Couple gets lucky at first open home tour

#95 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 1995, Hills Newspapers

Stephenie and Matthew start off by saying they are not in a hurry. They live in a rental in Montclair now, quite a pleasant place that they expected to stay in for a long time. It is feeling small now that they both are working from home. Still, they want to take their time finding a house.

We ask if they have spoken to a loan broker, then suggest that they do that first. They need to become acquainted with different loans and costs and to find out what they can borrow.

Stephenie says she will fax us a list of “must haves” and “can do withouts.” This first conversation happens on February 10.

A few days later we talk again. They know now the price they can comfortably afford. We make an appointment to get together in person, and I mail them some information on buying.

When I get her list, Stephenie and I talk some more. Quiet is most important. No buses on the street. And they’d like a good kitchen, one large enough for both of them to work in together.

We still haven’t met, but I know approximately what they want, so on Saturday I look over the list of open houses, pick out eight of them and fax the descriptions to Stephenie. She says they’ll go look.

I am surprised and happy to her from her the next afternoon. They’ve just come back from open houses, and they are all excited. Stephenie says she can’t believe it but they found two houses they like very much. One is larger and more expensive, the other smaller and less money. It seems like it will work very well for them.

What should they do now? They expected to be looking for months. Now they’ve found this house and they aren’t sure what to think about it. I ask them to tell me everything about the house.

The house has a fabulous kitchen. It has been completely redone with a greenhouse window, lots of counter space, built-in refrigerator and stove, good cabinets made of “beautiful wood – not creepy,” Stephenie laughs. There is a built-in table, a large openable skylight, even a trash compactor.

They’re both on the phone now. They tell me about the spaces, the yard, floors, fireplace, garage and laundry.

There is no formal dining room, but they think that’s okay. There is a spa outside the master bedroom. They like that. It is very quiet.

“Is there anything missing?” I ask. “More space,” they say, “but we really don’t need more space.”

“If you buy this house, will you feel that you missed a better one?” I ask. “Think about it this way: Some people can walk into a store looking for a red dress and immediately find one in the right size at the right price and buy it. But someone else will find that dress and still feel the need to go to all the other stores to see all the other red dresses.”

Stephenie says she’s the kind who just buys it. She knows her own taste. She doesn’t get much pleasure from shopping. Matthew agrees.

We decide to get together the next day after we have gathered more information. Anet calls the listing agent to ask for the termite report and the disclosures. She learns that the sellers have lived there for 10 years and have done quite a lot of remodeling.

Expecting to stay for many more years, they splurged on the kitchen. But their lives have changed, they need more space, and they are looking at houses in Lafayette.

On Monday, February 20, we meet Stephenie and Matthew for the first time. We’ve run into a time crunch: we have to present another offer that day, but we stay as long as possible talking together. We talk about their life and the house and about how the buying process works. We like them. Our conversation is comfortable and easy. They seem quite sure about buying the house We decide to meet the following morning to see it with them.

It is a beautiful house, one of those rare ones that has been especially well cared for, lovingly upgraded. Everything about the kitchen is beautiful including the tiny little halogen light fixtures mounted under the upper cabinets.

We go slowly through the house, enjoying it all, and as we leave, we run into the seller. It is good to meet him. He loves the house, and is hoping that whoever buys it will, too. He tells us about the remodeling he’s done, talks about the neighborhood, the vacant lot next door. This chance meeting makes all of us even more excited.

We spend several hours writing the offer. We’re all very happy, anticipating. The sellers can’t get together with their agent for some hours. The wait seems long.

Anet gets there early with the offer. She tells the sellers she thinks this sale is meant to be. This house is right for Stephenie and Matthew. It is the best kind of meeting – clean, good, open.

Later we get word that the sellers have made a counter offer which simply clarifies when they will be able to move. There is much delighted whooping back and forth on the phone.

On Friday we spend several hours doing the inspection. The house checks out great. There are things that could be done – strapping the hot water heater, bolting the foundation – but nothing we haven’t thought about, nothing scary. While we are there, we take photographs and measure the rooms.

We talk about which room Matthew will use for his office, which one will be Stephenie’s. They worry that they don’t have enough furniture.

Meanwhile the sellers are in contract on their new house and they are doing their inspections. The loans chug along, the appraisals are done. We’re getting closer to being able to decide on the final moving schedule.

Stephenie doesn’t know what to say to people who are suddenly offering advice. “You really should have looked at houses for a lot longer,” one person tells her. “We looked for two years.” Several people want to know how much less than asking price they’re paying. Others ask directly, “How much did you pay?”

The sellers and our buyers get together at the house. This doesn’t always happen, but these people are glad to know one another. The sellers proudly point out what they know about the house. Later they exchange their new phone numbers and promise to forward any stray mail.

Final proof of good will: When the sellers move furniture and find nicks in the paint, although they don’t have to, they touch it up. They want everything to be perfect.

We got to the title company with Stephenie and Matthew on March 24. Stephenie draws her name slowly, deliberately, beautiful founded letters that stretch her name out long. Matthew signs very fast, keeping his pile-up of letters in the same spot. There are stacks of papers to sign. We take pictures.

The following Thursday the sale is closed. The house is truly theirs. “We’ve already packed. I don’t have anything left to cook in,” Stephenie tells us. “We’re eating out a lot. We can’t wait to move.”

Thursday, April 6, 55 days after we first talked to one another, Stephenie and Matthew move. They are quite content. “There is so much space in the kitchen,” Stephenie bubbles, “that there are empty drawers, so we get to go out shopping for house stuff.”

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