Expounding on your priorities helps your agent’s quest for ‘perfect’ home

#35 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 1993, Hills Newspapers

Generally when we meet clients for the first time, we sit and talk about who they are, what they do, why they want to buy, and how much money they have available.

We give them an idea of how much it will cost to buy a house, how much the down payment and closing costs will be and how much it will cost every month. Then we ask what they are looking for, what neighborhoods they like, what about any house will make a difference to them.

People want different things. Usually they start by saying how many bedrooms they need. Then they describe what else they’d like very much to have. For some a garage is essential, for others it’s a fireplace or a bay view. There are artists who need studio space, gardeners who need a sunny plot, people who want to live within walking distance of shopping and BART, others who enjoy driving home away from the city.

For most people, the amount of house they can afford or the neighborhood they want to live in pretty well determines what kind of house they will buy. For a few, price is not the primary consideration, but the size of house and land, the geographical area and the house style they prefer will limit what they will be interested in seeing.

By the end of the first meeting, we usually know these things:

  1. Their timing: Is their money tied up in an estate? Does their lease run until next July? Are they going about looking leisurely or would they be pleased to pack and move next month?
  2. Their motivation: They just arrived from St. Louis and are camping on a friend’s couch until they buy? Or, they’ve been looking on and off for five years but haven’t found anything that is just right.
  3. Special circumstances: His mother who lives in Atlanta will give them the money for a down payment, but she wants to see the house before they make an offer. They’re in a hurry: They sold their old house and must buy a new one in the next 60 days or owe $30,000 in taxes.

Usually we send our new clients away (often to talk to a loan broker) while we think for a few days about what houses to show them. We go through our brains and the multiple listing searching for what we think they have described to us. Sometimes we have already seen houses that may fit. Often we go to see houses we haven’t seen before that might work for these clients.

Usually the fist time we take clients to look at houses, we look at several, maybe as many as five, but rarely more. It’s hard to keep more than five houses straight in one’s mind. If the clients are actually in touch with what they will buy (this is relatively rare), if we have understood what they were describing, and if such houses are available for sale right now, then what we show them should at least be approximate matches. But it doesn’t always happen that way.
Sometimes we thought we understood, they thought they’d made it clear, but when we see houses together, everyone is disappointed. The houses on either side are too close. The street is too noisy. The kitchen is awkward. The yard too shady. The rooms too dark.

Of course, what one person perceives as dark, someone else considers cool and shady, just what he was seeking. And what some find noisy, others don’t hear at all. Our clients can’t specify on a 1-to-10 scale how dark or how noisy they will find acceptable. They will have to judge for themselves as many houses as possible.

But often the objections are amorphous. “It doesn’t speak to me,” they say, or “I think it feels tacky, don’t you?” Clearly, if these are the comments, we haven’t found the right house yet, but how do we avoid wasting time on such houses in the future?

While we are wondering, the buyers, who want to help us in our search, say, “We might look at ’50s ranch houses, too, and contemporaries. And we could consider Richmond View and the area around Mills College, and although we’d prefer a house that we can just move into, we wouldn’t rule out fixers.” They have broadened the parameters instead of narrowing them.

If there are other specifics that are specific enough, this is okay. If we already know, for instance, that we are searching for a space that can be a sound studio, or if wheelchair access is immutable, or they must have a place zoned for horses, we still know what to hang our hat on.

But if we are trying to find a three-bedroom house anywhere within a 20-mile radius for around $350,000 (less is, of course, better), and everything else about what will make the right house acceptable is a mystery, we are in trouble. We are overwhelmed by hundreds of possibilities.

Because we get a lot of pleasure finding houses that our clients can afford and will love living in, not to mention that we will only get paid when they actually buy, if the image of their house becomes increasingly murky, we begin to wonder what we are doing here.

You can see the problem. If we have no idea what is wanted, we say to one another late at night, how can we recognize it when we see it?

What if you don’t know what will make the quintessential different to you? Answer: Help your agent. Do what you can to separate out what you want from the others. Go look at houses on Sundays. Drive around neighborhoods. Try describing out loud to a friend what you think someone would say about the house you will want to buy.

Zero in on the fact that you won’t live on a street that has no street trees. Or that it is all-important for you to be able to walk to a coffee shop. Or that you’ve discovered an innate ability you didn’t realize you had: You can look past dirty and poorly built cabinetry if only the kitchen is sunny and large. Then tell your agent.

This entry was posted in Buyer Information. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: