Finding the "right" house to buy

[photopress:Atticus_1_2.jpg,full,alignright]I was watching the Oscars the other night. There was a brief clip of “To Kill a Mockingbird” where Atticus is telling Scout that you have to step into another man’s shoes/skin and walk around in them a bit, before you can know…(paraphrased). It reminded me of the many people I have helped find the “right” home over the years. I try to remember when I stopped “showing” houses and started “finding” them.

I remember sitting in my office one day noticing all of the agents who were listing homes of people whom they sold the same homes to a short time before, and wondering why my clients were content with the homes I sold to them. My sister is still in the same house I sold to her in 1992. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are still in the same home I sold to them around the same time. Every once in a while I do an owner search and find that the people are still there, living in that same house I sold to them, many years later.

Finding the “right” house to buy has a whole lot more to do with “where” than “which house”. People buy a “lifestyle”. The absolutely perfect house in the wrong place for you, does not seem to make someone as happy as finding the right house in the right place.

I was meeting a man last night in a dark parking lot to show him a property that is “not for sale”. I met him back in May or June of last year. Since that time I have told him not to buy several properties and last night I took him to “the” property he should buy. It was what is known as a “pocket” listing and involved two other agents and no written agreements to pay any of us. For him it was more about the right property and the right circumstances. The right property for him unfortunately is the kind that gets multiple offers. His demeanor and need to process the info, just doesn’t lend itself to a competitive environment, so I had to find something that wasn’t for sale. No other buyers vying for the same property.

I have three or four buyer clients right now in the same price range, but they all have different profiles. My partner brings me properties for sale and says “How about this one for X & X?” I say no…wrong lifestyle. They need a newer house built in 1995 or 1998 in this neighborhood and that elementary school… He checks with the buyer. They agree with me. He comes back with a condo and says this one is perfect for X! I look at him and wonder why he thinks that, it is obvious to me that X does NOT want to live there. He checks with X and X doesn’t even respond.

The X and X couple needs a house in a newer neighborhood where a large percentage of the neighborhood has younger children. Where there are pavements to walk all over with a stroller and maybe a tot lot. A remodeled home in an older neighborhood with no sidewalks and mostly “empty-nesters” for neighbors, won’t do. I have pinpointed the exact neighborhood and am sending letters to all of the homes that would likely sell in their price range. I target the homes based on year built and assessed value using the tax records.

Mr. X needs a condo in a lively area, not too close to work. He is a workaholic and needs to go “home”. If his “home” is too close to work he will be tempted to drop by the office nights and weekends. He has to look out of his window and see something relaxing. He needs a territorial view or a lake view and not a lot of business and traffic and yet at the same time, he needs to be able to walk out of his front door and window shop or stop by the coffee house and mingle with people.

Ms. X works from home and needs to be close to downtown Kirkland, but also needs enough space not to be “confined” while working from home. She needs to be close to her friends and church and yet her price range and space needs predict that she needs to be just outside of where she would most like to be.

I first take people to property to get into their skin…not to find a property. I look into their eyes and watch their body language like a profiler. I take them to properties I pick that are not alike at all. It’s like the optometrist who keeps putting lenses with slight differences and saying “is this better than that?” “How about this?” Once I find what they like and don’t like, usually after showing them 3-6 properties. I go out and get “that”. Usually it’s not for sale, yet. I watch for it to come on market or I actively seek it out by writing people who own “it”. I don’t tell people they can’t have what they want because it is not for sale, but I do tell them they can’t have it if it doesn’t exist or is not in their price range. Agents have in their brains and via the tax records, a fairly good handle on the “realm of possibilities”. Getting access to the mls does not empower the consumer, it limits them to what is for sale.

Don’t sit at a computer screen looking at property until you have first identified “where” you will be happy. Think more about what makes you happy. I like to walk down a street with lots of houses and look at the architecture and flowers in people’s gardens and say “hey” to the neighbors. Put me in a great house on an acre lot out in the middle of nowhere, and I may love my house, but hate my lifestyle. Conversely, some people hate to walk outside of their home and have someone look over at them and say “hey, neighbor!” They are like, “Oh God, I just want to read my morning paper in peace!”

So spend at least as much time knowing where you will be happy as you do calculating monthly payments and number of bedrooms and “to thine own self be true”. First find your lifestyle match and then your house. You will be much happier in the long run if you do.

