For a couple of years in Canada, we watched a lot of HGTV real estate programs where people were trying to sell their house. There were two main messages: 1) location location location and 2) make it look like a place people want to live. There wasn’t much a vendor could do about the first one, but ‘staging’ can make or break a deal.
When we sold our house in Edmonton, we didn’t do anything besides have the cleaner come in more frequently. Our agent assured us that everything looked fine and our decor was good. We assumed he meant that, rather than being boring and normal, it would inspire people: “hey, honey, cool people with great taste live here, this is what I want!” And because it was winter, Dan didn’t have to keep the lawn looking good, though potential buyers didn’t see our wonderful yard and decide to start bidding on it.
We don’t watch much television here, so don’t know if those types of real estate programs air here, but after our first day of open houses we don’t think they do. Staging isn’t a concept that Wagga home sellers understand. And that is just one of the quirks of local real estate that we discovered.
The first oddity is that houses are listed by multiple agents. When you look online, you see the same house advertised by different agents, sometimes with different prices. A friend who just sold her house told us you just give them a minimal fee and let them fight over who can sell it and get the commission. Wow.
Weirdness number 2 is that open houses are very short. In Canada, they are an entire afternoon, maybe even a weekend. Here, they are 30 minutes. There will be 40 to 50 open houses mid-day Saturday where people look quickly, and if they like the place they make an appointment to see it again later. So you flit around town, but if there are too many houses you are interested in seeing at the same time, you’re sort of screwed. It is strange because you get a lot of people in the house at once…your competition! And then you go, convoy-style, to the next one…and the next one…
But despite those differences, the really odd thing is the lack of, shall we say, attention to detail. To illustrate this, let’s run through what we looked at this week.
First house was in a neighbourhood called Hilltops, in the far south of the city (not to be confused with the Hilltops wine region, about 100 km north of Wagga). It was a nice house on top of a hill, moderate size, interesting yard with an amazing view out over the south. Like any house, there were good and bad points; among the good was the view, the size, an okay kitchen, pretty good the overall layout…among the bad, the hole for the fridge was a bit small, laundry room would need a bit of reno to hold our appliances, and it was way up on top of a hill. Dan kept wondering how he would get home on his bike: starting a 50 km ride from that elevation would be fun, finishing it 110 minutes later…not so much!
Pop quiz. If you were selling your house, would you:
- a) clean the bathroom?
- b) get your mucky work boots out of the hall?
- c) do something about the dirty pots on the stove?
- d) all of the above?
- e) none of the above?
Most people we know would do a and c for sure, and probably b (therefore d). This place: e. It was a pig sty, but we could look past that and see that, in real estate speak, it had ‘good bones’ that just need a cleaning.
Next stop was a new build just around the corner that, from the ad in the paper, looked very promising. It wasn’t as great as we thought – the builder had focused more on interesting features (a funky kitchen island, for example) than on actually making a liveable space. And the agent seemed to be working very closely with the builder…not sure of the relationship, but he kept defending all the stupid decisions “we” made, like how small the dishwasher was, how small the oven was, and how much better laminate was than timber flooring. At least it was clean. But it didn’t look like anyone had cut the grass all season! What the hell is wrong with you people? You are trying to sell a $425 000 house, and you don’t bother cutting the (very) small yard? So, for various reasons (not the long grass, but the small stove, small sink, and no room for grapefruit trees) that one was a no.
We only had one other house on our agenda, so to kill time meandered through another neighbourhood we might want to live in, seeing what was open during that half hour. There were three. The first one was quite nice, but we don’t know what we would do with all the rooms. The house is in our price range, but we couldn’t afford to furnish it! It had a spectacular outdoor living area though. Next one was even bigger, and outside of our self-imposed budget. It was pretty spectacular both inside and out.
The dining room…maybe it was a dining room…it was off the kitchen, but there was a dining table in another area…it just really had a pool table in it…was a cavernous hardwood-floored room that Dan thought would be good if we wanted to start a basketball team in Wagga! The place was massive. Third one in that neighbourhood was smaller and, having been unoccupied for a long time, pretty dumpy. At least someone was cutting the grass, but whoever was arranging for that to be done should think about getting someone inside to hoover up the dead crickets and knock down some spider webs. But, to its credit, it did have orange trees and fig trees in the back. Those are more appealing to us than a pool or a third lounge room (or even a second one!).
Last stop of the morning was on the edge of our current neighbourhood, to see a house that just went on the market. It didn’t meet the expectations we had from the ad. The 1 1/2 bathrooms were really just one bathroom and a toilet off the laundry. We need a second shower. It was inexpensive, but we would have to put about $50 000 into it to make it what we wanted. And the neighbourhood wasn’t great…
After lunch, we walked up the hill to another new-to-market house just a couple of blocks away from where we currently live. It was OK…nothing spectacular, but we could see how we could make it liveable. The problem was that it was, again, on a hill, but for a different reason. It isn’t a huge hill; in fact, Dan often rides up it just for something to do when he is arriving home and needs another few hundred metres to reach a goal. But we had high hopes that the hill would give us a great view, and it would have were it not for the neighbour below having a pool…and therefore, by law, a high fence. And of all the possible types of fences, this one was the worst: a basic steel backyard fence, topped off with horrible bamboo. So, not only was the view blocked, it was blocked by an ugly fence that belonged to someone else and couldn’t be altered. Ugh.
What we have learned so far is that house hunting will be a long, arduous process. We know what we want, and how much we want to spend. But Wagga seems to have been built in stages: there is old, middle, and new period. Old houses are beautiful and centrally located, but to get one that has what we want (actually need: a renovated interior with modern kitchen and two bathrooms!) is way beyond our means. The middle period houses are in the ‘not-too-far-out’ suburbs, but were built in a time when everyone was procreating like mad and wanted 5 bedrooms and 3 living rooms…but one bathroom and a crappy kitchen and probably a swimming pool. Not what we want. Some of the new houses are not bad, but they are getting toward the outskirts of the city and that means a more sterile environment with fewer trees and no parrots…sure, there are kangaroos in some of the open blocks still (saw several last week on our hunt), but as houses fill in those empty blocks those will go away too. Just like we ousted the coyotes from Terwillegar Towne…
It will probably be a couple of weeks before we get out again on an open house tour, so maybe the vendors will have had time to cut their grass and wash the windows by then.