I knew the minute we didn’t get the house it was the one I wanted. I hadn’t been this heartsick since I got sent home from summer camp with mono.
After helping DC shop for a new home for months, a home he made no secret of saying could be ours if our stars stayed aligned, we had a good sense of what we were looking for, and weren’t.
Like much of life, the house-hunting process turned out to be a string of butterfly-high hopes followed by canyons of disappointment. Houses with so much promise online turned out to have fatal flaws, literally. One was next to a cemetery. (It’s really quiet, DC pointed out.)
On one of our weekly house-hunting escapades-slash-therapy sessions, our agent, Wendy, drove us by a sunny-colored Mediterranean-style house that had just come on the market. I craned my neck so hard as we drove past my head almost came unscrewed. The house oozed charm. What’s more, all the houses on the street were equally delightful. Wendy made an appointment for us to see the house that Sunday.
I arrived before DC. The listing agent was there, and had opened the home to show other buyers, too.
As I walked through the door, a warm fluttery sensation started at the bottom of my stomach and branched up like an electric tree through the tips of my ears. I later deconstructed this gestalt to be a cocktail of the warm, butter-colored walls, dark hardwood floors, substantial plantation shutters, 10-foot ceilings, crown moldings, wrought iron balusters, granite counters, and harmonious marriage of exterior and interior architecture.
Whoever had chosen the finishes had a sure hand, good taste and knew better than to take a shortcut.
By the time I walked through the kitchen and great room to the enclosed brick courtyard out back, where a fountain was playing water, my knees could barely hold.
Just then DC walked in. “What do you think?” he asked.
My eyes turned into twin Ferris wheels. Then I put a finger to my lips. Another buyer was walking through the house with her agent, and I didn’t want to tip our hand.
Outside on the sidewalk, we huddled with Wendy, and within minutes told her to submit an offer. I was giddy on his behalf, and, hypothetically, on mine. That night, Wendy called. The house sold.
“Before I could submit the offer,” she said.
Apparently, the other buyer who was there called her husband after we left, and before Wendy had a chance to write up and submit DC’s offer, they swooped in with an offer the sellers accepted on the spot.
“Will they take a back-up offer?” I asked, groveling.
“No,” said Wendy, “the deal was solid, full price and all cash.”
Tears welled. My heart fell 15 floors. I tried giving myself a meant-to-be pep talk, which didn’t work. They never do.
“Houses are like busses,” DC said, consoling me as I mopped a pond of tears, “another one always comes along.”
“But that’s the bus I, I mean, we, I mean, you, want.”
Two days later, Wendy called. The cash deal had fallen apart. The selling agent wanted to know if DC was still interested in the happy yellow house. By that evening we had a deal.
“One of the most exciting parts of my job is when I see those lights click on,” said Rhonda Duffy, an Atlanta-based broker, and Georgia’s top-selling agent for the past 10 years, about the moment buyers know.
Having just experienced one of those “this-is-the-house” moments, I was fascinated by how home buyers can make such a life-altering decision in minutes.
“Eighty-eight percent of buyers know within the first five minutes,” said Duffy, who has sold 17,000 homes (think about that), so has seen that phenomenon often. “Buyers have a vision of what they want to live in. They can’t always articulate it, but they have a picture, a combination of where they’ve lived and their experiences.
“You knew instantly because you had done your homework and had a vision. When you saw what you’d been looking for, you could pull the trigger.”
If you want to experience that knowing feeling next time you’re looking for a house, do your homework, said Duffy:
- Make a wish list. Write up a list of what you want. Beyond price range, location, and number of bedrooms, include must haves and would-be-nice-to haves. Topping the list might be plenty of space between you and the neighbors, a gourmet kitchen, or a front porch.
- Start online. But surf with caution, warns Duffy. Seeing pictures of a house online is great, but you miss what the neighborhood looks like. Online looking doesn’t replace being there, and you risk ruling out a gem because it didn’t photograph well.
- Get on the same page. Usually buyers are couples. Both partners need to merge their visions. This gets interesting, she said. “Talk about your wish lists, look at pictures together and create one vision.”
- Look for massive value. “Massive value doesn’t come with price,” Duffy said, “and is different for every buyer.” The couple selling the home we bought had three young boys. They valued more space indoors and out. I valued high-end amenities, and walkabilty to restaurants, theaters and shops.
- Rate houses from one to 10. If it’s a seven or higher, check out the neighborhood. (See next week’s column.) Eliminate any house under seven. Typically your front runners will have the top two or three wants on your wish list, but not all.
- Be ready to buy. “Inventory across the country is tight right now,” said Duffy. Thus, good houses priced well go fast, as I experienced. When the right house comes on the market, if you’re still puzzling out what you want, someone else will beat you. And you may not want to wait for the next bus.