Here’s how you buy a house during a mini-bubble, while the odds are stacked against you in ways you’d never imagine when you first set out to find four walls and a roof, in a suitable neighborhood, with a few features that might make it a comfy place to call home. When you’ve had enough time-wasting false starts and shattered hope using conventional channels, you’re ready for the do-it-yourself method.
At one level, it’s as straightforward as it ever has been. You find a seller whose timetable matches yours. You arrive at a price, nail down a few administrative details, and you exchange money for keys.
It’s also absurdly difficult.
You must be willing to lose entire weekends, driving, searching, and coming up empty. You have to thumb your nose at convention, forget about etiquette, trespass, and knock on doors. You have to eavesdrop, and ask nosy questions of people who, for instance, have allowed a marital squabble to spill into the driveway as they set up their yard sale.
When you find willing sellers, you will have to blur the boundaries. You’ll have to allow yourself to be pulled deeply into the personal affairs of the other party. Using normal, prudent procedures, two real estate agents would keep you and the other party at arm’s length. But you have abandoned normal.
This should probably go without saying — when you find sellers who want to ditch their formal listing and forego an unduly rich price in a seller’s market, who agree instead to a fast-and-dirty transaction with a pair of world-weary shoppers brazen enough to corner them in their garage, well, let’s just say there are reasons for that, and you’ll probably discover them the hard way.
When you get your teeth into the deal, you have to sink them deep. You can’t let go, no matter what comes your way. Faulty plumbing, gaping holes in the drywall, scattered piles of pet waste. Hints of legal problems. An angry ex-spouse, who, because of a glitch in the county records, is still on the deed, and now believes she has a stake in the transaction. Logistical challenges. The sellers want the money quickly, and they’ve agreed to a closing date that’s a full week sooner than they can clear out their personal property. They want to leave everything in the garage while they iron out the next wrinkle in their lives.
After everything else, will you allow it to be a deal breaker? No, you won’t. You make a fundamentally unwise decision, at considerable inconvenience to yourself. Inviting some vaguely frightening brand of liability that can’t be named, but keeps you awake at night, you further blur the boundaries, and allow the short-term storage. Only when it’s too late will you grasp the extent to which, without intermediaries representing the parties, this is mistake.
Before this odyssey, with this party, there was another misadventure. There was the caregiver (holding a garage sale), who promised the dying wife she would sell the house and use the money for the care of the elderly husband, who’d been institutionalized with dementia. As it happened, the next door neighbor, a renter, desperately wanted the house. The caregiver, now the seller, was not at all sure the neighbor would qualify for a loan. She nonetheless promised that nobody else would get a chance until the neighbor exhausted every conceivable lending source. An eight-week roller-coaster ride that ground to a halt when the neighbor found a lender.
Before the roller coaster ride, there was the short sale offer that was accepted, and then the contract sat and sat in limbo. Three days before the closing date, nobody could say what would happen next, or when.
Residential purchases are complicated and emotional. Real estate agents will tell you that part of their job is keep the parties from boiling over in their own stew pots when the stove gets hot. The professionals are valuable in a way you can’t appreciate until you think you can do it on your own.
But this is the moral of the story: Nobody cares about your interests the way you do, and when the odds are stacked against you, nobody will fight your fight to the bloody end like you will. See you at Home Depot.