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Buying and Selling: An Insider Consumer’s Perspective

Interest rates were too low, and better schools beckoned. Even I couldn’t resist buying a new home. Working at HAR definitely has its advantages, as you have more of an insider’s perspective on buying and selling real estate. I would argue that my expectations are no greater than an average consumer today though.

We were looking specifically based on schools. We have a 22-month old daughter and a son on the way. Your priorities definitely shift when you become a parent. We have literally not moved more than a few miles from the first point we landed when we came to Houston for law school [number of years removed to protect people’s jobs] ago. Now, we are moving only about eight miles away—but it is outside the Loop. Will our friends ever visit us again?

We had been searching on our own for nearly two years (since our daughter was born) for a house that looked like something we would want to buy. We shifted areas throughout that time as we learned more about the schools and the neighborhoods. We essentially looked at every area south, west or southwest of downtown. We finally settled on the Memorial area because of the schools and the community feeling of the neighborhoods. After all that time, we finally found “the one.”

The listing for this house popped up on HAR.com, and it was as if a chorus of angels began singing. Within a few minutes, we were in our car, baby in tow, and driving by the front of the house. We had done the routine many times before and were almost always disappointed when we did the “drive-by.” We weren’t disappointed this time though. It wasn’t a style that anyone who knows us would ordinarily have picked for us, but we like to say we like all styles of homes that are done well.  Well, this one wasn’t necessarily done well…but it had the bones to be great. That’s all we needed.

Did I mention that when we did the drive-by of the house, the owner/seller walked to the mailbox and saw us looking at his house? He walked over to our car and asked if we were interested in the house. We told him that we had already scheduled a showing through our REALTOR® for the next day, which was the first day they were allowing showings.  He was very nice and said that he hoped we liked what we saw when we went inside.

I’m a researcher. I research EVERYTHING! I immediately went online to find out the names of the owners/sellers. I found his name and Googled to see what I could find out about him. It turns out that he is a retired astronaut. We immediately texted a friend who is married to a NASA pilot and asked her if she knew the seller. She said, “Of course I know him. He’s great. Why?” We told her that we were parked in front of his house that was for sale and that we wanted to buy it. Within seconds, she had sent the seller a text saying essentially, “I understand you just met my friends. They are great. Sell them your house!” Our friend is not known for her subtly.

The next day, we went to see the house and were just as happy with the inside as we had expected. It definitely needed work, but it was all largely cosmetic. After two years of looking, two years of disappointment with what we saw, we finally found a house that we thought would work. We told our REALTOR® that we wanted to make an offer that day. Our REALTOR® spoke to the listing REALTOR® who told him that the sellers were out of town (they were moving to other city/state) looking at houses there, so they wouldn’t be back until four days later, so we had time to submit the offer. By the time they returned, they had five offers to consider…all above the ask price. Were we about to “lose” the only house we had seen that we liked in the previous two years? Would it take us another two years to find something else we liked? Or would we have to “settle” for something that we didn’t even like?

We had what we thought was a secret weapon though…our daughter.  Our friend who sent the text to the seller had Estelle_300dpigiven our daughter a full NASA outfit/uniform. She loves playing dress-up, sometimes as a princess, sometimes as a cow, sometimes as an astronaut. We dressed her up in the astronaut outfit and wrote a caption on the picture that said, “Our little astronaut cannot wait to grow up in this home.” How could you say no to those baby (literally) blues? We submitted the picture along with our offer. The wife of the astronaut is a pediatrician so we were trying to appeal to both of their professional interests…and we knew they had young children as well.

We waited until the day before the sellers were to return to town to submit the offer because we didn’t want the listing agent to use our offer against other bidders and possibly drive up the other offers. We sat by the phone waiting to hear from our REALTOR® about whether our offer had been accepted or if they were at least negotiating with us because we were the ones they picked to whom to sell their home.

We heard back, but the news was mixed. “They rejected all of the offers and everyone has to submit their ‘highest and best’ offer by Saturday at 6 p.m.,” said our REALTOR®. Highest and best? Why did they not just select one offer and start negotiating with them? All of the offers were above the ask price anyway so start with the one you like the most and negotiate. We were annoyed to say the least. Note to listing agents: If you want to anger the potential buyers, have your client reject all the offers and ask for them all to submit their highest and best offers by a certain deadline.

