Possibilities in eye of beholder

#231 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 1998, Hills Newspapers

Every week we look at a number of houses, the inventory of goods available for our customers. We can’t go to a store to see what’s for sale right now; we have to drive to each one and go inside. As we look, we form opinions them, about their possible desirability for the buyers we know. We are, at least initially, our buyers’ eyes.
We ask ourselves many questions about each house, its location, condition, size, amenities and cost. Does this house afford quiet and privacy, distance from its neighbors for someone who prizes these? What would it take to redo this kitchen and add a fireplace to match another buyer’s desire? Is the location of a certain house within our buyer’s preferred biking distance to his job?

The answers to these and other questions are sometimes clear. It’s obvious which houses may work for a buyer who cannot traverse stairs or whose wish list is topped with by a sweeping bay view. But more frequently, it is not possible to know which houses may be possibilities for our buyers. This is usually because the buyers themselves don’t know. Someone may tell us, for instance, that he is not willing to live on a busy street, then change his mind when he finds a house that includes everything else he’s been hoping for. Or he’s said that an older house with untouched wood details is what he wants — and it is — until he goes inside a newer, sleek and clean house and suddenly his image of home changes.

Most of the houses we see we see on tour. We’re not in them for long. We come away with impressions, some of which are personal: I like this house; I don’t like this one. One is cluttered, shabby, another sunny and open, or well cared-for and nice furniture, too. I make notes about every house we see, necessarily abbreviated, and I’m afraid, not always accurate. At least I wasn’t in one case this week.

It was raining hard as we toured houses this week. We dripped in and out of each and back to our car. The skies were dark and we were cold and in a hurry. Maybe that is why I described one house to a client as “truly bad, needs much.” I also told her that it has a pleasant yard, which it does, and that foundation work would be needed, which it will. It didn’t seem to me that it was a house that she would have any interest in.

But I was wrong. She decided to drive by the outside of this house in spite of my bad review. Its appearance intrigued her and she called to ask me for more details. I told her what I had seen: walls, floors, all surfaces needing so much attention that the house doesn’t seem habitable as it is. She wanted to see for herself and so we arranged to meet there.

It really wasn’t so bad. I was surprised. Yes, it needs paint and the floors could certainly use refinishing. No maintenance has been attended to in some years. But the kitchen and bathroom are reasonably intact, no roof leaks are apparent, and the floors are relatively level. The house is not a wreck.

It has happened to me many times that a house I thought well of, described as attractive, even superior, was a disappointment upon a second visit. But I don’t think it has happened to me before in reverse. This house looked far better to me when I went back inside than I ever would have expected. I was embarrassed.

As it turned out, our client doesn’t want to buy that house. It does have some problems that she does not feel comfortable taking on. But were this not the case, this might well have been the right house for her.

Which only goes to show something or other: Never assume anything? Don’t look at houses on rainy days? Make sure buyers see every house?

Probably none of these is right. What happened to me is something I warn would-be buyers against: dismissing houses too readily. It’s hard not to. People react to what they think they see. Me too. Negative responses too easily hinge on extraneous information. We may shy away from a house painted in colors we don’t like or become so confused by a large quantity of possessions that we never see the house. Or we are put off by dirt or smells or other things readily remedied.

And the opposite impresses us, maybe more than it should. A house that looks wonderful, clean and well-furnished captures us. Before we know it, we’re involved, involved before we know anything much about its underlying health.

A sort of super vision would be a great assist to all of us, to see unemotionally at the beginning, to take in visuals without criticism. Such an ability would allow us to see and appreciate more and, I think, bring us more pleasure.

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