(Originally posted on August 16, 2007)
A box with walls
What is a house? I think I've been watching too much Jeopardy, since the answer was the heading, "A box with walls." When I work with buyers, I listen very carefully to the answers they give about what kind of home they want. The answers can only vary so much. One story or two, X number of bedrooms, bathrooms... you know the drill. Anyone can do a search to match their criteria, but that doesn't mean you're going to find a home they want to live in. The real answer is elusive, because it's a "feeling."
This is it!
As Luther Vandross sang, "A house is not a home, when there's no one there to hold tight, and no one there to kiss goodnight." The last thing you want a seller to hear (or overhear) is that your buyer loves the house they're looking at. There goes any chance of negotiation, as they've got you by your emotion. That being said, buyers know when they've found the right house - they feel it. Personally, I like to work smart (although I work hard, too.) When I go on listing appointments, I turn myself into a buyer. "Do I want this house? How does it make me feel?" If I can't get excited, it will just be another listing, and will it sell?
How do you see an emotion?
I've learned a lot from my wife (she'll never believe I wrote that!). Over the years we've seen hundreds, if not thousands of homes together. I listen very carefully to her comments (she's gonna think I have a ghost writer for this blog now, for sure!) Every house elicits different comments, and I'll admit, a guy's mind just doesn't think the same way.
Here's just some of the comments I've heard:
"Look where the garage entrance is? You have to walk through the entire house to get to the kitchen!"
"Ugh, the kitchen is a box! There's hardly any cabinet space, and the sink is too far away from the dishwasher."
"This is a master bedroom? What a waste of space. Who needs a retreat, just more space for junk to pile up."
You get the idea, right? It's logical, because it's based on her personal experience and likes and dislikes. The interesting thing is, these are comments about model homes. When we go into resale homes (my wife is a real estate agent, too), there are two different types of comments. One set are for vacant homes (first about the layout, then features and benefits, then the challenges), and then occupied homes ("What a warm home", or "They did a great job here. Look how nicely everything flows. Or worse, "It stinks in here.") She's my unvarnished "truth-o-meter." Whether I agree or disagree, she's usually right on the nose, and that determines how long it takes for the home to sell (along with the price, location, etc.)
Getting in touch with my feminine side
Now when I go on a listing presentation, I tune into the feeling of the house. What's crazier? That I do this, or that I'm admitting to it? A lot of people talk about staging and de-cluttering homes to help them sell. I agree with the de-cluttering. Piles of "stuff" don't give anyone the warm and fuzzies. Staging to me, though, is fake. It's a model home again, and that's not real.
When you can go into a house and see how someone set up a home, put a lot of furniture in, yet there's still ample room to walk around. Or they did some beautiful paint effects, this is a great selling point. It makes the home unique. Seeing the home through a woman's eyes are the key (in my humble opinion) to taking a great listing.
Who's the boss?
Unless it's a single man buying a home, the woman is the decision maker. Going out with couples house-hunting is fascinating. The first time we go, I'm still an outsider, and everyone watches their tongues. By the second time (sometimes the second hour), there's nothing left unsaid. Here's my impression of the goal of shopping for a resale home - get it all NOW. When you buy a new home, you still have to pay for the upgrades (although the sellers are making lots of concessions now), finish the backyard, put in a pool -- well you get the idea. You also don't know how the neighborhood will look in a few years. Will there be any greenery? Why do all the trees look like twigs? In a resale home, what you see is what you get, AND it all gets wrapped up in the mortgage! To top it off, there's so much competition in the resale market, that it's a buyer's dream come true to find the "almost perfect" finished home. I say "almost" because you'll never find a home with 100% of the things you desire, but 90% is fantastic.
The opposite end of the spectrum
It's no secret that Las Vegas, and the country, is overrun with short sales and foreclosures. Every day I requests to see foreclosures in X area for X price. Not to be sexist, but every request is from a guy. You see, it's a guy's dream come true. The ultimate fixer-upper. The problem is, most folks haven't seen a short sale or foreclosure in person.
You've been warned
Before we go into one of these "great bargains," I try to prepare my clients as to what they're about to see. This isn't going to be a home where they couldn't afford the payments and quietly left in the middle of the night. We are about to enter a battle zone.
If you've seen one...
Basically, every home I've seen is identical, it's just a matter of degrees. For instance, how many holes will be punched in the drywall? How much did the owners salvage out of the home? Most homes are missing the appliances - sold for whatever the owner could get. I've seen homes without light fixtures, hardware, DOORS, water heaters, FAUCETS!, CARPETING, CABINETS! If someone offered them 50 cents, they took it. And for everything they've taken, it's what they've left behind that's heart-breaking. Pencil mark measurements of the kids on the walls as they grew up. Deflated Sponge Bob Square Pants, race cars, dolls -- all strewn about. Clothes, garbage -- just a mess.
I haven't even started with the damage to the homes. Water damage, endless sheetrock repairs, plumbing disconnects, plus who knows what's been done up in the attic. Here's my big problem with these homes...
How can you get warm and fuzzy with what I've described above? No matter what price is being asked for the home, it's too much. What's worse, is we're negotiating with a bank, not a person. Talk about no emotion. Is there a sense of urgency? Do you ever hear "Ewww, honey, I HAVE to have this house!!" Never. Why? There are no women present. Women want to picture themselves living in the house. When they see this disgusting, sad aftermath of someone's mistakes, it's the last place they want to be.
The Money Pit
Let's just say, for argument's sake, that there is a couple out there who can see past all I've described. There are still more things to overcome. Let's say you get the home for a reasonable price. Where are you getting the extra money to make this home livable? The number one reason folks can't buy a home is -- no down payment! Well, actually there are about five #1 reasons -- Less than 2 years on the job, not enough income, too much debt, no down payment, low FICO scores. Sticking with the no down payment for now, where is this endless barrel of money coming from to fix the seen and unseen problems with the home?
The point of my long-winded blog is this (thankfully I don't pay by the word!) -- do yourself a favor and unless you're an investor with deep pockets and EXPERIENCE rehabbing homes, leave it to the professionals. There are so many beautiful homes waiting for you to rescue them, why take on the challenge of all challenges? If you are looking to purchase your primary residence, foreclosures and short sales are not for you.
I know, I know
You just want to see a couple of them, right? No problem. After we get you pre-qualified for a monthly payment you're comfortable with, I'll show you a few of these "gems." Who knows, maybe someone DID just sneak away quietly, right?