Bourgeois Deviant

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Real Estate

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Bearing that in mind, allow me to unfurl our tale thus far…

Last year, Mrs. Deviant got a big promotion from her dear Uncle E. This was and is a great thing. However, it meant moving to the Garden State. Leaving the five boroughs is certainly the yang to the promotion’s yin. C'est la guerre.

Putting the Deviant flat on the market was initially quite daunting. Having the value of one’s home determined by a Realtor and the market place has odd effects on the self-esteem. In the first week, offers below the asking price came in. Dejection followed. The Realtor advised to ignore and persevere. This was done until the third week. Then magic started to happen. Bids were received in excess of our asking price. After a modest bidding war, the flat went for 74% over what we originally paid for it only two years ago.

Never doubt the surreality of New York real estate.

Back in March, we began looking for a new place to hang our hats. Specific requirements were laid out...

A home within 40 minutes of Manhattan by train,
A driveway with garage for protection from the rain,
Within the new territory bestowed by Uncle E.,
Within one mile of a train station for Bourgeois D.,
No vinyl siding on the house,
“Three bedrooms minimum” said the spouse,
A good school district for our sweet child,
More than one bathroom, lest bowels get wild,
A small yard so not much to mow,
Hoping beyond hope the taxes are low.

You get the picture and I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

A budget was set and looking at the map, Glen Ridge and Montclair jumped out as excellent geographic options. We inquired about some listings and solicited the services of a Realtor in the area. On our first outing, we found a home that met all but one of our requirements. It was everything we wanted and the price was, to take liberty with the vernacular, redonkulous.

Long story short, we learned the price was set to bait competition. The goal was achieved. We were one of 8 bidders and were fourth down on the list. This imparted a lesson. One must judge what the house is worth, then what you can or will pay. The two often don’t meet.

Strike one behind us and we’re on to the next, whatever and wherever that may be. To date, we’ve seen over 50 homes. In the midst of all that viewing, we stumbled across a quaint “For Sale By Owner.” We made contact and scheduled a viewing. It was just down the street from the house we had just lost a bid on and was lovely in every way. Remember, this was our first look.

We left the viewing enamored but a bit stunned at the asking price. All the same, we were thinking this was the one. It was at the very top of our range, but we figured we could bid under by a certain amount and not risk offense. After over a week of stalling, the seller agreed to our price. That week did not sit well with us and foreshadowed what was to come.

The key issue for the seller was to close as soon as possible as he did not want to lose any more money on retaining the home. We were the epitome of efficiency and retained an attorney, set a closing date, negotiated a contract and solicited the services of a home inspector. We’re not mentioning the difficulties we had during the contract negotiations. Let’s just say that the seller’s terms suggested a sharp detachment from reality.

It got to the point that all the shenanigans were getting a bit much. So much so in fact, that our attorney even said as much. In short, the seller declared he would not fix anything in order to complete the sale of the home. We decided to wait for the home inspection as we were still smitten by the property. Love is a fickle thing. The home inspection proved this. In addition to asbestos insulated pipes and the discovery of a poorly attempted cover up of a cracked foundation, the home inspector told us that the detached garage which was obviously leaning but touted by the seller to be structurally braced and sound was termite-ridden and required immediate demolition.

The deal was dead. Instead of trying to get the seller to give us a discount or remedy any of the issues, we just walked. We’d had enough. It was an expensive lesson, but worth it as it probably saved us from years of the house leeching our finances to the point of destitution.

Strike two and we’re on to the next, only a block and a half away as fate would have it. We spent the next Saturday looking at another seven homes. The sixth house grabbed us and we decided what the place was worth, what we would offer and then how much above all that we were willing to shell out should it get competitive. Our Realtor prepared two bids, one low, one above asking in the event of either situation. We felt good about our prospects.

As it turns out, our feeling was dead on and then way off in that order. Bids on the house were due by 5:00 p.m. As of that time, we were one of only two and the higher of the two as history will reflect. Then the seller was informed of a desperate last minute bid well after 9:00 p.m. that same night. Unfair. Right? Tell us about it.

The late bid came in at $14K over our bid. The seller gave us the opportunity to match and she would agree to go with us. We decided that the house simply wasn’t worth that inflated price despite it still being within our range. A very responsible strike three taken in the name of reason and moderation. But we’re not out. All the same, we loathe that seller nearly as much as the “For Sale By Owner.”

So, with our closing just weeks away, you can say we have the fear. There is a contingency to stay with family and we’re not too worried about that. However, the quest to find the right house at the right price in the right place grows ever more perilous with each passing week. All that can be hoped for is fate and the market to provide. The physics of karma in this situation would suggest that fate is not without a sense of humor.

Real estate is kind and too too cruel.
A place of our own will be oh so cool.

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