From the profane, underhanded real estate agents of "Glengarry Glen Ross" (intensely depicted by an ensemble cast including Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin and Alec Baldwin), to the affirmation-chanting agent portrayed by Annette Bening in "American Beauty" and Rodney Dangerfield’s embezzling mortgage broker in the Richard Pryor film "Moving" — fiction has long seemed engrossed with extreme exaggerations of real estate pro stereotypes.
What these writers don’t seem to recognize is that there are "types" of real estate consumers, too; and nothing brings the most extreme consumer types out of the woodwork than a good old-fashioned open house. Here are a few you might see, if you decide to venture out this weekend:
1. The Voyeur. The Voyeur is the neighbor, from next door or around the corner, who has come by for strictly lookie-loo purposes. Once upon a time, Voyeurs primarily stopped at open houses to check out the neighbor’s decor or landscaping — or to snoop in their drawers. Given the turn the market has taken, though, many Voyeurs hope to keep track of how property values in the area are trending, in part, through their open-house visits — it’s the best way to track what kind of property sells for what kind of price.
2. The Poser. The Poser is the seller who lets the agent in, bids the agent adieu, and then comes back an hour later with a backpack and baseball cap on, posing as a visitor — almost always to the agent’s total and complete horror and surprise. Posers thinks that no one can show their house like they can show their house, so they walk around chatting other, real prospective buyers up, casually commenting on the amazing drapery ("wow — that looks custom!") or the wide variety of fruit trees in the backyard ("plums, peaches and lemons — it’d be like having your own private orchard — and what a great price").
3. The Lure. I once went to a public open house (i.e., not a broker’s open house) in a decidedly non-luxe home, where the postage stamp-sized urban backyard had been turned into a scene from the South of France, complete with an entire crew of individuals who qualified as Lures — including waitstaff members busily passing heavy hors d’oeuvres and espresso-pulling baristas. Word on the street is that Thai-massage practitioners and Botox doctors are among the next-gen open house Lures now being used to attract agents who represent prospective buyers into open houses.
4. The Crack Negotiator. The crack negotiator is usually a relatively serious buyer who thinks, bizarrely, that they’re going to go the process 100 percent DIY (do-it-yourself) and that they have the skills to cut a crazy good deal by making an insanely lowball offer — during the actual open house. Not deterred in the least by the facts that the seller is not there, that the listing agent’s junior assistant is actually holding the place open or that they should actually be making this offer via a proposed contract, Crack Negotiators think if they make enough 40 percent-off offers by scrawling a number on a napkin at the kitchen table, someone is bound to take it in this market.
5. The Amateur Inspector. By contrast with the Crack Negotiators, most of whom lose their screwball tactics after a couple of dozen rejections and then move on to successfully purchase a home, the Amateur Inspector is typically a lookie-loo type or real estate hobbyist posing as a serious buyer. Amateur Inspectors think they’ll impress someone with the extent of their knowledge (acquired almost entirely by watching Bob Vila on vintage "This Old House" episodes), and aim to win admirers by mildly stalking true prospective buyers and agent attendees around, pointing out every wall crack, faucet drip and floor slope in the place.
6. The Besotted Buyer. Besotted Buyers saw the listing come online, have driven by 12 or 13 times in advance of the open house, and have bitten their fingernails the whole four days between the time the listing was published and the first open house. They come, they see and they just know — this house is "The One." But sometimes, in their possessiveness about the property, they begin to act out, coming back to the open house over and over, even trying to nonchalantly discourage other attendees about the property, suggesting it is overpriced and making a big to-do of the few flaws they can find.
The economy has created some extremes in the housing market, and open houses seem to bring out those with extreme personalities who love to look at and shop for real estate. The upside? These folks transform open-house hunting into a spectator sport — not just for home viewing, but for people-watching as well. Have fun!