Let’s face it – moving is not a pleasant experience. Preparing to sell a house when you’re under an imposed time crunch increases the already elevated stress level.
When we moved from San Antonio to Chicago a couple of years ago, my wife and I did not have a "free" evening or weekend for more than five weeks. Anticipating selling the house quickly, we had begun the process of cleaning, painting, repairing drywall, fixing screen doors, organizing closets, mulching, edging, pruning, meeting with realtors, and filling out loan applications. We had been asked to relocate with the company to our hometown, and, although we gladly accepted, had less than two months to sell our home, and buy another 1,200 miles away on a single weekend house hunting trip. And, oh yeah, we had to start, or in my wife's case, find a new job.
We put our house on the market in early April, and were unsure of the potential buyer traffic since we had never been through this experience. Our dog McGee was 10 years old at the time and had not been kenneled, so we hoped to maintain the normal schedule. If there was a house showing that day, we would return from work to remove the offending critter. Or, offensive to some home buyers. Within days, however, there was a fair amount of realtor traffic, and we were driving to and from work and home like busy taxi drivers. To compound matters, the realtors were not providing an especially tight window. When ABC Realtors wanted to show the house, for example, the realtor would indicate a window of between 1:30 pm -3:00 pm. These were on the good days. At other times, the realtor would cancel the appointment or reschedule at the last minute.
McGee appeared confused – driving around in a car for two hours in the middle of the afternoon was not part of her daily routine. While my wife’s bosses were extremely understanding and accommodating, the guilt was beginning to take hold. There is only so much time you can take off from work before it feels wrong. To assist in the process, I left work early on a Thursday afternoon to accommodate the 4:30 pm showing that was scheduled. Typically, the showings would last approximately 30 minutes, or perhaps a little longer if the prospect was interested. On this particular day, driving back with dog in tow, the realtor and prospects (a relatively young couple) were still at the house at 5:30 pm.
I drove around the neighborhood a bit longer, returned 15 minutes later, and saw that they were still at the house. Unusually long, it seemed. Twenty minutes later, I caught a glimpse of the couple outside the house talking with their realtor. This was a good indication that they would be leaving shortly. When I returned a few minutes later, they had gone back inside the house. Inexplicably, this couple did not leave until 7:30 pm! As the potential buyer of a large investment, I certainly appreciate that someone would take the time to uncover the details. Loitering at someone’s abode for three hours, however, borders on the inconsiderate. This was not an unoccupied investor house, mind you. After finally entering my house, it was evident that all the window blinds had been pulled up, and those in the kitchen area had been stretched to their breaking point.
The following Saturday morning, our realtor informed us that she had another showing lined up that afternoon. Good news, we thought. We packed up the car and pooch, grabbed a quick sandwich on the road, and proceeded to relax at the nearby park. In anticipation of unexpected showings that could occur at a moment’s notice, we rarely cooked a major meal that would leave a lingering odor. While at the park, the realtor called to inform us that the 2:30 pm showing had been rescheduled to 3:30 pm. This delay was annoying but at least we were at the park enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. At approximately 4:45, we returned home, assuming that enough time had elapsed. We could not believe it when we saw the outline of a familiar vehicle in our driveway. It was the same couple who had been inspecting our house for three hours last Thursday! Instead of leaving the scene, this time we parked down the street and watched. The couple and their realtor lingered in the house for another hour or so.
I talked to our neighbor Steve the next day and found out that these prospects (let’s henceforth call them the Nut Family) had knocked on his door and suggested that they would be purchasing our house. They even had the temerity to ask Steve if he would consider contributing 50 percent to install a new fence that shares his property. (Later on, I learned that the Nut Family had also talked with our other neighbor to the north and asked her the very same question.) In frustration, I called my realtor to vent and to discuss this odd couple. My realtor said she would look into the matter and call us back as soon as possible.
When our realtor called the next day, she said that the Nut Family wanted to buy our house. We were not sure whether to celebrate or cry. In any case, they had made a lowball offer. We were not surprised. Needing to sell the house quickly, we pushed the realtor to make a counter offer and to split the difference. We fully expected that the Nut Family would counter our counter, we would accept, and we could begin a new chapter in our lives.
We did not hear any news from the realtor that evening or the following day. I called her and was told that such a lack of communication was not a “good sign”. First off, please remember that we are discussing San Antonio home prices and not La Jolla, California. The difference between the competing offers amounted to a few thousand dollars. In any event, the Nut Family simply refused our counter-offer and walked away from the bargaining table. Amazingly, these are the same people who spent five hours in our home, proclaiming to our neighbors that they would be moving in. The Nut family, we later learned, had been actively pursuing houses for more than a year and a half, eventually prompting their fatigued realtor to “fire them” (her words).
We marched on, without a sales contract. As the days and the number of showings progressed, the impact to our work schedules became too great. For three days, beginning on a Wednesday, we had no viable alternative but to place McGee in a day kennel where we could pick her up after work. She was frightened when we left her in the morning and confused when we returned each evening. On a Friday night, she had an asthma or panic attack. Probably both. She could not catch her breath or stop wheezing, and I thought this might be the big one for her. As the night wore on, the wheezing subsided. The stress, and perhaps a bout of kennel cough, had hit her as well.
When you think you are at the nadir of your existence, think again. The following week, my wife lost her wallet. As soon as she discovered it missing, she called to cancel her credit cards. Although the wallet had been gone for less than two hours, some misguided soul had already charged $2,700 at a big box store. This unfortunate event was occurring at the same time we were applying for a loan and our credit was being reviewed. Additionally, the credit cards and driver’s license had to be replaced. No driver’s license meant no upcoming trip to Chicago to find that new home. Wonderful news.
On Saturday evening, our realtor called and indicated that we had another offer. Our momentary glee was dashed when the realtor stated that the offer was even lower than the Nut Family’s offer. The prospective buyer’s realtor, who was young, ambitious, and relatively new to the industry, had sent our realtor a multi-paged letter, including comparable home sales, describing in great detail why our asking price was too high. Needless to say, our realtor, a veteran with 30+ years in the business, was not pleased with the substance or tone of the missive. When we asked our realtor if our asking price was too high, she indicated that it definitely was not, and that the buyer’s realtor had been producing outdated and unfair “comparables” due to square footage and acreage differences between properties. Relieved, we prepared our counter offer, which was the amount we had originally hoped to gain from the sale. We also informed the buyer’s realtor that the offer was firm. We were not going to play games this time around, a la the Nut Family.
To our utter surprise, our counter offer was accepted - pending inspection, of course. Although the inspection process was to nearly everyone’s estimation unduly nit-picky, all the enumerated items were resolved in a timely and cost effective manner. More important, this new offer was all cash, so we did not have to worry about possible "financing-gone-bad" scenarios.
In the end, we did travel to Chicago for that quick weekend house hunting trip, and we did purchase a house. All interested parties, including McGee and her omnipresent puck, have now settled in.. When you believe you are incapable of handling more stress, sometimes you have to remain patient and realize that God does, indeed, work in mysterious ways. I am still trying to learn that lesson.
In the meantime, I need a beer.