How home sales work

March 23, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

With the coming of spring, many optimistic homeowners will be putting their houses on the market.

My colleagues in the media have been bleating about a “buyers’ market” and wailing about the housing crisis for the past few years, making a bad situation worse.

As one who recently went through the process, I can attest to the fact that houses do sell. However, sellers entering the market today should have realistic expectations about what is ahead, so I submit the following observations to help homeowners understand the process.

The first thing sellers need to know is that most potential buyers are nuts.

At the very least, they are cognitively-challenged.

It may be due to the yammerings of the national media, but the average buyer is burdened with extraordinary expectations.

It begins with presentation.

We paid our Realtors for advice, and took it, despite the fact that it was sometimes contradictory.

Houses that are on the market are supposed to look lived-in – but not too lived-in.

Rooms should contain furniture, but not too much furniture.

Sellers might be asked to remove most of their worldly possessions to make the house appear larger.

It is important to help potential buyers imagine a family living in the home – but not your family.

All family photos should be taken off the walls, and the place should be made as impersonal as possible.

Many sellers enlist the help of a “stager.” These are people who are trained to make each room look like a vignette from the pages of “Better Homes and Gardens,” rather than places in which people actually live.

Buyers are also sticklers for cleanliness, and will apparently be as keen on evaluating your housekeeping skills as they are on looking at the house. I never quite understood this, since I had no intention of staying on as housekeeper.

We spent countless hours before each showing, polishing faucets and mirrors, dusting, and making sure every wastebasket was devoid of even a single scrap of paper.

We didn’t dare leave any garments in the laundry basket for fear buyers would realize that we periodically needed to wash clothes.

The post-showing comments we received were confusing.

According to potential buyers, the house was either too large or too small. It had either too many rooms, or too few.

One couple said they liked the house, but they really wanted to be in the Waconia school district. I never discovered why they were looking at houses in the Watertown school district.

Many people surprised us by raving about the house, but saying it was in the wrong location.

I never understood how this could be, since the house had never moved.

I suspect the real problem was that these people wanted to pay outstate prices, but wanted a house conveniently located in the suburbs.

Some people came back two or three times before deciding that the house was too far from their place of employment.

It seems like it would have been easier to just look at houses nearer to where they wanted to live.

Some people were clearly looking for new construction, but wanted a price commensurate with a much older home.

One couple even complained that the house was “too close to the freeway.” I never figured out which freeway they were talking about. The nearest one is many miles away.

The house is adjacent to a county road, but this is no freeway. When friends from the city came to visit, they often joked about it being rush hour if more than two cars passed within a half-hour period.

One of the more irksome parts of selling a house is when people schedule a showing and then fail to show up.

It is bad enough that buyers always ask for showings at the least convenient times.

Scrambling around getting the house ready and vacating the premises during the scheduled period, only to find out that the potential buyer blew it off, makes one want to reward him with a snappy sock right square on the beak.

Selling a house can be stressful.

Even in cases where there is a willing buyer and a willing seller, other people want to participate in the transaction, and this can complicate the process.

We hear a lot about market confidence, but if buyers and sellers have reasonable expectations, and if other parties, such as lenders and underwriters act sensibly, there is no reason the housing market can’t improve.

Just so we are clear, the issue here is with large, out-of-state companies, not local businesses that know their customers and their markets.

Eventually, by some miracle, we sold our house to a nice young couple who appreciate the beauty and the character of the place, and I am sure they will be very happy there.

That is the way things should be. Everyone is better off when houses are occupied by people or families who turn each dwelling into a home.

Neighborhoods full of vacant houses do no one any good.

Perhaps the trouble began when people stopped looking at houses as places to live, and started seeing them as investments by which to make a quick profit.

A dose of common sense would fix a lot of problems, and not just in the housing industry.