We made the biggest purchase of our lives, a house, out of sight

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I was not prepared for this. A real estate agent pointed his cell phone at a house in Midlothian, Va., which, based solely on his Redfin listing, we were desperate to buy.

We had scheduled the first available tour somewhere around 10am; luckily, my local stepdad managed a real-life appearance. But my husband was working. I sat alone on my couch in Columbia, SC; my three sons prowled around me.

“I trust you,” my husband had told me before leaving that morning. “If you like it, that will be fine. We will get it.

It left me deciding, via FaceTime, whether we would put down roots in this five-bedroom, three-bathroom property with a double staircase and subway tile backsplash. With such a tumultuous market, we should submit an offer immediately.

Like so many other millennials, the pandemic had left us restless in our isolation. My husband, Christopher, and I had outgrown our graduate town of Columbia. We had no real connection to the city, and our home-schooled sons needed more than South Carolina could provide. Richmond gave us Chris’ welcoming clan and lots of educational enrichment. Once floating, moving seemed a no-brainer.

As a high school English teacher, Chris landed a dream job in early March, the start of the 2022-23 hiring season. He paid ridiculously more than his position at Columbia, but left us with a dilemma: a deadline. We needed at least a four bedroom home west of the James River, one of Richmond’s hottest real estate markets, and we needed it immediately. Without it, we risked a mad scramble to store most of our material possessions and score a one-year rental—a rental that allowed for three children, three dogs, a bearded dragon, and a corn snake.

The real estate agent’s phone flickered, leaving me a little nauseous. “And here is the linen closet!” she chirped.

“Can you hold that phone a little closer?” I asked. “I’d like to see how far it goes.” Visiting a stranger’s house always seems like a strange form of violation. You open their cabinets to assess the size and notice bottles of pills. You sift through the cupboards and find their half-full trash can. You turn a corner and see their child’s chore chart. It’s a weird, slightly skewed glimpse wrapped in another life. Doing it via FaceTime seemed even scarier.

But the house was everything we had dreamed of. Finally, after being assured of a new roof, new HVAC, and no cracks in the foundation, I asked my stepdad if the walls were bleeding. He sort of laughed and assured me that was not the case.

I was serious: Buying a house without viewing it seemed like a 21st century setup for “Poltergeist.” But I hadn’t noticed a portal to hell in the garage floor, so when we finished the tour, I called my husband. “That’s all,” I said. “I never thought I would live in a house like this. Make an offer.

I never imagined that I would be making the biggest purchase of my life via an iPhone camera. But we didn’t have much choice. In addition to our maturity, mortgage rates had risen steadily; in March they hit 4%, the highest since 2019. We feared they would climb higher, increasing our monthly payments, and we were right. On April 14, rates hit 5% for the first time since 2011.

Additionally, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in January reported the lowest inventory of single-family homes in the past year. That inventory has started to rise, claims real estate giant Zillow, but by March it was still down 52.2% below pre-covid levels of March 2019.

We had been house hunting since January, only to play the same old script: we would love a house on Zillow or Redfin. “Keep it if you like it,” my husband would tell me, and a few days later it would be listed as “under contract.”

Even my stepfather complained about it. “They list it on Thursday, have an open house on Saturday, and it’s under contract on Monday,” he said.

And that’s no exaggeration. According to Alex Glaser of the Glaser Group of Long & Foster Realtors in Richmond, whose team cares for more than 100 families a year, homes in the Richmond metropolitan area have spent an average of six days on the market since July 2020 before to contract. .

Additionally, he said via email that “homes would likely sell faster if listing agents didn’t hold offers for a few days before reviewing them.”

NAR reports that pending home sales fell 1.2% overall in March, but that’s not enough to help an already squeezed market – and no help at all for those in the northeast, where home sales in expectation were up 4% from February.

High inventory not only means fast turnover, but also higher prices. Even though this market pressure is easing a bit, with Zillow seeing 11.6% more real estate listings in March than in February, house prices are still very high. The typical U.S. home is now worth $337,560, Zillow reports, 20.6% above its value in March 2021. The nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas have seen double-digit growth in appreciation of the value of the house. In fact, we were lucky: Richmond had one of the slowest growth rates (0.7%).

