Buying a house takes on life of its own

#75 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 1994, Hills Newspapers

The minute you tell your agent you are ready to make an offer to buy a particular house, she will be in a hurry. It might surprise you, particularly if you’ve spent days calmly wondering together about that house.

Can we live with the kitchen as it is now until we have the money to update it? Will we be comfortable with what it will cost us to live there?

During that wondering time, you and your agent (and probably your friends and family) have talked a lot. Your agent has listened to your misgivings and your excitement. You’ve discussed the cost of linoleum and stoves, and have gone over loan numbers and taxes again.

She’s been fairly laid back. She hasn’t urged you along. She knows it is always a mistake to convince a person to buy.

But now that you’ve decided, she is in a hurry. She doesn’t want you to risk losing it.

It can happen – it does happen – that even a house that’s been on the market for months suddenly appeals to more than one buyer.

After all you’ve been through to get to this place, it would be a shame to lose out just because the paperwork wasn’t completed in time. Your agent knows that until you and the seller agree in writing, the house is still available for others to buy.

“Can we get together this afternoon to write the offer?” your agent asks. “If you can get off work, can we meet at 5? Or I could fax you the offer. I will need a check from you, but we could talk now about what the offer will have in it. I’ll write it up, fax it, and you can drop off a check tonight. Meanwhile, I’ll let the listing agent know we are writing an offer.”

This little flurry of intensity suddenly makes you wonder, “Am I doing the right thing? Do I really want this house?”

This is precisely the right moment to be wondering these things and to put them to rest. Before the offer is written, before it is accepted by the seller, you should be sure of your intentions. Turning back later because you are scared is going to be hard on everyone (and may have legal ramifications).

“But if something is really wrong with the house – if the foundation is bad, for instance – I can still get out of the contract, can’t I?” you ask.

Your agent tells you again about your contingencies, your “outs” if things do not turn out as well as can be predicted now. She says again, “You need to want to do this. We’ve already talked about the house being old. There are things wrong with it. We know that the electricity has not been updated and that there is asbestos on the furnace ducts. We also know some good news. There is a new roof, it doesn’t need painting, and it’s the only house we’ve found so far that truly appeals to you.”

So you get together with the agent, go over the lengthy contract, and you ask questions until you understand exactly what you are signing. You agree to decide later how you’ll take title and whether you will buy earthquake insurance. You are feeling good. “When will we know?” you ask.

In answer, your agent calls the seller’s agent and says, “Our offer is signed. When can I present to the seller?” An appointment is made for that evening or the next day, probably at the agent’s office or at the seller’s house. Both agents meet with the seller, but you are not there.

“Presentation” is the term agents use, and it is apt. Your agent will present you and your offer to the seller. She describes who you are, how much money you are putting down, why you like the house, how long it will take for you to do your inspections, get your loan approval, and transfer title.

It is her job to show you and your offer in the best possible light and to answer the questions that the seller and the seller’s agent may have, to convince the seller of your integrity and good intentions – to get the seller to agree to sell to you.

Frequently there is a counter offer, the seller saying in writing, “This offer is acceptable to me with these exceptions. If you agree to them, we have a deal.”

Often the seller wants a day or night to think it over. When you write your offer, you specify in the contract how long your offer is good – frequently one to three days, perhaps longer if the seller lives out of town.

Your agent calls you. “Congratulations! The seller accepted your offer as written!” she says. Or, “The seller wants $5,000 more but is willing to include the washer and dryer.”

If the seller has changed anything in the contact, you can now make your own counter offer, or you can sign that you accept the changes, or you can walk away.

Once you and the seller are fully in agreement, you have both signed, and the contract has been delivered to each of you, you are “in contract.” You will begin working to remove your contingencies.

Inspection dates will be made. If you have not already completed your loan application, you will do that now. The loan process will start rolling along, the appraisal scheduled.

Unless something untoward occurs in the next 30 days or so, something that cannot be negotiated successfully between you and the seller, your days of home ownership will soon begin.

It can be a rocky ride – hurry up, wait, decisions to be made. Worry and elation.

But people do it every day, and they live through it. They move in, they unpack, and get happily on with their lives.

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