The house was the closest to perfect (for us) out of any we’d seen. Spacious and well-maintained, it had everything on our “must-have” list and a few extras that made it even more enticing. Sure, there were a few things we’d change when it was ours — but this was a place where we could live and be happy.
Plus, it had been on the market since late September by the time we submitted our bid on Monday. Even though everyone told me that the first bid rarely results in a sold home, I was pretty confident this one would be ours after a couple of counteroffers and some serious negotiating.
It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I saw the message our agent had sent Monday evening: A cash buyer’s offer meant all the time we’d spent thinking about and preparing our own offer had just been rendered insignificant.
I’ve learned more about hot real estate markets in the past couple of weeks than in the entire previous year. I understand now why it’s called “house hunting,” why agents compare themselves to therapists, the giddiness of walking into a house that looks better than the listing photos and the corresponding dismay when the photos made the house look much nicer than it is.
Here are a few of the things that surprised me the most.
1. Hot markets can extend well beyond metropolitan statistical area (MSA) borders.
Everyone probably knows that the Denver real estate market is on fire right now. I am not looking at properties in Denver proper — the area where I’d like to buy is outside the MSA borders, at least a 45-minute drive from the city itself.
I didn’t think inventory would be as big a problem in the foothills. But now that I know better, I suspect it might be harder to find a home in the semi-rural towns where I’m looking than in the suburbs just outside of the city. Larger lots and fewer homes means fewer homes for sale, too.
By the time we started seriously shopping, there were nine homes on the market that fit our needs. We’ve seen all of them and are now at the stage of watching old favorites to see if any sales fall through or waiting for new listings to arrive.
2. Every buyer thinks of every listing as “theirs” — it’s human nature.
This past Saturday when we were walking through a listing that had just come back on the market, we overheard a couple arguing about where they were going to put their coffee table.
Mind you, this was a brand-new listing in a seller’s market. There were several other potential buyers perusing the rooms — but in this couple’s mind, their offer had clearly already been accepted and they could now skip ahead to the “how shall we decorate” discussion.
I have been consciously rooting out this tendency in myself. But I allowed my discipline to slip after submitting that first offer. That home had seemed as good as ours, and I’d been daydreaming about waking up to a specific mountain view outside my bedroom window.
3. Even the most even-keeled people will experience emotional highs and lows.
Overall, I would not classify myself as a particularly emotional person. I think most people who know me would agree — it takes a pretty big wave to rock my boat. But I haven’t felt this unbalanced since I had a baby and sobbed in front of his pediatrician at one of his early appointments, for absolutely no good reason. (I’m confident that anyone who’s experienced postpartum hormones is familiar with this feeling.)
I think I can keep the tears under control this time, but I know I’m not quite myself when the simple prospect of looking at a house with the now-two-year-old in tow sends my brain into a tailspin. What if he has a meltdown? What if we forget his snacks?
My kid’s actually very well-behaved, and just typing those questions made me laugh at myself. Hopefully, I’m annoying myself more than I am my agent! (I suspect he’s too polite to indicate otherwise.)
4. You can’t trust the pictures.
The first home we looked at seemed perfectly fine in the listing photos we saw. Those didn’t show the sloping hallway floors that made me feel like I was walking through a fun house or the strange situation of the home itself, which might just wash away in the next flash flood.
By contrast, the last home we looked at had gorgeous custom woodwork throughout that was not captured by the camera-phone listing photos uploaded to the MLS. It was much nicer than the images would lead you to believe.
Pictures might be worth a thousand words, but when it comes to listing photos, some of those words are flat-out lies.
5. Be grateful for whatever level of flexibility you have — and don’t compromise where you shouldn’t.
I’m able to be stubborn about where I want to live because I have flexibility in other areas. I’m not racing to beat an expiring lease or dealing with a cross-country (or international) move. I’ve got some wiggle room in price range, and commuting to work isn’t an issue for me, so location (within reason) isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, either.
Remembering these things has made my experience better, I think. I am in almost an ideal position for a buyer. If a deal falls through, it’s frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.
This means I can stand my ground in other areas, too. And one thing I’m not willing to compromise is my own time.
There are exceptions, of course. If I happen to find my dream home, I’d be willing to spend more of my time working to live there.
However, if I like the home — but I don’t love it — then I have a very low threshold for red flags, like questions about remodeling permits or “sold as-is” listings. Red flags mean time spent clearing up an issue. And right now, my time is probably my most precious resource.
So if I’m not head over heels, and it’s starting to look like I’ll have to spend my time addressing red flags … forget it. That’s my sign to cut bait and look for another fishing spot.
I know that we have the flexibility to wait for the next good (or great) thing, and I would rather wait longer to move into a house that I really love (or that was relatively easier to buy) than spend my precious minutes jumping through myriad hoops to buy a house that I don’t adore.
Well, we’re going to look at house No. 10 this afternoon. Wish us luck!