TIPS! for buying and selling houses

The last thing I wanted to share about the process of selling our house is sort of a narrative on how the whole process worked.  I wanted this documented for myself and I hope others might find some useful takeaways too.  When we bought our house, the process was so smooth and simple.  But the selling?  More drama than an episode of As the World Turns.

Lies! Rejection! Bees! Tune in to hear all the gory details with no commercial breaks!

Prior to listing the house, our wonderful realtor provided a couple of services that I highly recommend for anyone selling a house.  First she provided a 1-hour consultation with a professional home stager.  TIP for sellers #1 – Consider using a stager, even if you have to pay for the 1-hour consult yourself.  The goal is to make the house look furnished but not exactly lived in, so the potential buyers can “imagine” themselves living there.  The stager quickly went through the house and gave me a laundry list of what to put where and what to hide, using just the furnishings that we already owned.  Second, our realtor also uses a professional photographer who was clearly experienced in photographing houses.  It may depend on the market you live in, but in CO, house searches all start on the web and pictures are the most important thing.  And our pictures looked way better than any others I saw.  So TIP for sellers #2 – Get a pro to take the pics.

And all that happened in the two weeks before we officially listed the house for sale… easy peasy snooze fest.

Then I had an opportunity to travel for work and take my toddler with me (to the grandparents).  Since I was going to be gone for a whole week, we thought this would be a prime time to list.  So, on Monday the house was officially listed on the local MLS and all the pics etc started showing up on web searches.  We had one showing later that first day, and about 4-5 every other day that week.  So, good thing me & Ransom were out of state, because clearing out of the house (and leaving it in perfect condition) 4-5 times per day with Ransom would have been nutzo.  One thing I didn’t realize is that a lot of real estate showings take place in the evenings and on weekends.  Guess that makes sense, since people are off work… By the second week, we were down to only 1 showing per day and some days with none at all.  This was manageable but annoying with Ransom there, dirty dishes in the sink, toys scattered about.  My standards for “show-ready” slipped quickly.  TIP for sellers #3 – Go stay with friends or otherwise get out of the house if at all possible.

After the second week, we elected to stop showings entirely. That’s because we got 3 offers on Wednesday.  As in, two days after the Monday listing.  YAHOOO! Two were basically full price and one was a bit low.  Our list price was $200k.  The first full price offer came it at $203k with a $5k allowance for closing costs.  In other words, the net for us was $198k and the buyers were basically borrowing the money they needed for closing costs.  This gave us a little pause because we figured it meant the buyers were cash-poor.  Our realtor pointed out that the really unusual part was that the buyers were also putting down a hefty down-payment.  Why would someone put down a big down-payment just to borrow more money?  Perhaps because that person is crazy weird okay let’s go with illogical.  I guess this could’ve been our first warning sign, but we didn’t question it too much.  A nearly full price offer in two days in an abysmal housing market – don’t question it.  We got a verbal, non-binding, “intent to offer” call from a second buyer right in the midst of negotiating with Buyer #1, for $197k.  We didn’t think much of it.  But when Buyer #2 actually got the formal offer to us, it was for $198k as well.  TIP for buyers #1: When you know there’s multiple offers on the table, come out as strong as possible.  We were literally signing the documents from Buyer #1 when we got the second offer.  We felt like we had sort of already agreed to sign the papers from Buyer #1, so we just went ahead with them, even though we knew that from the seller’s perspective, most of the closing costs are percentages, so going with Buyer #2 would’ve have been to our slight advantage.  TIP for sellers #4: Act in your best interest.  This is a business deal and leave all emotion, “being nice”, out of it.

