New listings can be sweetly satisfying

#190 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 1997, Hills Newspapers

Hardly anything in this business is as much fun as a new listing. We like watching the owners get the house ready. We like looking at other houses as they come on the market, comparing them with “our house.” We enjoy our excitement as the time approaches to open house for the first time — it’s like getting ready for opening night of a stage production.
It all begins when an owner calls to say he’s thinking of selling. Maybe we are already familiar with the owner and his house. Maybe we sold it to him or we’ve visited the house, perhaps for a party. But often at that point, all we have is the address and our imagination.

“Hey, it’s on Sweet Street,” we say. This is one of our favorite streets, popular with buyers too. We look up the assessor’s records where we get several new pieces of information. Probably these are accurate but occasionally they aren’t. We’ll have to see the house ourselves to find out.

The assessor’s records show that the house has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. It was built in 1910, contains 1600 square feet, and the lot is .16 acre. The property was last sold in 1982 for $185,000.

This is all good news. The house on Sweet Street is not enormous but it is generously sized. The not is not huge, but not small either. It is one of the older houses on that block, hopefully with its original detailing still intact. And, unless something is very wrong, the owners is not going to lose money when it sells, as he might if he had bought for more recently for more money. We like that.

“Wonder what kind of shape it’s in?” we wonder aloud. We search around in our memories for other clues. Sweet Street isn’t in a slide or earthquake zone and we’re not aware of any underground creeks nearby. The last few houses we saw on Sweet Street, houses that we are now describing out loud to one another, were charming two-story houses that sold quickly. So, if the owner kept up the maintenance and didn’t make any strange alterations, this should be a good house, a very good listing.

The next day we go at the appointed time, and as we drive up the street checking addresses, we say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that shingle house?” It turns out to be the one next door, an older, buff-colored stucco, never painted because it was not intended to be. It looks good.

The roof can’t be very old, the landscaping is attractive, there is a deep front porch, and the trim, painted an appealing blue-gray is in good shape. The original front door looks solid and wider than most.

We shake hands with the owner and give him our cards. He shows us around and we take notes: Hardwood floors fine, craftsman style fireplace, painted built-ins, wood casement windows, original doors and picture moldings.

Good, good. No aluminum windows, no wrong-color Formica, no sixties’ orange shag carpeting. The bedrooms are fine although one is very small, all have good closets.

The kitchen has an old gas chrome-top stove. Lots of people like them, including us. There is no dishwasher but that’s fine. There is room for a table in the kitchen and windows that could be replaced with French doors opening to the yard.

We’re already thinking the price might be $300,000.

The yard is sunny and protected from the eyes of the neighbors and there is a nice maple tree. One bathroom has recently been painted attractively; the other one looks a little dreary, could stand some work. There is unfortunate, outdated orange and white flowered wallpaper in the hallway.

The whole house is neat and clean but it feels crowded with furniture. The basement is very full and it’s hard to see the floor or walls.

The furnace is old and there is asbestos on the ducts. No earthquake retrofit has been done but the foundation is concrete, visible to us all the way around the outside of the house, and we don’t see any cracks.

The electrical system is still on fuses. The fireplace has not been used in many years but we can see a rain cap on top of the chimney.

The owner of Sweet Street has been offered a job in a town about 100 miles north. If possible, he’d like to be done with the sale of this house in three month. “I’m sure I’m going to need to do some work before I sell. I’d like your advice on what would be best,” the owner says. He’d also like to know, of course, what the house will sell for.

“We’d like to go away and think before we answer your questions,” we tell him. “We’ll look at comparable sales, talk about what you might do to get the best price, and get back to you.”

We’re off and running! We talk and think and research, then meet with the seller again. We’ve made a list of work we think he would do well to complete. We go over the items individually and talk about the pros and cons and probable costs.

We order termite and fireplace reports and work out a time table. He needs the names of an electrician, furnace, termite and cleaning people, which we provide. And we show him on paper how we came to the conclusion that the house will likely sell for around $325,000, and what he will net in cash at that price.

We will hone our pricing as he clears out the house and prepares it for market.

Over the next few weeks, we visit a number of times. We are enjoying seeing the work progress. We take the seller the required disclosures to complete. We’re also finding the right words for our newspaper ads, have had a floor plan and a sketch made of the exterior, and are working on our property flyer.

Finally there comes the satisfying day when all is done and ready — the day we first show the house. Mr. Sweet Street did his job; we did ours. We are proud and pleased to be standing in the living room as the first agents come in the door.

“What a nice listing,” one says. “Can I use the phone to call my buyer?”

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