When you happen upon the house, be ready

#87 in a series of true experiences in real estate
February 1995, Hills Newspapers

Earlier this month we listed a lovely house in north Berkeley. Built in the ’30s, this pretty English cottage is unusually spacious, all the rooms have wonderful light, and the detailing is first rate – beams and arches, wide plank floors, wrought iron sconces, even a copper mail slot.

The more we were in this house, the more we loved it. There is something about houses with rooms that have the right proportions. I don’t immediately recognize what about them is so special, then suddenly it comes to me – good proportions! Subtle perhaps, but strong and lasting, and not all that common.

We’ve known for many months that we would be listing this house, plenty of time to agonize over the price. Because there are only two bedrooms and the only garden space is in the front of the house, it isn’t the house for everyone. Wonderful though it is, it would sell for less than a house with more bedrooms and a larger lot.

We looked at everything in the neighborhood, compared the quality of construction, the detailing, the floor and garden space with “ours.” Finally we decided on $260,000.

With all the fanfare we could arrange, we put the house on the market. Because of the relatively moderate price and the preferred location, we expected lots of agents to come to the open house, and they did – about 110 of them. During that first open, several agents talked about bringing their clients to see the house or sending them to our Sunday open house. Selling quickly was looking likely.

By the weekend there were five agents talking to us about writing offers. We weren’t surprised. It was an unusual opportunity for those wanting to be in north Berkeley, for people who yearn for distinction and quality and who can afford this price but perhaps not more. There are no other houses like it available right now, and there may not be any for a long time.

One of the people who came to the open house on Sunday was a most pleasant man. We spent some time talking to him. He had walked in and fallen instantly in love. The house was exactly what he and his wife had been looking for over the past six months, and he could hardly wait for her to see it.

We told him that we were expecting to hear offers the following day. He was going to have to hurry. He hadn’t been working with a particular agent, but he said a friend had recommended someone, and he’d give her a call.

He was able to arrange for his wife to see the house with the agent later that day. As he had predicted, his wife loved it, too. They wanted to buy it.

Problem: By this time there were two offers written. The couple would have to move quickly and well. We faxed the agent the disclosures and reports. Sunday night she went over all the information with the couple. They talked about what they could do to make the winning offer.

There wasn’t time to do a physical inspection before presenting an offer. If another buyer had already done an inspection, his offer would be decidedly better. Also, although the couple had talked to different mortgage brokers, they hadn’t completed a loan application, nor had their credit reports been run. They weren’t in a position to prove their ability to get a loan.

After much discussion, they reluctantly decided that they could not write a competitive offer. They could only hope that another house would appear for them, one they would like as well.

The house did sell. It sold to a buyer who was thoroughly prepared to buy. His good planning provided the seller the best security that the sale would go through quickly and without further ado.

It’s too bad the other couple wasn’t ready. Why weren’t they? It’s possible that they didn’t expect to find the house of their dreams. Maybe they were discouraged by what they’d seen and thought there wasn’t any reason to prepare to quickly leap.

It’s also possible, of course, that this man and his wife will find another house they like as well. We hope so. But wouldn’t it have been better if they had already lined up an agent? Already made out a loan application – just in case?

Had an agent been looking for them, the man wouldn’t have wandered in to see the house for the first time on Sunday. His agent would have had him there three days earlier. This might have allowed time to write an acceptable offer.

Here’s our best advice: Search and find an agent who is right for you. Get your loan going. Line up your money. Things can go very fast once you find it. You’re likely to be breathless.

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