Notes from house-shopping, 2011 version

Here’s an upgraded version of my house-hunting tips post from 2006, with helpful advice for sellers in this newly dismal housing market. I’m no real estate mogul, but I share these in hopes they can help someone:

Even if all you succeed in doing is falling in love with a house out of your price range, house hunting can be more than just a quixotic diversion from praying for your own house to sell. There are valuable tidbits to be learned:

  • If you think your house smells like a Chinese restaurant – it probably does.
  • It’s possible to post photos on the Internet which entirely obscure the fact that your front yard is composed primarily of concrete.
  • A lot can be configured to adjoin as many as five other lots in the back yard alone.
  • Even though it seems like everyone in America watches those “home staging” shows and the entire enterprise is, therefore, pointless – there are exceptions to this rule.
  • Probably rethink answering the door in your bathing suit when the realtor shows up. In fact, consider instituting a one-hour “fully clothed zone” prior to every showing.
  • Toile covers a multitude of sins, but it does not obscure aggressive wolf spiders.
  • Painting the ceiling purple just might impact resale value. (I forgot about this one!)
  • The dogs next door will leap the fence in the middle of a showing if you don’t have it repaired.
  • That whole “leave out a pitcher of ice water and glasses during a showing” may seem like overkill when you read it on the website, but it sure would be nice if more people tried it in the 100-degree Carolina heat.


  • Consider giving the litter box a quick once-over, if it’s been a week or so since you last emptied it out.
  • Eschew potpourri
  • Use of wide-angle lenses to create impression of spacious rooms on realtor website will only trigger homicidal rage when the prospective buyer enters the actual room/closet, as it were
  • Update the kitchen? Yes. Paint the cabinet doors shut? Perhaps not.
  • For buyers: If a listing says “there is also an additional climate-controlled room off the garage,” but there is no pictorial evidence of said room anywhere on the otherwise abundantly photographed listing, consider that a sign that the ceiling is caving in and the carpet smells of pee-pee.
  • If you’re going to leave a note about a dog shut inside a room, be consistent. Don’t warn us about, say, the Pekignese in the master bedroom while forgetting to mention the Labrador retriever in the office. It’s like a bad game of Clue.

Your turn, gentle reader!

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  1. says

    Never again, Lord, never again, say I with . . . not the psalmist, because he didn’t say that, but he might have if he had been house-hunting.

    From our experience in buying our last house:

    *Start hearing the leaky hot-water tap in the shower
    *Start noticing that the fan doesn’t work
    *Start seeing mildew
    *Consider that other people might not get the logic of the rope up the chimney
    *Leaves in the vent-a-hood?

    (I could go on, and actually we bought that house, which is how I know that the vent-a-hood contained not only leaves but a small rodent skeleton. Later we learned that it belonged to a flying squirrel, and divined that the reason for the rope in the chimney had been to give the flying squirrels a way to get out again)

  2. Monica says

    It’s never occurred to me to be thankful to live in a church-owned house. It has its downsides, sure. But I’m starting to think that avoiding house-shopping is a big plus.

    • Monica says

      OK, I didn’t mean that to sound quite so ungrateful. I meant it’s never occurred to me to be grateful for the church-owned house for this particular reason.

  3. says

    For realtors, my main advice would be: Try to at least take a peek inside the house you’re trying to sell, before showing it to a buyer. That way you will be more prepared to stifle the gasps when a house is … eccentric. I will always remember opening one door to see what was inside. Turned out to be a flight of steep stairs leading down into the darkness. The realtor snapped on the light and we both leaped back because we saw something MOVING down there — and then realized it was just the reflection of the light, dancing on the two feet of water that was, apparently, routinely in the basement.

    We are now the proud owners of a home that only floods when it rains, thank you very much.

    Also in our price range: a house with only a wood stove for cooking; a house with a large yard, 90% of which turned out to be a almost-vertical bluff with a hydro-electric dam at the bottom; and a foreclosed property with “PLEASE TAKE CARE OF THIS HOUSE! : )” spray painted on the living room wall (that one was also infested with fleas).

  4. scotch meg says

    I dread the thought of selling our house, even though we’ve just replaced the roof, chimney, and furnace. Somehow I don’t think most people are imaginative enough (or energetic enough) to view a half-done-over kitchen as a plus… as in, one side is done over and the other side (5 feet away – it’s a galley) isn’t. Not to mention the duct tape preventing leaks in the bathroom…

    Guess we’ll just have to stay here forever!

  5. says

    Ugh. I cannot even wrap my head around trying to sell or to buy a house right now. My own house is a disaster and I can’t imagine trying to get it ready for others to look at it. Good luck!!!!

  6. Andrea says

    Unless you’re buying a 7-figure house, I think staging is overkill. It’s enough that your house not be “weird”. If you’re wondering whether or not your house is weird, ask a good friend. But, I think that if you paid a surprise visit to most American homes (including this one) you would find a huge mess, an unusual smell, bizarre decor, and disrepair. Just get rid of those things and you’ll stand out from the crowd!

  7. says

    How ’bout: if you have a lesbian fetish couch in your basement, GET IT OUT OF THERE before prospective buyers walk through.

    You think I’m lying, but I’m not. That house was scratched off our list, but quick.

  8. says

    I would love house-hunting if it didn’t mean paperwork, forking over money, and moving. I mean, if you could do it as a hobby, I’d do it all day long. Houses fascinate me, and what people do with them and in them fascinates me.

    When we were buying our current, non-flying-squirrel-infested house, we looked at one on the other side of the community college across the street from us, which we seriously considered making an offer on, and which our ten-year-old-at-the-time son still refers to as “the hovel.” It was really a nifty house with beadboard ceilings and lots of other cool 1920s features, but it was being used as a kind of flophouse — not only room, but every closet in every room, was inhabited by — judging from their personal possessions which were on display –young libertarian evangelical gun afficionados. I don’t know how many people were living in that house with its one bathroom and no a/c — we just kept opening doors and finding more mattresses, crosses, and bullets. Ultimately we didn’t make an offer, because our next-door neighbors would have been a C.P.A.’s office and a vacant lot where a gas station had once stood (now the college uses it for parking). I’m happy we bought the house we did, but I still really like that house. A young couple bought it and have done a lot of work on it, and now it’s for sale again. I’m very, very tempted to try to go see it . . . as a hobby.

  9. says

    All great tips! Some others we’ve picked up:
    -seconding Mrs. D’s comment: all fetish items should be removed before showing a house, especially items that resemble fertility gods.
    -if you hear a whooshing sound in the bathroom, don’t take the realtor’s word that it always sounds like that.
    – check out the neighbor’s dogs. I’m sure pitbulls can be wonderful pets for the right owner, but I don’t want my kid sticking his hand through the chainlink fence to pet one.
    – “Foreclosed” is usually code for “missing important fixtures” including overhead lights, faucets, and parts of walls.
    – That “little dip” in the floor may be trying to tell you something.

    Our latest challenge was finding a house in which half the square footage wasn’t given over to the master suite. Do these people spend all their time in the bedroom and none in the kitchen? I don’t want a jacuzzi tub; I want a pantry. The fact that what we looked at was mostly post-Katrina reconstruction made me even more surprised that the master bathrooms were so outsized: wouldn’t these folks want to spend less time in the water?