Despite this slow rate of growth, this lovely home we picked – 100 yards from a kayak launch, lots of trails – still sold in 2010 for nearly $200,000 less than the market’s asking price. seller. Admittedly, this was at the lowest real estate prices, but it still hit a sticker shock.

The same goes for our need to outbid other offers. Glaser said via email that “over 95%” of the homes he and his partners have handled over the past two years, both on the listing and buying side, have had more than one offer. .

According to property listing service Redfin, 65% of all real estate listings made by its agents have faced competition. It’s actually down compared to 66.7% in February – and both figures are seasonally adjusted. While the service expects a decline as mortgage prices rise in a bid to fight inflation, they are not going away.

My virtual tour took place on Friday, right after the house was listed. I spent the weekend biting my nails to the quick. The sellers would not accept our offer. We couldn’t be so lucky. When my phone rang on Monday morning, I sighed. My no was coming.

But that no was a yes. Among other reasons, we had agreed to let our sellers stay in the house until June; they wanted their son to finish his school year. This particular detail didn’t matter to us, as Chris’ current contract ran until June.

We had just agreed to buy a house, always a big decision, which my husband had only seen in photographs. My mother-in-law was worried. “What if you don’t like it?” she asked again and again. “I’m afraid you don’t like it.”

“I liked it,” I told him. “I saw it on FaceTime. Dad liked it. It’s a nice house.

“I’m just afraid you don’t like it,” she said.

Since my husband hadn’t even seen my FaceTime presentation, we looked at all the real estate sites the sellers agent had signed up on. A few had slightly different images: an extra shot of the dining room, a different angle of the kitchen. We spent hours looking at each one, wondering which piece of furniture would go where, if that gas fireplace was built in, and how, exactly, we got to the attic without an elevator. When we had the names of our sellers, we hit Google. In this brave new world of little privacy, they had kept their Facebook photos public. We would strike gold. Without shame, we have become the ultimate creepers. And I found it odd to look in their linen closet.

My husband and I spent over an hour going through their lives. Every angle of every birthday party has become a clue. “Do you think the peach sofa would fit this wall?” I asked as we looked around their Christmas tree. “Okay, I think the sideboard should go against the other wall,” he told me as we squinted at a years-old picture of their son.

I should feel guilty. I don’t feel anything.

We first saw our home the day we signed the closing papers. Our salespeople waited nearby—I had a vague idea they were sneaking into Target—while their agent escorted us. Some rooms were bigger than we expected. Some were smaller.

“Wow, I didn’t realize the bathroom was so, uh, under the stairs,” my husband said. “You would bang your head against that ceiling.”

He measured the dimensions. He filmed a tour that we watched till we sicken in South Carolina, confusing furniture and pictures, deciding how we were going to fit that giant Victorian couch inside, wondering if it was real French doors or fake ones.

The vendors gave us an hour. Their agent, an old family friend, pushed for speed. “Oh, they’re close,” she said, implying that they were waiting nearby, bored after a Target run, with their child and their little dog (we had seen her water bowl).

“Tell them to lock their Facebook accounts,” I told him.

Glaser said by email that on-sight shopping, other than a virtual tour, is not common, “but it has happened more since the start of the pandemic.”

We felt lucky to have this precious hour. We won’t see the inside of our house again until we arrive in June, with three children, three dogs and everything we own. We’re still sifting through photos, although we don’t stalk Facebook.

But the details harass me. How many windows does my youngest son’s room have? Do we need to put furniture in this corner? Does the entrance wall deserve to be decorated? Will they take all that Alexa stuff with them?

Buying a home always seems surreal, especially when it comes to all over the country. But buying on sight added another layer of weirdness. “I won’t believe this is happening until it happens,” I told my husband, “no matter what papers I signed.”

Our house is beautiful. We were lucky. My mother-in-law’s fretting had nothing to do with it: we love it.

As long as the walls don’t bleed.

About Jermaine Chase

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