I haven’t been good about posting lately, and there really is little excuse about that. Not even being on the road and busy works–these days, you can connect with the internet in a variety of locations, including all McDonald’s. Still, I have been incredibly busy and we have been “on the road” a lot, especially for us.
I must confess, we have spent more on gasoline in the past six weeks than we normally do in six months, hardly a “downsizing” or even being particularly green. There was little alternative, however, since public transportation options in America positively stink outside of urban areas. It’s not like we can get on a train in Gulfport-Biloxi and ride one to the Jackson area.
But, off of THAT issue, and on to much more personal ones.
We have been house hunting, and not being very successful. We started our house hunt right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and that deal, after occupying more than two months of our time, ended up not closing due to a list of buildings that were condemned in October 2005 by FEMA, and the list remaining someone secret. I don’t like lists of condemned structures that aren’t publicly available. To me, it implies selective enforcement as well as no recourse if that is what is claimed about a particular property. It spooked me, and added with the hurricane risk, flood risks, high insurance costs, and the sheer number of biting insects, we decided that it was time to move inland. We just aren’t that attached to the Gulf of Mexico.
Next, we were on a search along the eastern side of Mississippi, heading nearly to Meridian. We found a house, we made an offer, and we lost another month of time with another agent that wasn’t particularly “on the ball.” We learned a lot, after losing out on a house that I really DID love almost everything about it from location to lot to interior to exterior.
There is a huge difference in the effectiveness of one real estate agent and another, and these part time agents who have other businesses or are otherwise not engaged full time in the real estate agency are nearly a waste of time to try and deal with. We weren’t even sure our offers had been submitted in a timely manner, nor that the seller’s response was forwarded to us in a timely manner. Paperwork seemed missing or excessively casual. Phone calls and emails are not returned in a timely manner.
So, we headed back to our favorite site for hunting for real estate in Mississippi. www.realtor.com has been a huge asset in speeding up the process, but just because agents list properties there doesn’t mean that they are truly professional, modern, efficient, responsive, etc. I must have sent out 50-75 of their click to inquire things, and out of all of those, I got TWO responses back, both in the same city, although they were over a week apart despite the initial inquiries being placed within a day or two of each other. I also chose an agency that I thought would be “professional” from the agencies in Jackson, MS–a Century 21 agency.
While we had a great agent located in Vicksburg, MS, we weren’t quite as lucky in Jackson. In Jackson, the agent didn’t seem to actually listen, hear, and understand what we were saying about our budget and wants. Instead, we’re being shown properties that we aren’t interested in purchasing at all.
It wasn’t that we were trying to be difficult. We gave them our budget, specifically stating that this included necessary renovations and repairs. We said we prefer anything BUT a ranch style home, and were more interested in “historical” property. We also said we wanted off street parking, preferred a large yard, and only had a few “must haves”. Our must haves were to stay in budget and have access to high speed internet (dsl or cable, no satellite or dial up). We had already learned that much of Mississippi hasn’t entered the new millenium in terms of connectivity, with entire towns (some of which contained the only high school in the county) not having internet access. Appalled, we were being forced to check out larger towns.
So, we have opted to seriously attempt to purchase a home in Vicksburg. We had four properties that we were seriously looking at there, and we made an offer on one of them. It wasn’t our “favorite” of the four–it wasn’t the cheapest either. It was the one that we felt we could most easily turn into a home with a viable chance of reselling it in the future without losing our shirts.
The offer expired on Friday afternoon. The seller didn’t respond. That doesn’t mean that they won’t respond on Saturday or Monday, but we aren’t obligated to hold to it. I’m not sure I am interested in offering more for the house either. That remains to be seen.
I do know that I am heartily sick of house hunting. In Mississippi, that’s a hot task for July/August. Looking at 10-15 houses in a single day is a marathon of gawking too, and I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it. (We looked at a few in Jackson, then another dozen in Vicksburg on the same day.)
Vacant houses have (usually) no bathroom facilities and no air conditioning either. Many of them also have boarded up windows, which really makes it difficult to assess whether or not they are going to have sufficient lighting to make me happy! If you are forced by circumstances (such as ours of living over 4 hours away from the new destination) to do a marathon of house viewing, prepare yourself and your agent. Know your limits and let everyone know about how long before you will want a pitstop with bathroom and a cold drink. Stay hydrated, it’s too hard to honestly view a house when you are panting from the heat, soaked with sweat, need a bathroom and dying of thirst all at the same time. By preplanning the pitstop, it gives you a chance to make notes, regroup your brain, and clarify things if the agent isn’t showing you what you are honestly going to seriously consider. (Our agent gave us a preview on his computer before he left his office, so we could weed it down as necessary. In our case, we weren’t particularly interested in mobile homes.)
That agent can make or break you and a potential house, so if you are at all concerned about how responsive and professional they are, walk out. Find one that will listen to you, submit your offer(s), and walk you through the process. Most of the time, the agent will be paid by the seller, although you can hire one to work for you too. You don’t have to like who lists the house, but it sure can be a huge asset if you like the one that you are working with! It will also reduce the time you are forced to invest into the process. We literally wasted from March through the first week of July between two agents that weren’t on our side, so to speak.
So how can you tell who is good and who isn’t?
First of all, do they answer the phone? You’ll be surprised at how many agents don’t bother, and instead you are left with voice mail, even in their offices. Many of these agencies that aren’t very professional are also apt to not have anyone working in the office regularly.
Do they respond to online inquiries in a timely manner? I submitted over 50 inquiries online, but only received two responses from agencies, and only one of them was in less than a week. I don’t expect it to be immediate, but a personalized response in a timely manner is a huge thing with me.
Do they seem to listen to what you say, whether it is via email, telephone or in person? If they don’t pay attention to the details there, I question whether they are going to pay attention to the details of the house deal too. A good agent will listen, ask you questions, and then respond appropriately.
It doesn’t matter who lists a property, most agencies use MLS services (multiple listing services). Other agents have access to a lot of information that isn’t publicly available, much of which is important to you, as a buyer. A good agent is going to be willing to help you find that property, no matter who is listing it.
Be willing to compromise. You rarely find everything you want in a house, especially with a tight budget. That means compromising. You and your family need to decide what the absolute “must haves” are, make a list of likes, and then that final list of “don’t wants”. We regularly traded our likes around, with a sort of informal scoring system for houses. This is what our must have and like list looked like:
Must have: high speed internet, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, parking, and in budget
Wants: rural, large yard, garden space, fenced yard (or portion of), garage, shed, porch, historical house built prior to 1930, 2 bath, 3 bedroom, den/office, pantry, dishwasher, hardwood or plank floors, lots of interior light from windows,
What we offered on…well,, it didn’t have much on the want list. It has two bathrooms, but one is unfinished. It does have 3 bedrooms, sort of. It was built about 1940. We can park on the lawn, which is about postage stamp sized. It does have a porch and a deck…sort of anyhow. Who knows what kind of floors it has, but we know they have been badly patched often. There is no fence, no garage, no shed. There is no pantry, and the kitchen is original to the house…and badly battered. The flooring is awful, patched, and mismatched. Drywall is unfinished, an old through-the-wall holes for air conditioners are located in several locations of the house with nothing more than plywood and boards holding it into place. To be honest, it’s a mess. It needs a total makeover, and the goal is to purchase it with enough money left for the necessary work to happen, while keeping the overall cost of the house low enough to at least break even when we are ready to sell it.
Now, to see if this deal goes through…or if we are still hunting!