Monday, April 21, 2014

Functional Listmaking

When we told our realtor we wanted to make an offer on the red house, she was excited for us and supportive. She thought it was a good house for us and that we could get it.

So it just came down to the question that drives all economic decisions: how much? And unlike with buying a granola bar, the answer wasn’t a constant set by Safeway but the result of a multivariate equation. As I explained before, in this Very Special Real Estate Market, you have to pick a number you want to offer. And whereas in Normal Places, if the asking price is $p, you might offer $p - x where x is a function of number of likely other offers, amount of time the house has been on the market, and any repairs or renovations you might need to do.

‘Round these here parts, your offer is more like $p + y, where y is also a functional of likely other offers, plus some other stuff, like the fact that the weather was nice on the day of the open house and what the seller’s realtor’s horoscope will say in three weeks and then a fixed but unknown arbitrary positive number because it sucks to be you.

It feels like witchcraft and I don’t believe in witches. I do believe in negotiation. I hadn’t believed that I was going to need to negotiate with my own realtor.

The negotiation was precipitated by the fact that the $y I wanted to add to $p (we’ll call my number $yLiz, with apologies that I can't figure out how to get Blogger to do superscripts) was far lower than the $y she thought we needed to add to get the place (we’ll call that $yRealtor). In fact, rather alarmingly, her idea of what $y should be was almost twice as big as my idea of what it should be.

graph illustrating how wack that is

The disparity didn't surprise me. There is an inherent difference between her incentives and mine - while she was extremely helpful, it was never going to be coming out of her pocket at the end of the day. And there was the, ahem, additional factor that she knew that I hadn’t exactly been Ms. Cucumber while we were at the open house.

But I think she wasn’t aware of the fact that a lot of my enthusiasm was generated by the fact that unlike most sane human beings (who watch television shows like, I dunno, what are the cool kids watching these days? Mad Men? Man, how I loathe that show), I have inoculated myself against fear of renovation by near-incessant viewings of Property Brothers, Flip or Flop, Love It or List It, and other key HGTV renovation shows. In other words, I’m far less likely than the Average Jen to be scared of a little orange paint and a melange of 1940s tile jobs.

So I sat down to negotiate with my own realtor and redeem myself as a Collected Professional Lady in the eyes of my dear and beleaguered Husband. And there’s one skill I learned in law school (I think by accident - I don’t think anyone taught us this) that comes in handy more often than you think. It works like this:

Take out a yellow pad of paper. Take out a pen. and start making a list of all the problems your opponent has right in front of them. If you’re really good at this, you can make the list while still staring them in the eye. And as it happens, I’m really good. (It helps that when you fold back the pages on a legal pad that the person across the table from you can’t see if your list is cascading down the page sideways because you’re not looking where you’re writing).

this is how you list it

After I did that, she caved. She said that when she went to them with the offer, she could point out that we had really done the math and that we knew how much it needed ot be put into it and that our offer was very reasonable. And then she said she’d go draw up the paperwork.

Something that feels like a spa-level luxury to this lawyer: having someone else do the paperwork for you.
As she went to get the paperwork, Husband offered casually, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to be out of the country for the next week.”

She stopped walking and turned around. “You’re leaving the country while you try to put an offer on a house?”

Husband answered, “Yeah, I have work. Why? Liz will be here, she can handle anything you need.”

The realtor looked at him, then at me, then at the list on the table, then back at me with an expression I would describe as “retreating to a mental safe house.”

I tried to give her my best non-diabolical smile, but I think it’s gotten rusty.


We got the house.  Including an old ladder and some other old stuff that was in the garage, to the great delight of Husband.  It's the most grown-up thing we've ever done.


The start of the closing process was pretty straightforward, in fact. It did require signing each of our names to approximately twelve kazillion pieces of paper (each).  But we had a strategy for the rest of it, and by a strategy, I mean a happy accident:

“Oh, hey, realtor/title people/mortage people: we’ll be in Hawaii during most of the closing period.”

The resulting consternation was extreme, despite the fact that our realtor should have known we apparently don’t respect whatever secret rule exists that whilst purchasing a house, you must remain within 50 miles of said house for the entire process. Our realtor, mortagee, and title person all could not believe that we were going AWAY. To a FAR-OFF ISLAND. During the CLOSING PROCESS?!?!?!?!?!!!!!

“Well, what do you need us here for?”

What if you need to sign/see/hear/be talked at about/re-sign something?

“You can call either of us on our cell phone. Or you can e-mail us if we need to sign something. We’ll scan it back. They have Internet there. It’s America.”

...but! but! BUT…

“It’ll be fine.”

I don’t know if we were wildly lucky. I don’t know if normally everything does come crashing to a halt if you vacation during your real estate transaction. I do know that I did have to sign a jillion documents what felt like seven times each, and that I was signing and scanning like I was on a personal quest to endurance-test the scanner. But despite the fact that we left town for half of our two-week closing, everything was fine.

And we came back from our vacation to our very own home.

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