In downtown Miami, there are so many unfinished and empty high rise buildings. As soon as people I met there this week hear I’m in real estate, that’s what they mention. It’s commiseration time. We’re all in this together, whether we live in tall, communal buildings or short, single-family ones. Now, on my way home, a captive of delayed flights, I can’t escape today’s murky headline – "Improving Home Sales Belie Market Reality." The gist of the piece is that more than half of all sales are now "distressed"; only 31 percent are "unforced or optional" – meaning not tied to the far-reaching mortgage mess.
In many of these "unforced and optional" deals, you wouldn’t know they were the conventional ones, because they have become so terribly contorted. Buyers motivated enough to go on with their lives, to buy a house or condo so they can make the life they planned before all this terrible stuff took over, now approach their experience with fear and loathing -- of the financial process which is much more convoluted than before; and of the sellers wading knee deep in the depressive market with their most valuable possession, their house.
This week, a number of my summer deals closed (or didn’t …maybe next week!) All had in common a demoralizing stand-off that began with a price tug-of-war the likes of which we haven’t seen in more than a decade – and ended in disbelief that the process could have gotten so ugly. These days, the usual miseries of the home inspection period are likely to fester right up to the end, and sometimes after. Angry sellers, even those lucky enough to make a significant profit, argue over a hundred dollars to fix something. Buyers unsatisfied by repair estimates, haul in in new ones with higher numbers. Not convinced by paperwork showing this or that has been fixed, they drop in to check for themselves.If a homeowner's fixed something himself, it's not good enough; call in an expert.
In retaliation, sellers retreat and dig in. Refrigerators and window treatments promised to buyers are suddenly withdrawn, mid-deal. Forget hiring the cleaning team before closing. Let the place shimmer with dust. Let the lawn go. It's all-out war.
I try to remember my own first-time homeowner experience, in the mid-eighties. My husband and I couldn’t have been dumber about the process. I remember a lot of nail-biting and tears as we toughed it out. We got a really cute, old house that needed everything -- and we were hardly daunted. The kitchen closets didn’t even have doors! We expected nothing from the sellers except to turn over the keys at closing. Perfection wasn’t a word that could be applied to our little place, but we worked together, over years, to bring it back. Our next house, the scenario was much the same. When we pointed out that the roof was flapping and the furnace rusted out, they shrugged. We bought it, anyway, because we loved it.
So, I just clench my teeth and smile when today’s buyers, who are getting some astoundingly good deals, don’t think it’s enough. Be happy, I think. This house experience will do you good. Make it your challenge. Don't move in with all this bad- deal karma.
When the static clears, maybe they will hear me.