As of this week, we are homeless. This is not in the desperate sense that we are living in a box under an overpass, but we no longer own a home. We sold it several days ago and are living in a room at a friend’s inn for the next several months while our new townhome is constructed. We chose to live at the inn because it allows us the total flexibility we need in terms of moving out.
This wrinkle on the American Dream appeals to me. Essentially, in the highway of modern life, we are parked temporarily on the shoulder. My wife, Katie, is skeptical, but I strive to point out the myriad ways in which this brief break from responsibility is refreshing. Much of the enjoyment, for me, is due to the absence of bills, including, but not limited to, the following: water, sewer, electric, gas, trash, maintenance, landscaping, mortgage, taxes, insurance and homeowner’s association.
Selling this concept to Katie took a positive turn when she looked around our graciously appointed temporary home, and noted: “If this bedroom were in Manhattan, we’d be paying thousands of additional dollars each month.” Indeed, big city dwellers would look at our present situation as the lap of luxury. Still, I admit, in many ways, it isn’t easy to give up that big, high-ceilinged slice of suburbia.
We’d bought our house in Chapel Hill in early 2007. Coming from New Jersey, North Carolina real estate appeared to be half-priced. The prevailing mentality at the time was: “the more house you buy, the more money you’ll make whenever you choose to sell.” While that may still (or once again) apply in locations like Manhattan or San Francisco, one is ill advised in much of the country to invest in a single family home with an eye towards making a hefty profit. At present, a house is a place to live, not a gushing oil well.
Marketing our home turned out to be challenging. While the local market is “hot,” the golf community containing our former home is decidedly cool. Whether or not related, demographics, the economy, and the decline of Tiger Woods have curtailed the cohort of buyers clamoring to hear the thwack of clubs in close proximity.
Also, as the sensation of the reality show, “Tiny Homes,” attests, enthusiasm for six bedroom homes is in decline.
We gradually changed our listing from six to five to four (!) bedrooms to garner more traffic. Two of our bedrooms became “Flex study” and “Flex bonus room,” respectively.
The biggest factor in selling a home, as every real estate agent repeats, is price. Following an exhaustive study of the local market our Realtor originally established a price that made complete sense – about ten years ago. After only a month, and virtually no showings, we agreed to lower the price substantially. After another month, we lowered it again and, as noted above, began to lower our bedroom count. We could not affect the square footage and other attributes, however. One prospective buyer noted, in what may be a first in real estate history: “House has too many bathrooms.”
When our agent suggested a third, major price reduction, we balked. It’s not (entirely) about the money (really, it’s not); we just felt if no one looked at our house, no one could possibly fall in love with it. We needed traffic and some way to distinguish our house from the hundred other homes on the market in our community. Thinking back to a tried and true New Jersey tactic, I suggested the following to our Realtor: “Instead of lowering the price, let’s offer the selling agent a $5,000 bonus.”
“Oh, I can’t do that,” said our agent. “It just feels icky. Agents might show the house for the wrong reason.”
The reader can insert the most profane response imaginable to cover my thoughts at that moment. Still, it being North Carolina, I responded politely: “Well, I’d appreciate if y’all would just give it a little try for a week or two. Let’s see if some folks’ll actually come out and see the house.”
During the next two weeks, our house had eight showings, double the number from the two previous MONTHS combined. Two couples came back for second showings and then fell over each other to schedule third showings on the same day to make offers.
The passive-aggressive in me could not resist asking our agent: “Do you think the bonus has had an effect?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think the price reductions have just finally sunk in.”
Whatever. Readers can draw their own conclusion. We contracted to sell to a couple who, I’m informed, prefer our community’s golf course to the one where they presently live. Also, the gentleman is a toy train buff who will enjoy the 2,680 square foot basement for a major installation. And what of the $5,000 bonus? The buyer’s agent chose not to take it due to the “awkwardness.” Instead, she suggested we use the money to bridge the gap between her customer’s offer and our counter-offer. I LOVE these classy, unsullied southern real estate agents!
I’ve assured Katie I won’t want to live in a furnished room forever. After a few months, I’m sure I’ll be ready to ease back into the traffic jam of residential real estate. But following thirty consecutive years of homeownership, and the recent stresses of selling, I’m happy to take a break.