If you’re house hunting right now, here’s a heads-up: You might spend more time choosing a pair of pants at the Gap than you will deciding to buy a specific home.
There’s a good chance you will walk through a door, scan every room, and if you like the place enough during the typical 20-minute showing, you will have to say yes on the spot or maybe risk losing the opportunity to bid.
Due to an inventory crunch, my pants theory is especially valid right now for popular price ranges. I say this from experience. Though I haven’t been personally looking, I was on the crack reconnaissance team for my son and daughter-in-law.
What an experience. Half the time they were searching they were working out of town, so my husband and I screened sudden open houses or drove by addresses with “coming soon” signs. For us, it was eye-opening. For them, it was a roller coaster.
I blame technology. That’s my default for everything, but maybe I’m right. Now that there are real estate apps and sites, it seems home shoppers need the trigger fingers of “Jeopardy” contestants and the lead feet of NASCAR drivers. Along with highly caffeinated Realtors. Because if something perfect pops on the market, all involved parties must pounce.
When we bought our current home more than 20 years ago, I admit even then it was stressful. Home-buying, no matter when, is always a big decision, involving factors like floorplan flow, closet space, serious debt and the lingering threats of leaky basements or squirrels in the attic. Back then we even fell into a bidding war – we got the house and move-in-day attic squirrels – yet everything seemed in slower motion compared to now.
I recall landline phones and cassette answering machines playing pivotal roles. Multiple listing service information was ink-jet printed with little faded paragraphs barely describing each home. Photos mainly came from front lawn flyers, but today our phones can pull up multiple fish-eye pictures of every listed home down to the shower grout.
Decades ago when we’d drive around house hunting there was never a robotic voice telling any of us to merge in 50 yards or turn left at the next intersection. We’d have maps on our laps or in our heads. We’d get lost along with everybody else, which probably bought us time. We suffered in a most analog way.
But these past few months, what I witnessed in the housing market was buyer competitiveness at cyber speed. Early on my son and his wife heard rumors the area was finally in a “balanced” market. Some experts said they’d experience neither a buyers’ nor sellers’ advantage. That prediction turned out to be 3,00-squar-feet of wrong.
The months the kids hunted, it turned into a sellers’ market. A few homes they emotionally moved into vaporized before they could bid.
Once that happened, I, the standby cheerleader, grew fangs and turned into a vampire. I would hit the refresh button on my phone’s real estate app every time I inhaled. Late at night, I would check for new listings, and then I’d check again before dawn. I grew pale and obsessed. I became the lurking Count Dracula of the MLS, helplessly searching the pulse of listing activity.
Another notable observation of the sellers’ advantage was the lack of “staging” in many homes. Some folks knew their houses would get swept up no matter what.
Even so, I was surprised to see low-hanging cobwebs, serious wood rot around front door thresholds and shredded carpeting. The conditions did not mesh with the prices. At some open houses, feng shui was completely tossed out the windows (which, I noticed, could have used a good Windexing).
But my son and his wife forged ahead with determination, an experienced Realtor and fully charged devices. They landed a well-maintained gem. A place that fits them like a perfect pair of pants.
Reach Denise Snodell at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DeniseSnodell