Home & Garden Columns

About The House: On Realtors and Inspectors, By: Matt Cantor

Friday March 17, 2006

Today was a good day. I started it off with the inspection of a gorgeous house. Did I say gorgeous? No, glorious. It was so true to the aesthetic of the period as to be a sensorial feast. It was actually a very simple house. Built in 1912, a “classic box,” aka, Classic Revival. One of those simple, almost-but-not-quite boxy designs that usually has a little bay front and almost always has a porch on one corner punctuated by a single classical column. There are thousands in the our area so I’m sure you know the one I mean. 

Every feature on this beauty went just a little beyond the typical. The front had a bow, not a bay, a rounded front projection with three windows, each possessing a rounded sill and casings (and let me tell ya, that’s a lot more work than a simple angular bay). The floor inside was also rounded (more work) with little inlaid borders of walnut, knotted at the corners. The windows were a joy of lead tracery and only a few panes were cracked or loose (truly amazing for a 94-year-old house).  

Inside, not much had been changed (praise the deity of your choice!). Many changes of ownership tend to come with many changes in the building and sadly, much is often lost. The most awe-striking time-capsules of construction I’ve seen over the years have been those that were left when Grandma passed away, leaving behind the home she bought with her late husband (may he rest in peace) on the G.I. bill in 1943. I’ve even seen some early refrigerators with top condensers and 1940s washing machines (with ringers) in houses when the sole owner of 60 years had just passed on. 

The other thing that made this a great day was that the pair of Realtors I spent this jovial four-plus hours with were as excited as I was about what we were doing. There was no rush to get done. No concern over making too big a fuss over what was outdated or in need of repair. Just a deep appreciation of the art of looking at houses and the importance of assessing the conditions accurately and fairly. 

We spend some time talking about the old Wedgewood stove. Whether the salt and pepper shakers were actually original (we figured out that the pepper was just a wee bit too tall and not quite the right shade of porcelain to match but it was pretty close). We had a little learning session on how to adjust pilot lights (I showed off a much loved and very old screwdriver that was just right for the little valve screw). 

We shared knowledge about who was good at fixing what and how much we liked this tradesperson or that one. It was all good, as they say.  

Most of the Realtors that I’ve met are very concerned about inspections being done carefully and thoughtfully. There’s no worry and no hurry. 

The Realtors I worked with today weren’t the least bit concerned about the time the inspection took or the gravity of the items that were found wanting. A foundation was discovered to be soft enough to drive a screwdriver inward up to the hilt. The reaction was concern but not the smallest bit of doubt as to the importance of the finding or any interest in lessening the manner in which it would be discussed. “Lay it on the table” was the subtext and the spoken word. What a blessing. 

This attitude really helps me to do my job. It’s not easy when I have to say that the furnace is ready for the scrap-heap or that the water heater is done for but it’s very important to at least one person that I do it.  

It might be the person who’s getting ready to invest their last penny in the house or it could be a seller who needs to be sure that they don’t sell undisclosed defects to a buyer (who may be upset if or when they have the contractor over to talk about remodeling several months down the road and discover that things were not as they had thought). It’s all good when everybody knows what’s up. 

It’s also pretty clear that buyers don’t expect perfect houses. There are a few people out there who don’t want to buy a house that needs any significant amount of repair. These few have to buy the crème de la crème and often have to pay top dollar to get it.  

Most folks come to understand, if they didn’t prior to looking at a few houses, that older homes have pluses and minuses, just like new homes. When I talk to people about what’s wrong with the house we’re in, mostly they’ll shake their heads and acquiesce the imperfections. Sometimes, a buyer will want to negotiate about a discovery but the desire to turn tail is rare when faced with a few trouble spots. 

After all, there are a lot of motivations to buying a particular house other than the condition of the water heater (although I’ve seen some pretty nice water heaters).  

The majority of buyers are looking for a house in a particular neighborhood and secondly they need it to be of a given size and layout (two baths, four bedrooms). The things on the inspectors list are important but rarely overriding. What matters is that the buyers know what they’re getting into and have a chance to address the things that matter to them. It’s all good when everybody knows what’s up. 

There is clearly more risk in driving a motorcycle than in living with the nastiest thing I might find in a house. People just want a chance to know about the issues and decide if and how they want to address them. When we all work together to do that, it is truly a good day. 

I’d like to applaud those two Realtors from today. The applause also goes out to all those others who do the same (help to lay it on the table). Your clients appreciate it and so do I because it really is all good when everybody knows what’s up.