd never met before this afternoon.

She's got a home with a mountain view that many people would kill for.  Her property is open farmland; quiet and peaceful.

"I came out to the porch the other day to have a cup of tea," she told me, "and ended up spending two hours.  There were hummingbirds and robins, chipmunks, squirrels, and the air was just full of the sound of birds singing. I just couldn't go back inside."

She's leaving her house behind. Her family's grown and gone and she wants to move south - most of them are there.

But she's put a lot of herself in her home, and her porch and gardens, in particular, are a reflection of her own personality.  She told me her hanging baskets require a gallon of water a day.

"I tried doing less and one of 'em just didn't make it," she said. "Once the soil pulls away from the side of the container, it just doesn't soak in the water like it should."

Scarlet hollyhocks, pink petunias and a riot of other colors seemed to climb right out of the garden and onto the porch.

"One fellow came to look at the place and I swear if he could have he never would have left the porch," she laughed.

I had a porch like that once.  It was a simple old farmhouse porch, but wild roses climbed up one side, honeysuckle climbed up the other and sweet-scented nicotiana smelled like heaven every evening.  We lived out there from spring 'til fall.

Sitting on that porch in the Catskills today felt like a trip back in time - to that porch of mine, to the farmland where my mother grew up, to a simpler place where there is all the time in the world.

Whoever buys that house, and gets that porch, is going to be very, very fortunate.

Monday, July 2, 2012

You Mean I Have To Be Organized, Too?

Math has never been my strong suit. Frankly, it scares me. I can do it, but I always do it with a sense of unfamiliarity, like ordering dinner in Italian. Maybe I can do it, but don't ask me to deviate from the script. The wheels can come off this bus with little encouragement.

Making a schedule, for me, resembles math. It's organized, linear thinking. It is foreign to my nature. But I've had to learn. And here's why: I'm selling real estate.

Let me explain.

A couple wants to see twelve houses in one day. They're on a mission; they've seen houses they wanted go under contract while they considered their options. This time they want to be first in line.

Twelve houses in one day is akin to planning a military campaign. It stretches the limits of possibility.

Organization is everything. Clients have a limited amount of time to look - they're from out of town.  Sellers will not sit around all day waiting for a showing; they have things to do and lives to live. It's my job to create a schedule that marches us swiftly and efficiently through a long line of homes, giving the clients enough time at each to really look around. And I have to build in the room for them  to linger, to dawdle, to fall in love.

Without complete adherence to the schedule, it all falls apart.

I've been the client on one of these marathon runs. I've seen it done poorly and I've seen it done well. I've been disappointed when the sun begins to go down and three to four unseen homes remain on my list. I've gone home exhausted and overwhelmed by a massive flood of information, realizing I can no longer remember which house had the bathroom in the basement and which house was near the train tracks.

I have to make this marathon useful to the buyers and the sellers.

I have to develop a system - effective ways to help the clients keep all the properties straight in their heads, while avoiding overloading them.

Food? Sweets? Verbal cues? Sense memories?

It's a trick of the trade I have to learn - and the fun part is coming up with my own style.

It's a challenge. But it's part of the job.