House hunting - sort of

There is a headline in the online version of the Washington Post this morning that says, “$1 million over asking: D.C. bidding wars escalate as U.S. housing crunch intensifies.” I didn’t read the article. There is no need. I’m convinced that the houses in the article aren’t the right home for us. First of all, there is the obvious. We re looking for a place to live in Washington State, not Washington, DC. Secondly, we aren’t planning on spending a million, much less a million over the asking price, not that we could if we wanted to.

We have been very fortunate when it comes to housing. The rent for our first apartment, after our wedding, was not measured in dollars and cents. We traded janitorial services for the building for our rent. We could afford it because we were young and energetic. Even though we were both full-time students and I had a part-time job, we didn’t have trouble finding time and energy to do the work. We got pretty good at running a vacuum cleaner and scrubbing bathrooms. We could wash windows and replace light bulbs quickly. I learned to bleed the air out of a steam boiler system in a three-story building pretty quickly. A little care avoids burned fingers. Burned fingers teach you how to avoid future burns.

Our graduate school required us to live at the school. Because we were married that meant that we would live in a one-bedroom efficiency apartment in a building owned by the school. The next year, we went together with other students and rented a house next door, also owned by the school. Summers we lived in a cabin provided by our summer job - managing Camp Mimanagish in Montana. Life doesn’t get much better than living in a cabin in a beautiful mountain valley provided as part of your job. After graduation, we lived in a parsonage for seven years. You don’t earn any equity that way, but the rent is just right. The fact that the church owned the parsonage meant that they could afford to pay our salary and benefits, which was a good thing. These days health insurance premiums exceed our total salary package in that job. A lot of churches have sold their parsonages.

Moving into a community as a pastor, it was easy to find a realtor who belonged to the congregation. From there, we had an agent who was invested in helping us find a place that would work and that we could afford. In two different callings, that worked well for us.

And now, we have found a house that belongs to a couple who have moved to be closer to their grandchildren. They have a son who is in the rental management business, so with his advice and help, they bypassed rental management and are dealing with us directly. It works well for them and it works well for us.

We’re shopping for a place to live, and we realize that the inventory of homes for sale is rather low at the moment and that it may take us some time. We also know that we will continue to revise our vision of what we can afford and how much space we need, but that is a good process, too. After all, we don’t need to find a lot of homes. One will be enough.

Yesterday we had a zoom conference with a few of the leaders of our new church and one of them told us, “I heard you were looking for a place to live in Ferndale. We live in Ferndale, and I keep seeing ‘for sale’ signs and thinking, ‘that might be a good place for them to live.’” We also have met another church member who is a realtor. We’re pretty sure that our church connections will once again be a help as we seek a place to live.

Most importantly, we don’t have to panic. Our rental situation is very comfortable. Our landlords are willing to rent to us month by month once the lease ends.

Still, I’m a bit nervous when I see headlines or stories that talk of bidding wars and people paying over asking price for a home. I have no experience working in that market. The two homes that we have bought in our lives were purchased after a short negotiation following an initial offer that was slightly lower than the asking price. When we sold those homes, they both sold for our asking price. We are used to figuring out a fair price and using the concept of fairness when it comes to making a deal. Once, a few years ago, a car salesman refused my initial offer of a price and refused to negotiate any discount from his asking price. I thanked him and said, “It’s your car. You don’t have to sell it to me.” I found another dealer and another vehicle and I don’t think anyone got upset. The other dealer accepted my first offer, which was lower than the asking price. It is how the game is played in my experience. My father, who was a machinery dealer once told me, “Customers have the book. They can tell how much we are making on a deal. A reputation for excessive profit can do a lot of damage to a business. It’s OK to make money, just be reasonable about it.”

So we may find a house that we like but that isn’t for sale to us on our terms. We like to take time to make our decisions and we like fair negotiation. We just aren’t candidates for a bidding war. I’m not worried. At lest, I’m not very worried.

So rather than spend a lot of time in the next couple of months looking at houses, I think we’ll invest our time and energy in building relationships in the church. They are likely to be the best way for us to find the right place to live on the right terms. People make all the difference in the world and we have the opportunity to meet and work with some very good people. Maybe the woman who keeps thinking “that might be a good place fo them to live,” will find just the right place.

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