Honey, stop the car!

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I will never wash this car again. At least not the passenger door…

Sometimes my job sucks. Most jobs are that way, I suppose. Some days no one comes to my open house and I have to eat all the pie myself. Or someone calls on an ad and says mean things to me. Sometimes I drive buyers around for years before they suddenly one day decide to buy a boat instead.

But most of the time, my job is pretty greatEven when someone barfs, my job can be one of the raddest & most-rewarding of them all. Getting to work with guys like Randy is one reason.

Randy is a dedicated single Dad with two delightful kids. He’s a social worker who counsels the mentally ill, and he– like me– genuinely cares for his clients. One of his people probably barfs occasionally, too. But for me, today was a first.

As wrong as it is, social workers don’t make a ton of money. And I know even when Randy clocks out at 5 o’clock, he often “takes work home”– laying awake at night worrying about the people who depend on him. I do this, too. But the people Randy’s worrying about often are fighting for their very lives. My clients might be stressed out making a ridiculously large investment, or maybe they’re mad about a furnace or a fence or even worrying about settling for a grammar school that wasn’t their first choice. But mostly they’re not slaying the daily dragons Randy’s people are. It’s only real estate, for heck’s sake.

But Randy’s got those real estate problems, too. Trying to buy a decent house in Whatcom County on one modest income is a pretty hairball proposition right now. Even when our market was down (remember that?) housing in this region was brutally expensive. Those of us who call Bellingham “home” recognize this is literally the price we pay for living in paradise. I don’t know too many ‘Hamsters who would live in any other non-tropical place. It’s awesome and it’s worth it– but it aint cheap.

And the market is unbelievably competitive right now. Again. Standing inventory is at a startling 1.5 month supply, which means that if no new houses came on the market starting tomorrow, the existing inventory would be exhausted in a mere 45 days. Six months is what the analysts consider a “balanced” market. So, after five years down in the dumps, we are quite suddenly in a decidedly seller-dominated market. This means that for every listing that hits the market that has a roof & windows, crowds of jumpy buyers are looking at it hard on the first day. Homes are selling in the first week– many in shootouts with multiple offers.

It’s crazy.

Randy is qualified. He has good credit and a real job with deep history. He knows what he wants– a clean, safe house in Bellingham proper with three bedrooms so that when his kids are with him half the time, they have their own bedrooms and at least a small fenced yard to kick the ball and keep a dog.

It doesn’t seem like so much to ask.

But I’ll be darned if we’ve had any luck. Randy has been elbowed aside a number of times already, either by all-cash offers or else out-of-town buyers (we can call them Californians even though they’re not all from California) willing to pay 15% more than the list price just so they won’t lose a property that they’ve never seen and never will see. Still, to a seller in this market the investors’ money talks, and Randy walks.

Or barfs.

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The house hit the MLS at 10:09 this morning, and Randy & I were standing in it on his lunch hour. He was pacing excitedly from room-to-room mentally placing his furniture and artwork. He was debating paint colors and planning the evening’s dinner menu. He was most-definitely exhibiting what are known in the business as “buying signs.”

There wasn’t much deciding to do; we would write it up at once. But after turning out the lights and locking the front door, I found Randy sitting on the front steps, his head in his hands. I knew what he was thinking. The first couple of times we’d left a property to go write a deal on it, he’d been very up— optimistically sensing the end of this post-divorce phase of his life that had been characterized by the cramped quarters of his rented apartment and the unsettling cloud that hangs over children in transitional times like this. Randy had talked openly of his kids’ situational insecurities, of his son’s insomnia and his daughter’s struggles focusing at school– both of which had come seemingly out of nowhere. Randy was desperate to establish permanence and bring this regrettable chapter of his and his kids’ lives to a close.

But would he be able to buy it? If it was within his modest means, it would certainly be appealing to others as well. And this was the house he liked the most– the others he’d lost out on had serious flaws. And though he’d been willing to look past these flaws, they als0 made losing the houses easier to reconcile going away. But this one was perfect. It appeared to be $30,000 undervalued– precisely the type of property that usually gets bought in a fistfight.

The optimism in his face had been replaced by an ashen mat. I sat down next to him on the step.

“You alright?” I asked.

Without looking at me, he said yeah, then turned to look at the closed front door. He rubbed his forehead. And then the question I knew as bubbling like bile in his esophagus.

“Do you know if there are any other offers?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.

“Not that I know of,” I said. “It’s only been on the market for two hours.”

What he knew was that even though he may have been the first to see the house and even though might be the first to write an offer, there wasn’t much of a premium being placed on being first these days. Sellers in this market are more attracted to best. And if this house sat out there more than about another hour, there may well be an offer that was better. Randy had learned that the hard way already.

“Geez, I feel a little dizzy,” he said, rubbing his brow again. “Maybe you should take me back to my car.”

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On the walk to mine, it was clear that Randy was feeling off. Getting to the passenger door of my Camry, he took a couple of deep breaths before getting in. He buckled his seatbelt and rolled down the window.

As we left the windy, treed section of Tweed 20, I gave him my packaged pep talk about how anything could happen and how all we could do was try and how maybe the fact that the house was painted green might deter some buyers. All of this was true, except for the part about green houses being unpopular, of course– it’s a statistical truth that buyers love green houses. Randy didn’t care what color the house was– but he was turning a little on the green side himself.

He’d stuck his head out the window a couple of times before I asked if he wanted me to pull over. He said he thought he could make it, and apologized for acting like “a wimp.” After some more deep breaths a couple of dry hacks, he finally reached the beach– the kind of vomit explosion so violent that it blasts simultaneously from the mouth and nose.

By the time my car came to a complete stop on the shoulder of the road, Randy was unbuckled and out the door– sprawled in the gravel coughing and spitting. Most of his yield was sprayed along the passenger doors of my car, but there was a pretty decent remainder on the inside of the door, too. I let him gather for a minute, and then slowly retrieved a towel from my trunk, offering it to him along with my water bottle and a stick of Trident. He was a mess.

“I’m sorry,” was all he could say, wiping his nose & chin with the towel and spitting out mouthfuls of the water. He was exhausted from the physical experience and drained emotionally, too. His face was as white as a PDF and his eyes were watering. Eventually, it was clear that the wetness of his eyes was not only the result of the significant effort of barfing. Randy was beaten down and feeling helpless.

I knew I’d done everything right in representing him, and that nothing I could have done differently to this point in our professional relationship could have changed where we were at that moment, having a little man-to-man dad-to-dad cry on the shoulder of Britton Road, my car parked askew on the shoulder, flashers on.

We stayed a few minutes as Randy pulled himself together, eventually reaching that spent state where you start to feel better after a good barf. He apologized about my car, of course, and I told him not to worry about it, that it was actually something of a real estate badge to have one’s car soiled by a buyer who’d liked a house so much that they’d actually yakked. There was much more than that to Randy’s reaction, I knew. But by that time he was feeling so much better that I thought a little levity couldn’t hurt. It didn’t.

I dropped him at his car and we reconvened a couple of hours later to sign a full-price offer on the house. The sellers aren’t going to look at offers until later in the week, and of course there’s no telling how much other interest the property might generate between now and then. We’ll just have to wait and see. And also manifest Randy in the house, cooking dinner in the kitchen with his kids parked at the breakfast bar doing their homework. I hope he gets it.

Who says there’s no barfing in real estate?

–tMdR

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