There is a lot of anticipation right now in the sport of real estate. It’s like that staticky smack in the air right before an earthquake, when all of the birds suddenly stop chirping and fly away. Or that split second between when you stub your toe and when the pain breaks.
Or not. When buyers tango alone, they just look silly. They need dance partners, but all the sellers are still lined up along the wall talking with each other. What are they waiting for?
All the news is good for them. Inventory is dangerously dry, even with a generous seasonal adjustment. Though interest rates edged up a tic last week, they are still at historic lows. Buyers are getting their nails done to look their best for prospective sellers, knowing they’ll be in multiple offer situations once something decent does come on the market. And the Super Bowl– the last unofficial event of the holiday season– is at last behind us as well. It is finally and undoubtedly real estate season.
Still, rules are rules…
I was out yesterday with some buyers from Alaska. Damon & Shirley are from Anchorage, the latest in a line of Alaskans finding their way to the relative tropical paradise that is Bellingham. ( Alaskans are snowbirds of a different feather, more about which can be found here. )
Damon & Shirley were interested in some space, so we were looking at stuff on small acreage close to town. They were drawn to modern architecture. Shirley wanted an open kitchen and Damon needed a shop for woodworking. They wanted a modest-sized home and something efficient.
Even in this climate of slim pickings, I found what on-paper looked like the perfect place. On 2 acres in a smallbatch shortplat just north of town, this 5-year-old home featured a smart green design including shed roof, radiant heat in the double-insulated concrete floors, rainwater collection system, on-demand hot water– the works. All of it oriented south and looking proud in a clearing ringed with native plants & repurposed hardscape.
Approaching the site, we drove slowly down the crisp gravel road, through the open gates and past the locking mailboxes of the three homes in this exclusive minihood. The home appeared on our left, looking even nicer than it had in the listing. We dropped down the dedicated gravel drive and I parked in front, as my clients got out and stood admiring the exterior of this distinct & handsome dwelling. Hope warmed my heart ( the kind of hope that comes in increments of 3% ).
We were on-time for our 2pm appointment, and I knocked on the dense front door out of protocol even though I expected no one to be at-home. The place was occupied, but the listing agent had told me the sellers would be at work. The MLS said the lockbox was on the back door, so I left Damon & Shirley in front and ventured around the east side of the house in search of the key. There literally were a dozen glass back doors, but none of them had a lockbox hanging from the knob, and eventually I emerged on the west side of the house still empty-handed.
I approached the front door of the house again, and rapped louder on the door than I had the first time. Getting no response, I tried the front door and found it unlocked. It certainly would not have been the first time a listing did not have a lockbox on-site when it was supposed to, and I had made the appointment personally with the listing agent as required, 24 hours earlier. I cracked the door and stuck my head inside.
“REAL ESTATE,” I called out, like I always do when entering a non-vacant home. I moved into the entryway, followed by my buyers. We all slid out of our shoes as I shut the heavy door behind us.
The house really was magnificent, even nicer than in the photos. The plan was wide open. To the right, the living room featuring massive stone fireplace and timber mantle. To the left, Shirley’s dream kitchen with recycled concrete counters, soapstone sink and custom clear fir cabinets with glass-faced doors. Above our heads, a marvelous web of re-milled timbers and exposed beams, met on the south side by the wall of glass facing the sun which warmed and lit the home even on a bleak February Day.
Damon was standing at the window, his hands behind his back, admiring the view out over the property. I joined him at the window and asked rhetorically if this was a dynamite view or what. I could tell he really liked the place. We could see the shop from here, to the east, and I was hoping it would be the clozer. The other thing you could suddenly see from this vantage that could not be seen previously was the second house in the shortplat. It looked quite a bit like this one– same shed roof, same warm stained exterior, same deck. A really similar house. Like you don’t expect to find two homes with such unique design so close together. The same deck.
The electricity in my brain flickered briefly, like electricity does during an earthquake or during a threatening storm. I looked at the printout of the listing in my hand and then back at the house across the clearing and the deck on the west side of it. The chandelier in my brain twitched and swung.
We were in the wrong house.
Shirley was in the kitchen, and Damon was moving toward the stairs that led upstairs to the bedrooms. This was a very bad real estate situation.
“Hey you guys,” I said, trying to think of a way to phrase it any other way. None came. “I think we’re in the wrong house.”
We were back in our shoes and to the driveway very quickly. Damon & Shirley seemed a little rattled, and decided to take a shortcut between the lots that was fairly clear once you knew what you were looking for. Remaining as cool as I could under the circumstances, I jumped in my car and crept back up the long driveway to the main gravel road, made a left, and then dropped down into the next drive a couple of hundred feet later. And I’ll be a monkey’s drunken uncle if the second house wasn’t the wrong one, too! This builder had built the same one-of-a-kind house three times just far enough apart so that you couldn’t see the next one from the driveway, and then no one put any house numbers on any of them! No real estate signs, either ( including any that said NFS, which would actually be helpful in this market ). It was kind of a self-serve Shangrila, a south-facing honor system Utopia with rough-hewn timbers and low-flow toilets and no real need to lock the front door or keep up with the Joneses because their house and their stuff was the same as yours.
Only really it wasn’t. Finding the lockbox right there on the back door of house #3, we were able to catch our breaths and realize that the first one really was nicer by far. Not that 3 was any dump– it had the same sexy features, only on a smaller scale. It wasn’t sited as well, and it had a standard 2-car attached garage instead of the Taj Mahal shop. And it was closer to the Mt. Baker Highway and thus had some road noise. Hard to love the Camry after driving the Lexus….
Looking at them as a group, it was obvious how dramatically they varied. And gazing at #1 on our right was we passed through the gates on our way out, it was equally obvious that it was not the home in the listing. It had a shed roof and lots of windows and it was the same color, yes. But it wasn’t the same house, and the three of us just laughed and laughed all the way back to town where Damon & Shirley did not write an offer on the house that was for sale. It wasn’t the right house for them, not now.
Can you feeeeeeel it?!