We talked it over with our REALTOR® and decided that we didn’t want to wait another two years to potentially find something we liked. We had the added pressure that we wanted to move before our son was born so that we would have more space and could be settled in. We responded with our highest and best, which wasn’t technically our highest or best.  I wasn’t completely comfortable with our original offer, much less going even higher.  All I heard was, “I want that house!” When I hear those words…in that tone…I do everything I can to make it happen.

We resubmitted, angrily, and waited. And waited. And waited. We had been told a specific time by which we would hear whether they chose our offer or not. The first deadline passed. Then, they gave an updated deadline. That too passed. Note to listing agents: If you want to anger potential buyers even further, keep missing deadlines when they are waiting to hear whether they are buying the house or not. We finally heard. We had “lost” the house.

There was another offer that was all cash and could close very quickly.  The sellers were moving out of state so the ability to close quickly was really important to them. Understandably, they accepted that offer. We were really disappointed. Everyone on Facebook started bashing the house and saying how it wasn’t our style anyway. We started nitpicking every little thing that we could to try to emotionally distance ourselves from the property.

Now realize that our current house was not listed for sale yet, so we were doing all of this with the possibility that we would have to carry two mortgages if our house didn’t sell very quickly. We weren’t about to submit an offer with a contingency though since we knew our offer would never be accepted in that situation. We had been working to get our current house ready to sell, just in case our offer was accepted. It wasn’t, obviously, so we stopped working on the house. There wasn’t anything big to be done; just declutter a bit, clear kitchen countertops, make sure there were no wire hangers…you know, all of the usual stuff.  We stopped working and slept almost that entire day.

We kept looking on the HAR app for anything new that might work…and looked at some previous listings to see if maybe we overlooked something. We started to get discouraged from just two days of looking. Then…

Our REALTOR® called and said he had just received a call to expect the all-cash buyer to back out of the purchase. We asked if it was because of something in the inspection, and we were told that the buyer never even got to the point of having an inspection done in the two days since their offer had been accepted. Now, the roller coaster started all over again.

We had to decide whether we wanted to resubmit (it took about two seconds to decide that we did) and at what price. We were told that the sellers weren’t putting it back on the market and were going to just deal with the parties who had previously submitted offers, including us. We were cautiously excited. This house that we had spent a couple of days trying to slam to feel better about not “winning” it was now a possibility again.

We decided to up our offer a tiny bit just to show that we were serious.  We also had been pre-approved for more than what we were offering—and even without the need to sell our current house—so we were hoping that we would be the most attractive offer to them. Since we didn’t need to sell our current house, we could also close fairly quickly, which we knew was important to the sellers. We submitted our new offer, once again, and waited. We knew that the REALTOR® was meeting with the sellers to review the offers (only three this time because one potential buyer decided not to resubmit) the following morning. We didn’t sleep that night waiting to hear something…anything.

Since our friend had texted the seller and had included us on that text, we had the seller’s cell phone number…and he had ours. Late that morning, our phone made the text noise. We looked at the phone and saw it was the seller. Negotiations were on! Were we willing to accept some other non-realty items instead of something else? Sure. Would we try to close sooner than what we put on the offer? Sure (we would move as quickly as we could and push our mortgage company to do the same).  Shortly thereafter, we received a forwarded email from our REALTOR® that had come from the listing agent. “Congratulations! I am executing your contract to purchase the home now. I’ll be in touch with further information soon.”

After all this time, the house was finally ours. Or was it? We didn’t HAVE to sell our current house to qualify for the mortgage on the new house, but I also didn’t WANT to pay two mortgages. We needed to list our home for sale ASAP. We spent the next three days working non-stop to have the front of the house painted to clean up the landscaping so the patio looked really crisp and to take some of the things out of the clothes closets and storage closets so the house looked like it had as much storage room as possible (and it really does have a ton of storage…but we also have a ton more stuff than most people). We rented one of those U-Haul U-Boxes and stuffed that thing to the ceiling and then sent it off to storage somewhere across town that can be delivered to our new house when we are ready.

