Treading into the unknown

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

A lot of years ago an agent in my office had a client who wanted an unusual condition written into her contract. She would buy the house she had chosen if her psychic agreed. Before giving approval, the psychic would need to spend a night in the house.

We’d never heard of such a thing but the buyer felt strongly, so the agent wrote up the offer asking permission for the overnight stay. The house was vacant, the seller thought it would be fine, and the spirit must have been right because the buyer did buy the house.

Many years later I told this story to a broker friend and he told me another. He had a client who wanted to sleep in the house he was thinking of buying because he was concerned that a street light outside the bedroom window would keep him from sleeping.

The broker suggested that blackout shades would take care of the problem but the client said no, he needed to test the bedroom himself. The offer was written and the broker appealed to the sellers to grant the client’s request. The sellers said no.

They were living in the house, didn’t want to move out for a night, and didn’t want someone sleeping in their bed. That was the end of that.

I’m afraid I’d feel the same way. Even if I needed to sell and the price was good and the buyer pleasant, I wouldn’t want a stranger in my house all night.

And yet, trying out a house before buying seems fairly reasonable. Buyers don’t spend much time in houses they want — not until they own them.

Usually they go to the house when it is held open, walk around the look while many others are doing the same. Or they go with their agent and they look around, probably don’t even sit down inside in the hour or so they spend there.

If they’re still interested in the house, they may go back again with their agent to look more closely. This time they may go with a list of specific things to check out. They want to measure the bedrooms, like to see if there is wall space enough for a particular, sizable painting or piece of furniture, judge the sunlight in the back part of the garden.

And they plan to sit in the house, get the feel of the place.

It would be unusual for buyers to be allowed to do these things alone. Their agent might linger outside for a few minutes, give them some privacy, but she is responsible for the well being of the seller’s house and must accompany her clients whenever they are there.

She’ll help whenever she can. She may point out things that would otherwise be overlooked. “This is nice,” she may say, “A laundry chute from the hall to the laundry downstairs. And did you notice that there are two heating systems in this house? Here is the thermostat that controls the bedroom side.”

Once they’ve left, the agent may remember something they’ve forgotten. Yes, there is a second door from the sun porch to the hallway. And, it is true that the downstairs bath is tiled in blue.

She will also get more of the story about the house, whatever written information is available — disclosures and sometimes receipts for work the seller has done, perhaps warranties. The roof is newer, the fireplace smokes, no one seems to know why there is a water stain under the dining room window.

With this additional information, buyers and agent may return to the house to look again at these things or, feeling fairly confident about the house, they may go on to the next step in buying.

Another chance to be in the house will be on inspection day when buyers and agents will spend 3 or 4 hours looking at it very carefully.

By the time buyers get to the inspection stage, we find that they are often giddy. They are still guarding their hearts, at least a little. Something unexpected may come up. But they’ve read about the house, thought about it, gone through their money. Now they are acting as if they are engaged to be married. They’ve accepted the known shortcomings and have moved on to planning their reception and honeymoon.

Inspection day affords the longest period of time they will spend in the house before it is theirs. If nothing untoward, nothing major and distressing is revealed about the house today and they proceed with the sale, they probably won’t be back inside until just before escrow closes.

Over the past few days they’ve been dreaming. Today they’re gesturing and excitedly describing yellow print curtains, where the computer will go, the rug they’re going to buy. They are full of joy over the fig tree in the garden, saying that little lights woven inside the branches would be beautiful at night.

We take photos because we know that the buyers will want them. Even a relatively short 30-day wait for ownership can seem forever. Until it’s theirs, they’ll have to content themselves by driving by the outside, looking at the photos and showing them to friends, waiting as patiently as possible.

It’s interesting that this system of buying works very well. Even though the buyers will experience the house first hand for only a few hours, even though they won’t remember it perfectly and there will be surprises, almost certainly they will be happy in the house.

At least that’s what has been true for our buyers. The escrow closes, they get their keys, they race to the house — their house — and they are thrilled. Over and over again, our buyers tell us they did the right thing, found the right place, everything turned out so well.

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