Leaving the emotion out of it is easier said than done.  As I mentioned, the house was kinda of like our baby and we liked the idea of selling it to a nice young family who could use a nice place to live and would love it like we did.  TIP for sellers #5: STOP that line of thinking.  That house is a pile of bricks and wood and you are just selling it to get your money out of the pile.  I don’t mean at all that sellers should be mean or dishonest or ebenezer-scroogy or anything like that.  Just that its inappropriate to consider the situation from any angle besides what’s the best decision We the Sellers can make given the information we have in front of us.  What I’m getting at is, we kinda wish we had gone with Buyer #2, the clean $198k offer, rather than Buyer #1, the $203k minus $5k offer.  The closing costs allowance was the first warning sign of the drama that would ensue.  Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

OKAY! So its Wednesday. We’re under contract!  The buyers schedule their inspection for Friday! Yay, let’s get that hurdle crossed!  First, a regular house inspector gave the place a once-over.  Then the buyers also scheduled a sewer pipe inspection.  None cause for concern here because we did the exact same thing when we were buying the place.  But, by Monday (one week post-listing) we still hadn’t gotten any feedback on the results of either inspection.  The deadline for the buyers to make objections based on the inspection was the next day.  Instead they asked to come back AGAIN with some contractors “to look at the basement”.  Well, both my husband and I were at work but the nanny was home with Ransom.  I asked her to just take Ransom out to the backyard, which she did for quite a while.  However, they were taking their sweet time and turns out they were bringing over QUITE A FEW contractors to look at quite a few things.  TIP for buyers #2: Be upfront about what your doing.  Otherwise the sellers feel they can’t trust you.  And TIP for buyers #3: Don’t discuss anything around or with the nanny, because she is basically just a spy for us at that point.  So, from the episode, we now know all about what work they want to have done, how they’ve already planned a basement renovation.  We were curious but not too concerned because the nature of the work was primarily things they just “wanted” done, not related to the inspector’s report.  For example, one of the contractors was a tree removal service, giving them a quote to remove the spruce trees in front and back yard.

(Aside: This is Colorado and you DO NOT remove trees.  They are rare and valuable.  And precious shade to an un-air-conditioned house.  TIP for buyers #4: Don’t buy a house just to change the nicest things about it.  For example there are approximately a gazillion 70s split level houses for sale in our town with no trees in the yard.  So buying our house just to cut down the trees and make it like all the others is a waste of money.  I see this happen all the time.  Don’t buy the house with the nice deck just to rip it off – our neighbors did that.)

So by Monday night we don’t know what the heck is taking so long on the inspection report.  We know that the buyers are clearly planning to buy the house, by showing up with renovation contractors.

Tuesday morning this arrives.  Go read it… I highlighted my favorite parts.

So, this is a contract document.  “Teetering”.  really?  Teetering on the limits of insanity maybe?  You guys may not be able to fully grasp how funny all their objections were, without knowing the backstory behind each issue.  And I’m going to resist the urge to get all Perry-Mason and go through each bullet point explaining just how WRONG they are and how strongly we disagreed.  Instead, I’ll just summarize that 99% of the claims made in the above document were factually wrong.  In a few instances, we felt their claims were downright dishonest.  TIP for buyers #5: DONT be dishonest in your inspection report.  You should not make claims about the condition of a property without at least some documentation.  You will seriously piss off your sellers and they are going to the be owners of your house for several more weeks.  If you have an inspection report that claims something, show the inspection report.  As I highlighted, they originally elected not to provide a copy of the report.  Why?  When they reluctantly sent over the first few pages, almost none of the issues above were listed.  So where did they come up with this stuff?  Well, as we later found out, from their own imaginations!  Their realtor informed us that they had taken the liberty to draft this document themselves, refusing her draft and her help.  {CRAZY people alarm ringing full blast now.}  So, that at least explains the use of the verb “teetering”.

(Aside: The portion of the inspection report that we saw was short and non-descript.  TIP for buyers #6: Ask around or ask your realtor for the best inspector in the area.  You really want the best guy in town for this.)

Anyway by this point we are seriously P.O.’ed at these people, for the dishonesty and for using the word “teetering” and for being rude to our nanny.  And besides that, we had a backup offer in place from Buyer #2 (remember him?  He stuck with us this long.)  So rather than negotiate with these people, we elected to just flat out reject their requests.

Apparently, that’s not what they were expecting us to do.  Next we heard from a second proposal from their realtor: “Would the sellers consider discounting the house an additional $1000 to cover the cost of some of the issues?”  So, one sunny Saturday morning, my husband and I were discussing whether to remain firm in our rejection or counteroffer them a $500 reduction instead.  Remember, we have Buyer #2 in our back pocket.  But what might he ask for in his inspection?  A bird in hand?  Then we get a call that the buyer’s realtor needed to retract the discussion about discounting the sale price.  Apparently the buyers were completely uninterested in any price reductions.  They wanted us to do the work.  And well duh we were certainly not going to be doing any work for these people.  Then their realtor quit (with a clause that she never be contacted by them again).

