Our heart’s desire #687

#687 in a series of true experiences in real estate

We would all prefer our heart’s desire; it’s just human nature. But in this crazed housing market, when people are making bids on a number of houses and coming up empty handed, perfection may not be in the cards.

An agent friend told us recently that all of her buyers last year who said from the start, “I’m going to buy a house,” did. They’re living in them now. Other would-be buyers who put it a different way – “I think I would like to buy a house” – are still looking. Some have been priced out of the market by now and probably won’t be buying at all, at least not in this area.

Not that these shoppers have stopped their search; they’re looking still. More and more time is spent, more houses are rejected, and in the process, something happens. These people stop looking for a house and instead look for, wait for, an experience.

They wish to be felled, knocked over, to be unmistakably lost in wonder by some house somewhere, one they haven’t found. No bolt of lighting? Wrong house.

I don’t want to tell you that you must give up all of your dreams. Miracles do occasionally occur. In fact, we’ve seen them happen, been there when a buyer walked into a house and was happily struck. Once we even sold a house to a woman who had no idea she was going to buy. Just for the fun of it, she went to one open house. The house “grabbed her” and “made her” buy it. That’s what she said.

But going out week after week to look at houses, watching in dismay as prices go up and up, then selecting and bidding on a certain one, only to lose it, is hard, dispiriting. The hardest client of all is the one who is waiting to be seduced.

Please consider an alternative: Look at the same houses but see them differently. We think that if you are not expecting to be swept off your feet, if you can see possibilities that you didn’t see before, you can get something good, a house that you will be glad to have and live in.

My own house is an example, a ranch style house of no particular distinction. I didn’t like it when I first saw it because it is from, I feel, the wrong era. Uninteresting materials were used in ugly ways in building it, and this particular house, even brand new, was not the best of the lot.

My house has mismatched door handles, dated Formica, many carpeted rooms without finished floors under them and, typical of its type, skimpy door and window casings.

Why did I buy it? Good reason number one: I could afford it.

There were other reasons, good things about my house that I discovered when I paid attention. It is a block from the schools that my children attended for eight years. They could walk to school each day and I could walk there, too – for back-to-school night, to deliver cupcakes for birthdays and so forth. Very handy.

Another bonus: Four sets of French doors open to the backyard making my garden an extension of our living space, and in the neighbor’s yard is a glorious ginkgo tree that turns from green to rich gold every fall.

The aluminum windows, which I loathe, do function. They slide back and forth and keep the rain out, and they won’t rot. These virtues will not keep me from replacing them with wooden windows when I can afford to, but for now, they do fine.

This same sort of experience happened to some clients of ours. They and their teenager daughter considered quite a number of houses before making offers on four. All four were big, old Berkeley shingle type houses, the kind that many people prefer. Box beam ceilings, window seats, natural wood wainscoting, klinker brick fireplaces – the wonderful stuff done around the early part of the century, never to be done again in the same way.

Although this family bid far higher than list price on the houses of their choice, they lost them all. And, as these bids were made over a period of about a year, by the time the last one was rejected, it was easy to see that prices had gone beyond what they could comfortably afford.

Then one day, in the neighborhood where they most wanted to live, a ranch style house came on the market. This house is better built than my own; it has hardwood floors throughout and it has been fairly well maintained. It does not, however, resemble most of the neighboring houses as it was built quite a few years after them and what was used to build it are latter day materials: Aluminum windows and sliding glass doors, laminate counters in the kitchen, cultured marble in the baths.

When our clients first saw the house, they rejected it; it was not anything like what they were wishing for. But then they thought about it and – here is the part that caused them to buy this house – the price, the location, the size of the house and the yard were all right. Plus they had the unexpected luxury, almost unheard of these days, of making an offer to buy without any competition from anyone else. Theirs was the only offer.

Other clients last year who hired us as consultants also bought a house that initially they had no intention of buying. It was a house they had been renting for a number of years when the owner offered to sell it to them. When we met to talk about buying, they said that they’d never considered buying any house, much less this one, that the kitchen was old and dingy, the roof leaked, there were towering trees on the property that worried them and, besides, the house was too small.

But they and all of their belongings were already in the house, they didn’t want to look for another place to rent (which they expected would cost more than they were currently paying) and, most of all, they didn’t want to move.

These are not people handy with a hammer. In order to seriously consider whether or not to buy this house, they needed information from experts, bids on work that would have to be done, thoughtful suggestions on improvements. It took a couple of months to gather information, obtain a loan and find that the cost of owning the house would be not much more than renting it.

Still, they were reluctant and extremely nervous about buying, up to the time they handed over their money and signed their closing papers. No champagne was open, no toasts were made the day the house became their own.

But later, after the roof was new and tight, trees were removed, and other repairs made, they felt more friendly toward the house. It had become more likable.

I think this must be what can happen with some people we know: As we grow to know them and enjoy them, they actually become more beautiful to our eyes.

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