|Palo Alto Online Real Estate
Uploaded: Thursday, April 19, 2012, 4:33 PM
Palo Alto snapshot
Seeking their next fixer-upper
|Kelly and Mitch Zenger sold their Midtown Palo Alto home last year and were biding their time, waiting for the right property to come on the market.
Their intent was not to leave Palo Alto but to downsize, move to a neighborhood closer to Palo Alto High School and to find another place to fix up.
The Zengers and their four children had lived on Bryant Street for 10 years, in an odd part of town where the kids went to El Carmelo Elementary and JLS Middle School but continued on to Paly -- without their peers who went to Gunn.
"They're always the new kids," Mitch Zenger said.
"We didn't need as much house anymore," Kelly Zenger said, adding that their oldest son is in college, with one in high school, one in middle school and the last in elementary school.
While location and downsizing were important, what the couple really wanted was "our next project," he said. "We've enjoyed the building process; we've done two houses, and we were ready to do another project. We enjoy finding something and remodeling."
"At one phase we needed a park in the backyard; now we're off on weekends, going to sports, taking vacations together and don't need as much space," said Kelly, who describes herself as a "stay-at-home mom" who loves the creative process of remodeling houses.
"I enjoy looking at the new products, new appliances, modern technology that you can put in your home. I'm a nurse but have this side that needs to create and decorate. We work well together; we've found great contractors, had positive experiences," she said.
"The other part of building that I like is it's physical, tangible. You actually can accomplish something," Mitch added. "So much of my business (selling consulting services at Cisco Systems) is service-oriented. I deal with people, problems -- it's never really done.
"With a house, you build it and it's done."
So they rented a home in Old Palo Alto and started scouting for their next project.
"We'd been shopping around; we put an offer on one house that had the crazy 20 offers kind of thing. We didn't get it," Mitch said.
But just before Christmas the mother of a friend passed away. "We knew the family. Our families grew up together," Mitch said. He mentioned to the family that if they were interested in selling, the Zengers would like to do a direct transaction.
Part of the process of looking for their next house was studying the local market.
"We did the comps ourselves. ... We track it all the time. It's kind of a hobby of ours. We know the area and can find out a lot on the Internet," Kelly said. "Both parties were easygoing, trying to be fair."
"There were no multiple bids or price war. We had conversations directly with the family. I did the competitive analysis, did the comps, did all that negotiation," Mitch said.
The hardest part was settling on financing.
"Getting the mortgage was an absolute nightmare, with the lender asking multiple times for ridiculous requirements," Mitch said.
That included six months of pay stubs plus a live person answering the phone to say he worked there and a letter from the CEO saying Mitch wasn't an owner of the company.
Ultimately, the bank misspelled the street name, Southampton, adding a second "h" in the middle.
"We had to redo everything," Kelly said.
"They stalled; I had to sign a letter acknowledging I had to pay additional interest. It's borderline infuriating/comical. You have to laugh because it's so ridiculous," Mitch said.
In the end, "We just tried to be super patient. You can't rush them; you know they have the control. You just show up -- even in San Jose -- with the papers," Kelly said, always being gracious and thanking them for their time.
Even with requesting a rush approval that was supposed to take 24 hours, funding was delayed eight days. But they ultimately closed on the new house in Leland Manor.
Next comes finalizing plans to add about 800 square feet while upgrading the kitchen and bathrooms and adding a master suite.
The whole project should take four to six months.
Because they've done this three times, the Zengers can offer advice for others seeking houses in Palo Alto.
* Look on the Multiple Listing Service, talk to friends, let it be known you're looking. "Real estate agents can only do so much; you're personally invested in finding a home for your family. It's just easy to do a little investigative work yourself," Kelly said.
• Check Craigslist.
• Write letters. Mitch mentioned that if a house looked abandoned, they've asked neighbors "not that that ever worked out," he said.
• Talk to multiple agents. "We were concerned with how busy agents are; some are too busy and don't call you back," Kelly said.
Her final thought: "You don't want to be too aggressive, but find out as much as you can about a property, who owns it."
— Carol Blitzer
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