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: cell: 206-910-1000

10 thoughts on “Finding the "right" house to buy

  1. I had never heard of these “pocket listings” before, so I asked my agent friend about it. From what I understand, it is in the agent’s best interest to keep these pocket listings from other agents because there is no contract with the seller, and if other agents catch wind of it, they will just go and try to steal the seller away. This makes sense, but it got me thinking about some way that everyone could benefit from this.

    Now maybe this already exists, but what about a “Homes Wanted” or “Property Wanted” website. A place where potential buyers could write a small classified ad, and maybe some kind of highlighted map that would list where and what they are looking for. Like a Redfin in reverse.

    If an agent has a pocket listing, they could go to an interactive map and click the area where the property is. Then it would list a summary of all the “wanted” listings for that area. When one fits the bill, or nearly does, they could contact that person and work something out.

    The way I see it, this would protect the pocket listing from other agents, help the house seller get it sold without going through the MLS, and help the buyer get a property “on the down low”. It could also be a way for people who are just thinking about selling their house to see if there is much demand in their area, and maybe even work like a reverse “For Sale By Owner”

    Maybe I am giving away a million dollar idea here, but I frankly don’t have the drive to make something like this, or energy to go through protecting it.

    If this already exists, please someone point me to this site so I can list the kind of place I am looking for!

  2. JJ,

    That’s a great idea… and you’ve come to the right place. Let me know the type of home you want and the neighborhoods you are interested in and I’ll post it right here on Rain City Guide…

    I can’t promise this for anyone else, but I’d be happy to try it out for one post!


  3. Most agents have a “pocket listing” or two. Generally they are people who are going to be selling and are going to list with me, but are not ready yet. Sometimes they are not ready because I have not yet found the home for them and so they have no where to go yet.

    I try to line up a buyer, if I can ,who doesn’t need to move in a hurry. NWMLS does not allow you to list a property “subect to the seller finding suitable replacement housing” Some other mls’ do allow that.

    Also NWMLS does not allow you to get a listing contract signed and not put it in the mls, so you have to keep the “to be” listing in your “pocket”. But if you meet a buyer and know the “coming soon pocket listing” is perfect for them, and they don’t have to have a new house right away, you “sneak” them in…as I am doing tomorrow. I have no agreements with the seller or the buyer. If the buyer likes it, then we go from there. I’ve been staging it for two days just to show it to one or two of my buyers.

    Often I have a client who needs to sell before they can buy and doesn’t want to sell before they have a place to go. So I have to “manage” the situation by getting the house totally ready and sometimes even line up a buyer who can wait or lease back until I find the right home for the sellers.

  4. Dustin: The more I think of it, the easier it seems to set up. I really wish someone would do this. There is housing wanted for people looking for renting apartments, I wonder why not for buying.

    Well, here is what we are looking for. I will give the areas first (all in Kirkland):

    East and West of Market Street, going North (of downtown) to 18th Ave (W) and East to 6th St.

    Going South, West of train tracks to NE 64th St. East of train tracks to maybe NE 68th St (we might be able to push that a little further South).

    That is kind of hard to explain. It would be much easier to highlight it on a map.

    Anyway, so we are looking for a property with a lot that is subdividable into two. It can be an empty lot or not. We would tear it down. Of course, we would optimally want a view possibility, all the good stuff.

    I have seen on the various websites(like shackprices) that there have been a few recent sales of something like this from $600k. We are looking for that price up to maybe $800k. I know it’s not something that comes around a lot, but that is our optimal.

  5. Sounds like my next door neighbor, but I don’t think she wants to sell 🙂

    What size do you envision the two separate lots to be after the subdivision?

    The excellent view corner of 8th Ave and 1st St. has been for sale on and off, both 801 and 807. You need to factor in how the construction at 7th and Market will block a portion of the view from there. See permits on the interactive Kirkland Neighborhood map on my blog. Both priced too high for the builders when they were for sale.

    Generally a view lot will be in the $550,000 range for one lot with a tear down on it in the “core” of the area. The duplex sandwiched in between WestWater and the three going up offered at $1.5 mil. could be an option without the subdivision request.

    Look at what exists, not what is for sale. Easy to do a tax record search of all of the properties that fit the bill. Then you write to those people. That’s how I do it.

    Why do you need to subdivide the lot? Generally, I think an East of Market would need to be 10,000 sf or better and a West of Market would need to be 15,000 sf or better, with some exceptions. Not likely you can get a subdividable West of Market, unless maybe it is ON Market, for that price.

    I live in the core of the area you describe. Email me or call and we can chat about what has sold in the last year that fits your desires. If you see three things that sold that fit the bill, it will help target your area to one that will have what you want at the price you want to pay.

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