Monday, August 24, 2009

Blood in the water (realtors)

So another couple of days off, another chance to look at houses. Oh my goodness – I forgot how old looking at houses gets how fast! It’s been about 2 weeks we’ve been really seriously focused on doing this and already I’m thinking – I don’t care. Just give me a place to live. Maybe we can stay in the condo? Maybe we can move in with your parents? Maybe we can move into my Mom’s house in NJ and commute 200 miles? Maybe we can live in a van. Down by the river! (Do you remember that sketch from Saturday Night Live?) You see where I’m going. It becomes an obsession – not just looking at websites, but everywhere you go. I went to lunch at some friends in DC on Saturday and I found myself pulling up thinking – well, it’s a sort of small lot, but it’s across from a park and it’s got a wood burning fireplace. You know it’s bad when you start evaluating real estate on tv – especially because people without real jobs can afford huge 2 bedroom apartments in cool parts of Manhattan and houses expand to practically create new wings out of nowhere on TV.

Anyway, I went out with the realtor on Friday afternoon and saw one good place that I thought it was worth bringing my husband back to. But first I must give you the sidebar on doing this without him, but with the baby – at her hungry time of day… The first house I tried putting on the wrap and breastfeeding her as I walked through. I handed the realtor my camera to take pictures of the place so I could keep things straight when we talked about them later. The munchkin was not at all happy with this arrangement and very much wanted me to sit to feed her. The second house didn’t allow the nursing possibility as there were people living there / home, but she’d calmed a bit by then and managed to fall asleep by the 3rd house. This was great in that the crying ended, but now meant lugging the extra weight of the car seat. I’ve never understood how moms manage those things – it would make me tired just helping my friends getting their kids out of their cars. It’s exhausting. To date, I’d made my husband carry it around nearly every house, but now it was my turn. I did wimp out a little and get the realtor to watch her a minute while I ran to check the upstairs (rather than lugging it up and down). Ironic as we are not generally overly trusting of realtors – but then again, it was getting really heavy…

I decided to bring my husband back to the place I’d liked on Sunday. The realtor wasn’t available, but she’d spoken to the family and they were supposed to be there to let us in. She gave us their number should we need it. We tried calling when we were nearby to let them know we’d be there shortly – but the number was disconnected! Great… So we arrive at the house and – no one is home. We knocked for a bit and then called the realtor. She was surprised no one was home and asked if we’d tried calling the home owner. I explained the phone issue and she said - ok, let me give you the combination to get the key. I was really pretty surprised by that – and started thinking, would they give out that info on my place? I know she’s been working with us a few weeks and we’re honest people – who seem honest – but still… But we’d driven all the way out there, so I was happy enough to have a way in. She gave me the combo and then started saying something else, but her cell phone was cutting out. She told me she’d call me back in 10 minutes. So we went in. My husband felt the same way about the house I did and thought it was probably worth considering making an offer. We were checking out the upstairs when my phone rang. As I had the baby, he answered and the realtor explained that she was trying to get a hold of the selling agent to come show us this place. He said – it’s ok, we got in. Well… apparently we weren’t supposed to do that (so why give us the combo?). She told us not to tell anyone we’d gotten in, as she could lose her license. Could we wait there as the selling agent would be coming shortly to show us the house? Um… OK, sure.

Then she was down to business – what did we think of it? We said we liked it and wanted to talk about what to offer for it. She told us that she thought it was priced well as they were asking below the appraisal, so we should offer the full price. So, let me give you a little more info here – this house has been on the market for THREE YEARS! They have reduced the price several times in that timeframe – but the last price reduction was 3 months ago. I realize that the place is priced well below the appraisal, but - seriously, what is an appraisal? It’s not like it’s some objective, higher power that assesses inherent value. It’s a guess of what people are willing to pay. And clearly, that guess is wrong, because no one seems willing to pay what they’re asking. To be fair – I’m not sure WHY no one is willing to pay that as it’s seems a reasonable value compared to what else we’ve seen. But I’m not going to be the one sucker who will pay that much! Anyway, I don’t know the area that well, so I’m not REALLY sure how to assess value – except that no one else is buying at that rate. She went on to tell us that the selling agent had mentioned that there were 2 disclosable issues with the house, but she didn’t know what they were. We said we’d obviously want to know what those were before we made an offer (decided on a price). Our agent said she’d follow up to see if the selling agent would tell her, as she wasn’t sure she would – even though she’d already brought them up.

Needless to say, we were not impressed and trying to figure out what to do about our agent, as we’re not exactly feeling confident going into a negotiation with her. On the one hand, she did show me this house – but then again, I was the one who found it (even though it fully met the criteria that we’d given her to search on) and pursued it. On the other hand, the “hard part”of the agent’s job is negotiating the contract and we want that done well… Anyway, we were driving away mulling this when we decided to drive through another neighborhood that we’ve been interested in, but our agent wasn’t able to show us on Sunday. We drove past one of the listings that I’d asked her about and noticed there was an open house there. She’d sent us several other open houses to check out, but hadn’t included this one – on a house we’d specifically asked about. So she wasn’t really winning big points with us here either.

We walked in and this place was NICE. A lot nicer than the one we’d just seen – but also priced quite a bit higher (beyond our stretch zone. Into our super stretch zone. Our reaching with our fingertips zone. Possibly our I can’t sleep at night because I’m not sure how we’re going to make the house payment this month zone…). The agent running the open house asked if we were working with someone. As we were annoyed, we said “sort of” and explained we weren’t totally happy with our agent. And suddenly we were on the Serengeti! I’m not sure if we were the weak gazelle or our agent was, but boy was this guy ready to pounce. And he wasn’t the only one! Cards were flying! It’s amazing how quickly realtors are ready to jump in the second you’re thinking about moving on from your realtor. There’s no ethical boundary that prevents that at all. My husband said he wasn’t sure that these guys knew how to spell ethics (though I’m pretty sure it’s got a silent “F U” in there).

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