Sunday, June 15, 2003

For sale by nincompoop

The guy down the street has put his house up for sale. "For Sale by Owner." It might as well say "For Sale by Nincompoop" or more specifically, "For Sale by Greedy Delusional."

The sale is preceded by three weeks of frenetic painting and gardening by hourly workers supervised by the cheapskate owners. The paint colors are 20 years out of date because that's what matches their furniture and towels. And they've convinced themselves that everyone prefers old wall-to-wall carpeting over the hardwood floors that lie beneath and that the aluminum screen door doesn't detract at all from the front entryway.

Based on my recent observation of our neighborhood, that house will languish on the market for couple of months before the owners wise up. Eventually they'll notice that nearby houses represented by agents for well-known realty companies have been sold. They'll get sick of cleaning the house on a daily basis and spending their weekends hanging around listening while prospective buyers troop through and badmouth their furniture, decorating and landscaping. They'll get tired of rushing home from work to show the place to prospects. They notice that weekly ads in the paper are costing them a small fortune. If they're lucky, that's the worst of it. If they're unlucky, they'll have gotten an offer that somehow turned sour, resulting in unpleasantness, threats of lawsuits, and no agent to hide behind.

For whatever reason, I've noticed that the "For Sale by Owner" folks, even when they finally give up trying to unload the place without paying a commission, will never hire the a realtor from one of the area's leading firms. No, they always hire a firm you've never heard of with a male agent who looks like someone from a 1960s sitcom. He prices the house about $10,000 lower, puts up a sign in lime green or fluorescent orange that looks like it just came from the hardware store, and puts out flyers that promptly vanish and are never restocked. By this time, the for-sale-by owners have moved out, taking their outdated furniture and paintings with them but leaving the outdated paint job. They "save" money by failing to stage the house and failing to hire a lawn service. They come over and mow, once, and after that the lawn gets long, scraggly and (if it's summer) brown.

By now buyers are actively avoiding the house, speculating that someone (not just the lawn) died there. After three or four months of deterioration, a real estate speculator scoops it up for 20 percent less than the for-sale-by owner had been asking before getting an agent. And that's when the real fun begins.

The speculator hires contractors, who add on to the house using the cheapest materials possible. They go up and out, turning the house, whatever its original style, into a huge box occupying every inch of ground and air space allowed within the building code. They put in enough bedroms for a bordello. Layout is convoluted, closets are non-existant, but the kitchen is loaded up with marble, slate, Corian, and stainless steel. A fancy front door appears. They tunnel from the street down into the basement and turn the basement into a two-car garage. On the bright side, they pull the old wall-to-wall and either refinish the floors or put down Pergo. There's not much yard left at this point, but most of what's left is promptly paved in concrete and then decked over. A six-foot fence with a three-foot lattice add-on surrounds the backyard and sideyards. Three or four instant shrubs and trees are plopped out front and smothered in bark. Then the sign for the fanciest real estate firm in town goes up; the asking price is 20 percent more than what the for-sale-by owner had originally set, and the place sells on the second day to a landlord who turns around and rents it to four college students. They arrive, each with boyfriend or girlfriend, and a couple pitbulls (great fenced yard!) and now the neighborhood has eight vehicles to contend with (the garage is being used as a combo storage locker and party room).

Plea to for-sale-by owners: Get a top-notch real estate agent to begin with. You'll save time and money, and our neighborhod won't turn into fraternity row.

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