The next few days were aflurry with emails between their new realtor and ours.  Some we saw, some we didn’t.  Would we consider paying to fly the buyer’s dad out to do some of the work himself?  HUH?

We held our position and never questioned that decision.  We all assumed they’d take business elsewhere and we’d start over with Buyer #2.

They didn’t.  Instead they played the crazy card one more time and elected to take the house AS IS.  TIP for buyers #7: If you feel strongly about your position, have enough self-respect to just walk away.  Otherwise, we’ll all think that you didn’t really mean what you said.  And we the sellers won’t make any decisions based on what would be “nice” for the new homebuyers.  Instead we’ll only what is the minimum contractually required of us.

TIP for sellers #6: Once you accept an offer, you really don’t have much control from there on out.  The buyer has a couple of opportunities to back out.  The seller can only hold the line (as we did), but you don’t get to just walk away.

Throughout the rest of the process, we learned that the buyers felt we were uneducated idiots who didn’t grasp the dangerousness of where we’re living.  They’re certainly entitled to hold that opinion, and I will not argue about it.  But, TIP for buyers #8:  If you feel the owners of a house you’re buying are idiots, strongly consider walking away.  Remember, those idiots have been making decisions about the property for years and do you really want to take on the responsibility of dealing with all those idiotic decision??

At the end of the day, all jibing aside, August and I felt that the buyers were not ready to assume the maintenance costs that go along with owning a 40-year old house.  TIP for buyers #9: Dave Ramsey says, don’t buy a house where the payment is more than 25% of your take home pay.  Otherwise Murphy’s going to move into your spare bedroom and you’ll be having a minor financial crisis every time something breaks.  She may look pretty, but I promise you something is going to require repair EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  That’s just part of home-ownership, and its an even bigger part of old-home-ownership.  We felt it was the wrong house for them, that it wouldn’t be a blessing, and that every time something breaks down they’ll be cussing us, the idiots, for not knowing how to take care of it.

And here’s where we’ve crossed the line back to thinking emotionally about selling our house.  Its just a house.  Its up to them, not us whether its a blessing or a curse, we can’t control that.  All a home seller can do is make the best decision, weighing risk and reward, given the information available.  We did that to the best of our ability and so there’s no reason to feel sad.

And therefore, this will be my last blog post on the subject.  The Johnsons are officially moving forward and will not be thinking about the drama any longer!  The check’s in the bank and what’s done is done.  A wise friend told us during the process, “Crazy people’s money spends just like any other”.  And its absolutely true.

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About Mary-Hall

loyal southerner, exceedingly frugal, compulsive DIYer

7 responses to “TIPS! for buying and selling houses”

  1. A Light at the End of the Fiber says :

    So, if Murphy will be moving into the spare bedroom, shall I bring over his water bowl and dog food? 😉

  2. A Light at the End of the Fiber says :

    (And now I dread the possibility of selling our house in the near future)

    • maryhalljohnson says :

      AAW the literal Murphy is welcome in our spare bedroom any time. And let’s hope the figurative Murphy spent enough time in our house selling process that he leaves yours alone!!!

  3. bethanybordeaux says :

    Oh. My. Gosh. What a saga! So glad it all finally got figured out and that you sold for a good price! At least you didn’t go through all that to take a $50,000 loss or something!

    I do totally agree with the statements about home-ownership where something breaks once a year and about owning a home older than 40 years. our little 1920’s home is full of charm, but had lots and lots of quirks before the rennovation in the Spring of 2011 and even still has quirks post-remodel (although they are nicely decorated, in good condition and liveable quirks.) And always go to Dave Ramsey for advice. We’ve used his “debt snowball” plan to pay off our home remodel and it’s been so successful so far. We’re amazed at how fast we’re paying everything off.

  4. vivagood says :

    oh man. drama! just a good reminder of why to have a skilled realtor on your side, too.

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