Our daughter’s toys found new, more organized locations to live when she wasn’t playing with them. We put all of our bathroom items and side table items in baskets that we carried out and put in the trunk of our car each day. We are all about the image and lifestyle that the buyer could have, so we planned specific ambient music for each room. We set the dining room table with our crystal and china and linens. We had the master bathtub staged to show it as a relaxing oasis. Our outdoor sofa cushions on the patio had seen better days after being left out in several rainstorms (even though they are supposed to withstand that), so we actually just painted them the same color as the house. They looked fresh and new; just don’t actually sit on them. We set specific ceiling fan speeds and dimmer light settings to maximize the look of each room.

Every morning before going to work…and after taking our daughter to school…I would run around the house to do all of the things on my very long list to make sure the house looked its absolute best.

We listed the house just before July 4, which we knew was risky because it could have been a busy time or could have been dead. Ours was actually mixed. We had a couple of showings requested before we had finished the sprucing up of the house and didn’t want someone to see it in a state that was less than its very best. We thought those agents would likely just reschedule for the next day or later in the week. They didn’t. Our house is very modern and does have a more specific buyer than most other houses. At the same time, if someone appreciates modern architecture, as we do, then our house would be perfect for them. When we first bought the house, we would have people stop and ask if our house was designed by our architect. We would tell them yes, and then they would ask if they could buy our house. It wasn’t for sale…we had just purchased it. But that also let us know that our architect had fans and that they would be on the lookout when one of his designs came up for sale.

After maybe six days on the market, we actually started getting nervous. This was our second house, and our first house had immediate interest and sold very quickly for above the asking price. I know it sounds unrealistic to expect an offer so quickly, but we also made an offer on our new house very quickly so we started to wonder what was wrong with our house. Everyone always said how great it was. We received great feedback from visitors when it was on the Houston Modern Home Tour last year.

The feedback from agents was positive but just didn’t reach the point of wanting to make an offer. Almost all of those who left feedback said they thought the house was beautiful and would sell quickly…but…  One said it was too small. It is in line with what the other homes in that neighborhood have, but they might have been comparing to other neighborhoods. One said there wasn’t enough storage. Had our clearing out of closets been for naught? Had I sweated for days on end for no results? One said it was priced too high on a per square footage basis. We were competing with new construction on our street in both directions that was more expensive than ours and those others were on smaller lots. Note to REALTORS®: If you show a house to your client, please leave feedback after the showing. It annoyed us when we would ask our REALTOR® what a buyer’s agent said, and we would be told that they never gave any feedback. It is just the courteous thing to do. Fortunately, only a few didn’t leave feedback. For the ones who did, it was like they were telling me our child was ugly. We took such pride in our house and had made so many improvements to it since we bought it. We tried to tell ourselves that it was just like dating. You can’t force someone to like you if they don’t…and you just move on. We just really wanted someone to love our house as much as we loved it and were excited when we bought it five years ago.

Then, he walked in. We had three showings that day. His was at 10:15 a.m.We had a call that the same REALTOR® had another showing of our house at 11:30 a.m. Well, at least the REALTOR® liked it enough that he was going to show it to another client. No. It was the same client. He was bringing his girlfriend back to look at the house. We had an offer by about 3 that afternoon. The potential buyer and his girlfriend both loved the house. They actually commented almost as much about our daughter’s wardrobe as the house, but whatever gets them to the point of making an offer (and knowing that the clothes don’t come with the house)…

We negotiated a few small points and had an agreement by that night. Nine days might not seem like a long time to sell a house, but it seemed like forever to us. Now, I have no doubt that we could have waited a while longer and probably had other offers, but this was a great offer and could close on the same day as the purchase of our new house. Everything fell into place. When we “lost” the house initially, so many of our friends told us that if it is meant to be, then it will happen. We also kept hearing from other REALTORS® about first offers falling through or people backing out of the purchase.

As this publication is going to press, our closings are one week away, so hopefully we will be in the new house by the time you read this. Of course, the worrier in me assumes something will go wrong. Maybe I just don’t want to have to unload that U-Haul U-Box.

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