Berkeley: long ago and far away, yet so close

#433 in a series of true experiences in real estate
July 2003, Hills Newspapers

Going to Jerry and Elizabeth’s house is, it seems to me, the best of old Berkeley. We settle down on the front porch with them and their two large dogs. There’s almost always someone visiting, sometimes a grandchild, there for the afternoon with her own family dog, or a neighbor, or friend come by for conversation.

Elizabeth’s flowers grow up and around the trellised porch, and there are wooden tables with oilcloth covers and wooden chairs, and everyone is smiling, glad to see us, glad to be alive. Elizabeth offers a plate of molasses cookies and glasses of juice. The visitors all say hello, offer their names, and it somehow seems as if we’ve known one another for half a lifetime.

I feel like I’m in the Berkeley I remember, as I lived it long ago. I had forgotten, but I am so very pleased to be reminded. Elizabeth and Jerry have been in Berkeley a long time and, it occurs to me frequently when I am at their house, that they probably know all the good people I have known here. We haven’t compared friend lists – no time – but I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of my old friends on Elizabeth and Jerry’s front porch.

I knew Jerry and Elizabeth in those old days, 30 years ago. I sold them this same property but haven’t seen them in all that time. We’d met when they were tenants in the front house – one of two houses on the same lot. I had gone to look at the property when it was for sale, and when I got there, Jerry told me that he was interested in buying, asked if I would write an offer for him.

In those earlier days of real estate, we didn’t have the same sort of concentrated contact with clients that we have today. Transactions were simpler (only a one page contract) and there were no disclosures or inspections to do and talk over. I met them, I wrote the offer, they bought, and probably we were together only a few times.

They lived in the front house, rented out the back, and raised four kids. When they no longer needed the spaciousness of the big house, they remodeled the smaller cottage in back and moved in. Then it occurred to them that they might make the property into condos and sell the one they were no longer living in to someone else.

Which is just what they did. They formed a condo association, had a site plan drawn, got the approvals they needed, and filed the necessary papers. And when they were ready to sell, serendipitously, a friend suggested that they contact Anet and me.

It wasn’t until we pulled up in front of their property to find Jerry standing on the sidewalk that I remembered. “I sold you this property,” I told him, and he said, “But that wasn’t your name – what was it then? It was a long time ago.”

Jerry led us then through the gate and along the path with pink and cream and white roses climbing everywhere to the back house where Elizabeth was waiting. We sat and talked about our marriages and kids and lives since we had last seen one another, and they told us about their plan to sell the big house.

There are in Berkeley quite a few “stand alone condos” – unconnected houses that share the same lot but are owned separately. Condo owners have specific areas designated for their exclusive use, the house they live in plus, usually, certain outdoor areas. There may also be areas that are shared between them, such as driveways and paths.

Each owner has his own loan, property tax bill and homeowner’s insurance policy. There is usually a blanket liability policy for the entire property, the cost of which is shared. Often the owners pay into a fund every month to cover the expenses of repair and maintenance for the commonly owned portions of the property.

During the several months prior to selling, we visited and talked frequently with Jerry and Elizabeth, followed the progress of repairs and cosmetic improvements. The house was almost entirely newly painted in soft and clean colors that Elizabeth chose. She studied color palates, brought home dozens of quarts, put up samples on the walls, and was fretting over her decisions when the painting crew showed up to work.

The old oak floors were refinished and the fireplace beautifully rebuilt. Jerry hired people to newly grout the large shower, had the gas stove griddle re-chromed, put up a better side fence, and some roof work was done.

When all was looking fresh and clean, Elizabeth did her own staging, something she’d never done in a house about to be sold, and she did it splendidly. It is a good and beautiful house, and it couldn’t have looked better.

The sale went well. We had big open houses, one for agents, another for the public. While many people expressed surprise, even confusion, that this house could possibly be a condo (it just doesn’t fit most people’s idea of a condo), others understood, asked questions, embraced the looks, space and feeling of the place. There were two offers to buy it.

Both the would-be buyers and Jerry and Elizabeth wanted to meet before they were committed. They were interested in finding compatibility. We all wish, of course, for good neighbors, but in this case, the immediate neighbors would share the same land and would be partners in ownership.

These meetings went well, an offer to buy was accepted, and now, six weeks later the sale was completed. Elizabeth cooked up a party (for several days in a row, during very hot weather, Elizabeth cooked) to celebrate. The buyers and their agent were there, all of the workmen were invited, neighbors and some friends came. We sat on the wooden front porch on a pleasantly warm Sunday afternoon, and we enjoyed.

There were four dogs at our feet and a child toddling between open hands. Pimm’s Cup was ladled from a large bowl into glass cups for us, the food was ravishingly good, the flowers in bloom around us and over us, and it was as if we had all long been warm friends.

This entry was posted in Information for Both Sellers and Buyers. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: