Potential is everywhere, but that doesn’t mean much

For ten months, I had been checking for new home listings at least five times per day. This house was not posted when I checked at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, but it was there at 10 a.m., when I checked again.

I saw potential. That’s not a big deal because I saw potential up to three times per week, and I had been seeing potential for ten months. I followed my standard operating procedure and immediately texted my agent’s assistant to schedule a viewing, ideally during my lunch break that day.

Scheduling house tours is a thing

The assistant hadn’t been available yesterday to see houses. And yesterday there were three “potentials” I wanted to see. So yesterday after work I raced the sunset and drove myself to look in the windows of all three. I loved one and told my agent I wanted to see it and offer right away.

That place was pending when I woke up, and I still hadn’t seen it. I’d become accustomed to housing disappointments, but it still sucked that I couldn’t get my hat into the ring due to scheduling. And that had been my morning BEFORE seeing this new listing.

For this new house, the assistant wasn’t available for lunch, so my tour was at 5:30, after work. I wasn’t familiar with homes in this higher price range, but it seemed better than average. And it was good enough. With potential to be great.

Per my standard operating procedure, I texted Mom, researched the neighborhood, crunched numbers, felt crushed when my agent said I need to offer more (I knew she was right), panicked about whether or not the payment is sustainable, and submitted my offer by 8 p.m. that night.

Stacking my deck against other buyers

I acted this quickly when I offered on my seven other homes, too, and I lost them all.

For the past 10 months I had been looking for a home at $150,000. That put me at the top of my price range and it also happened to be the bottom of the housing market. In Eugene that would get me a mediocre condo or a fixer home – needing thousands more to become comfortable/attractive and I didn’t have thousands more. Or that same price would get me a humble house in better shape in a outlying town such as Springfield, Creswell, Cottage Grove, Junction City, or Veneta.

Everywhere I went, I was competing with investors, first time home buyers who have parents helping out, and boomers who are downsizing. Frequently a few of us would offer on the first day and our offers would match, so our seller would graciously let the winner be the first one to sweeten the deal with a few thousand dollars. I couldn’t afford it but the other buyers could, so I kept letting my offers fall through.

A few days before I saw this listing, I decided to give myself more edge. This price range wasn’t working. I justified what I was about to do next by remembering that each month paying rent is one less month building equity, and that adds up. I took $35,000 out of my retirement savings, pushed back the date I can retire by several years, and ran new calculations for what I could afford.

Why did I win this one?

There were a total of 12 offers on the home and they accepted mine. Reasons I was given for being chosen include:

  • I offered substantially more than asking price, but not so much that it wouldn’t appraise. Others had offered more than me, but the sellers believed an appraiser wouldn’t agree to that.
  • I had a strong offer due to my enormous downpayment. In addition to my recent withdrawal from my IRA (retirement), I had scrimped and saved for nine years to afford 20% down. And, for the record, I seriously saved during those nine years. I wasn’t leaving city limits, nor eating out, nor buying movie tickets because I was saving.
  • I used a local mortgage broker with a good reputation. The sellers liked that the appraiser would be local and would understand our inflated market. Which tells me there’s risk: this market was so inflated that an appraiser from out of town wouldn’t understand? Yikes, red flag to not buy. But I wanted to stay in this area and I wanted each month worth of equity (no more rent), so I accepted it.
  • My agent was great friends with their agent. I read between the lines and assumed that meant our agents would maneuver the seller and I, both, in the agent’s best interests to make this sale happen. I accepted that.

Sales psychology

Many lovely people make their living from me buying a home through them. I do marketing for a living so I understand that their livelihood depends on me having a great experience and on me creating more reputation for them.

My experience was that, like all good salesmen, everyone I gave my business to – from the realtors to the bank and title company, from the front office to the back room – all used positive and strategic language to steer me in directions that smoothed the process for them. That’s somewhat to my advantage because it makes the sale smooth for me too, but it also put me on high alert at every interaction because I NOTICED the psychology and had to filter it out. It felt psychologically manipulative and that constantly set off my alarm bells in every interaction.

As I looked at house after house, I heard things like…

  • “I don’t want you to offer unless you love it,” and “Don’t you love it?” and other encouragements to say “I love it.” Saying that would make me more committed before I’m ready. I wanted to know the place before I agreed that I loved the place.
  • “This is the one,” and choosing “the one” and finding “the one” and “It’s meant to be,” all bring destiny into it and there’s no such thing. I create that destiny. I don’t want my judgement in the moment be distorted by my false hope for destiny.

So I saw language shaping my thinking. They did it to grease my emotional wheels so I’d buy this-or-that house – which helped me get what I want. I’m not angry about it, but it made me uncomfortable day after day. Not only was I questioning the property’s condition, my future lifestyle, the seller’s integrity, the repair man’s skill set, and how I feel about all of this, but I also questioned my own team as they pressed me to say I had found my love and my destiny. Awkward.

I don’t need rose colored glasses to buy a house. And I get skeptical of folks who put rosy glasses on me during a high-stakes situation. I didn’t know how to address it so I avoided responding and tried to keep my own council.

In the end, it all came together and I got a place.