A most important project

#218 in a series of true experiences in real estate
October 1997, Hills Newspapers

Buying a home is a project. It requires time and information gathering, decision making, willingness to compromise, and the ability to commit oneself.
From start to finish buying can take as little time as a month, although this is rare, or as long as numbers of years. The process of buying is frequently exhilarating, interesting, even fun, but it can also be overwhelming, intensive and crazy-making.

Almost every would-be buyer in every price range is disappointed by the size and looks of the houses that are for sale and how very much they cost. This is especially true in areas that are popular now, areas where the number of buyers exceed the number of available houses. The prices are amazing; often there are several buyers, or more, competing with one another to buy.

“You really think that someone will pay $375,000 for this house when it needs so much work?” an astonished buyer asks his agent. “You mean the seller doesn’t plan to pay for the termite or roof work? How can that be?” he goes on. Disbelief in every word, he asks, “I have to write an offer in the next 2 days if I want to buy this one?”

High prices and the rush of the market is hard on buyers and on their agents, too. Buyers frequently are inside a house they plan to buy for only a brief time — perhaps an hour — before committing to it. Then it’s rush, rush to write a contract, read the disclosures, absorb the termite report, decide on the down payment and loan amounts.

Much thought, many decisions must occur quickly: Is the neighborhood ok? Condition, size? Problems correctable, affordable, and they make sense? Will the house withstand an earthquake? What about insurance? Schools, transportation, roof coverings, tall trees, and on and on.

If the offer is made and is accepted by the seller, there is cause for celebration, followed immediately by a rush to do inspections. First there is the general inspection during which deficits large and small are called to the buyer’s attention. If the buyer is not familiar with house construction and maintenance, he will be trying to get information, gain perspective about, and weigh — in a hurry — such things as the importance of rafter tails, caulking, the potential dangers of asbestos and lead based paint, fire hazard zones, safety glass and on and on.

There may be discoveries that require the services of specialists — roofers, masons, heating people, drainage engineers, for example.

By this time the buyer has a lot to think about. It occurs to him that he is fortunate to have an intelligent, thinking, helpful agent. His good agent did not urge him to buy a house until he was truly ready to go forward. She supplied him with pricing information, told him what to expect during inspections. They discussed city building records, thoroughly covered acquisition and on-going costs of owning, and she made sure that he understood the contract he signed, his outs, his options.

As much as possible, she works around his schedule, faxes to him at his office, sees that all of the many disclosures are delivered to him with appropriate explanation. She talks to him about her own experiences and those of her clients with chimney dampers, refinishing floors, changing the electric stove to a gas one.

She tracks the progress of his loan, meets the appraiser and opens escrow. She talks to the seller’s agent, keeps the paperwork in order, and accompanies him to the house and later, to the title company.

His fine agent represents his interests in the sale. She is his negotiator, his guide, and his champion. Often she is also his friend, confidant, cheering section, and sometimes his source for interior decoration and repairmen.

Let’s say that things go well, as in fact they often do. The buyer has stuffed his brain with new information (he feels like he is going through a graduate course on obtaining, caring and feeding of houses), he is looking forward to living in this house. He has plans for some modifications he is hoping to have done shortly after moving in.

His family has come to see the house and they like it. His loan is going smoothly, he’s lined up insurance, and he’s decided to buy a home warranty. He’s started to pack his things and has made arrangement for a moving truck.

He’s excited now. Every day he will enjoy the pleasures of his choices – the large garage, the garden, the street trees. He’s got space for his computer and for his books. He has, it is fair to say, succeeded! He dealt with money, many choices, and commitment and he feels good. And he knows that he was wise in his selection of a representative.

He might have accomplished all that he has even if he had not had her services but the entire process would certainly have been a harder.

Don’t you buy without your own agent. Talk to agents, check their references, make sure you speak the same language. Do not share the seller’s agent. You want the best you can get; the best may well be priceless.

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