Catapulted into retirement planning - August 2009

Paso Once we decided that we want to retire in a wine country, the question became where? Napa and Sonoma are too crowded, and oh so cliché. We love Santa Ynez and particularly Los Olivos. But the movie Sideways ruined it for us as now everyone loves Los Olivos. Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are totally cute, but do we really want to move to Winelands of Cape Town? We love Paso Robles' tiny boutique wineries, the quaint town, the oak-studded landscape…

With our hearts set on Paso area, and the economy forcing the prices down, we decided to see what was available. Assana's long time friend and trusted real estate agent, Francis Rolland, recommended a realtor down in the area. She couldn't be bothered by a couple of yuppies looking for land. She told us we wouldn't be able to find anything with our criteria. Fine. At this point we were on our own. The problem was that without knowing the area we couldn't narrow our search. We were looking at listings that were a hundred miles apart, and clearly we didn't want to search that large an area. We decided to take a trip down and pick an area to concentrate on.

Serendipity We drove around, gawked at the beautiful country, and made notes of roads and areas we liked: [aptly named] Vineyard Drive, Peachy Canyon, Willow Creek… The next day Debby, the inn keeper at Orchard Hill Farm, told us that the areas we liked is referred to as The Westside. It is named after highway 46W and it is considered "the Beverly Hills of Paso," to quote her. Sounded great, but we guessed what this meant for the prices. And we were right: Land prices in The Westside were much higher than any other area.

We returned back to the Bay Area with our hopes kind'a yanked back to earth. Then we had this brilliant idea: what about the 40 acre walnut orchard we saw for sale? And right on Vineyard Drive! True that its prices was 5 times more than we can afford, but we thought with a chunky down payment the land would surely pay for its own mortgage. We guessed it probably makes $500K a year (True, we had no expertise, but it didn't stop us from having an opinion!) We could buy it and let it sit until we are ready to retire. We were excited about our ingenious plan. We dropped the listing agent, Jim Irving, a note asking how much the orchard netted a year. The answer was $9500. Clearly he had a typo and meant $95k, which was still disappointing. Turns out he actually did mean ninety-five HUNDRED dollars. WHAT? Forty acres of walnut only makes 9500 bucks a year?? Yes, and that's only because the owner is doing the labor himself. Otherwise it will have a negative income. Doh!

Once again we were yanked back on earth and our dreams were poofed away. Or were they? In one correspondence, Jim casually mentioned an "undesirable" parcel on Willow Creek Road which had been greatly reduced since the previous year. We love Willow Creek Road!
Us: Why is it undesirable?
Jim: Because it has a big hill in the middle and you'd have to terrace it for a vineyard! And you'd have to cut acres of oaks to make a clearing!

We LOVE big hills! And who doesn't love oaks? Yes! Yes! We were interested. But Jim couldn't find the listing. What? What do you mean you can't find the listing? Well, it simple wasn't showing up in his searches. He sent us last year's listing information from when he, himself, was the listing agent. We looked at the photos. We loved it!

Thanks Jason It was as though the real estate gods wanted to make sure this parcel does NOT sell! Eventually Jim did find the listing. Turns out it was listed within Paso Robles' city limit, where it is not! Later we also noticed that it was listed in the city of Templeton, also incorrect. So this poor little land would have never turned up in any MLS searches! Lucky for us we had Jim, who happen to know about it.

We drove down to Paso to meet Jim and to take a look at the property, all the while reminding ourselves if something is too good to be true, it probably is. On the way to the property we noticed its for-sale sign posted on the corner of Vineyard Drive and Willow Creek Road; its arrow was dangling down! More reason why no one saw this land. Incidentally, at some point the arrow was fixed, except that then it was pointing to the wrong direction! Poor little parcel! It had no chance! And of course, like all this wasn't bad enough, the up-side-down horseshoe on the shed was letting all the luck fall out! (No worries... we have taken care of that!)

In Love We visited the land and loved everything that makes it undesirable for a winery: the hill in the middle, the hundreds of oak trees, etc. Jim had a few other parcels he wanted to show us. The next parcel was on Peachy Canyon Road, twice as big and twice as expensive. It had a natural gas main going smack thru the land, which would have make it undesirable except that, as a barter for the easement, the owner would be allowed to tap into the gas main!! The third parcel was in San Miguel, 20 miles to the north. Much much larger parcel, and cheaper because of its non-westsideness. While walking around the property Jim gets a phone call which gives us a little bit of alone time to discuss the land.

Assana's last real estate search spanned 3 years. It is unfathomable that she would place an offer so fast. But we love this property. We really love it. It is everything we want: 19 acres gives us a nice buffer space; its hill is the highest hill in the area so we will always have a view, it has beautiful oak trees to give us privacy, it is close to town, it is on the west side, right off of Vineyard Drive, it has water, power, telephone, a beautiful building site on top of the hill, and a perfect spot for the infinity pool! But can we afford it?

Scraping the bottom of the barrel We did sleep on the decision but we both knew we were going to place an offer the next morning. We met Jim bright'n early to talk numbers. Jim told us all about the previous offers on this property, and how the sellers have out-right rejected anything below asking price. Nevertheless, it wasn't selling so we asked Jim how far down he thought we could go. He suggested a maximum of $90k below listing. We knew we would probably get rejected, but this was all we could afford. We made an offer… all the while waiting for an immediate rejection. It was a cash offer, we requested almost nothing, we had a short closing date, how can they refuse? They countered!! $10k below listing… We up'ed our offer by 10k. They came down another 10k. Then we countered up $14,253… scraping the bottom of the barrel. And then nothing… crickets… tumbleweeds. They went silent. And then, in the eleventh hour, Assana got a call from Jim:
Assana: Hello?
Jim: Hello landowner!

They countered, up 947 bucks from our last offer! We accepted. Whoooo hooooo!
Git off'a ma' land!

Thanx Jim! Couldn't have done it without you!