Gwen and I bought a house yesterday. The circumstances surrounding the sale are a little unusual, but not in a bad way.
We had been looking for a long time–before my old house was even on the market, in fact. And the longer we looked, the more discouraged we got. There was this duplex that intrigued us, but left us with some reservations–it had been languishing on the market for over a year and was withdrawn from the market three days before we decided to make an offer on it. Long story. No point in kicking ourselves over that lost opportunity.
For quite some time, everything we looked at was too expensive, too awful, too remote, or some combination of the three. One day a friend of ours, Mychal, mentioned that the folks across the street from her were thinking of selling their house. She gave us their number and we all-but coerced them into letting us go for a walk-through. They didn’t have a realtor at that point (in fact, we found out after the closing, they weren’t entirely sure about selling at that point). We mentioned this new development to our realtor, who actually told us that we should get the sellers to handle the transaction as a FSBO (for sale by owner, pronounced “fizzbo”), and that she would step aside. And that’s how we did it.
When I bought my previous house with Jenny, we walked in the door and pretty much knew instantly “this is it.” That’s not a responsible approach to home-buying, but we got lucky in that instance. This time around, I think Gwen and I were both a little too savvy to fall in love with the place immediately, but we knew this could be it.
We were also looking at the house not just for what it is, but for what it could be. My last house we never even repainted rooms (with one exception) until we decided to fix it up to sell. This time, we’re going to have a fair amount of work done before we even move in. Not that there’s anything actually wrong with it, but it is a small place, and the disposition of space isn’t optimized for Gwen and me. So we’ll be moving some rooms around. I’ll probably start a renovation blog to document that process.
Handling the transaction without an agent was not that difficult. It did require a fair amount of attentiveness at times, making sure that the title company, insurer, lender, and we were all on the same page. And it required some delicacy with the sellers, since they’re nice folks (in fact, we established that we’ve been present at the same party at least once, and have several friends in common), and we didn’t want to alienate them, but we also wanted to look out for our own interests. If realtors had been involved, everything would have been completely arm’s-length and faintly antagonistic. In our case, they wanted to sell and we wanted to buy; they were happy that the house was going to be in good hands, and we were happy to be doing business with them. The whole process felt more cooperative. The tensest moment came when we were shooting the breeze about neighborhood restaurants, and mentioned both Vivo and El Chile. Either Gwen or I added “not that there’s any comparison,” and one of the sellers asked “which one do you like better?” A moment of ominous silence passed, as if this were a test to determine our fitness to buy their home, the reliability of our judgment, and our compatibility with the neighborhood zeitgeist. “El Chile,” we answered. A barely-perceptible wave of relief–we gave the right answer. Some people get hung up about doing business only with others of the same political leanings, but this was important.
Although apparently many closings are handled with the seller and buyer not even being at the same place at the same time, we did this at the subject property–an agent from the title company drove over and we took care of everything at the dining-room table. Afterwords, we drank excellent mojitos and shot the breeze.
Another one of the unusual aspects of this deal is that we have a lease-back agreement with the sellers–they’re moving out of the country in about a month, so rather than trying to find temporary lodgings, they’re renting their own house back from us for the time being (actually, we reduced the sale price by an agreed amount).
So the whole deal has an air of unreality about it. Between the lease-back and the renovation, we probably will not be actually occupying the house until some time in January. And yet it is ours.