Keith Richards, Harry Potter and the Austin Home Buyer

I recently read the autobiography Keith Richard’s Life. In it, Keith Richards, of Rolling Stones fame of course, talks about becoming a songwriter and how it changed his perspective on life. It caused him to more closely observe people and how they behave. To more closely listen to comments and phrases people use, always keeping an ear tuned for that next catchy song line. Explaining how the songwriter part of him is always active and aware, “never turning off. Unconsciously constantly running.”

I totally understand. It’s like that for me as a real estate person. Not that I’m literally “always thinking about” real estate, but I easily connect real estate concepts and the behaviors I observe in people to things outside real estate. It happens automatically, whether I want it to or not. When I go into a house I’ve never been in, such as a friend’s house, I notice things about the house automatically. Not that I judge good or bad, I just notice. If I was quized later about ceiling height, flooring, layout, updates, etc., I’d probably be able to recall whereas a normal nRealtor wouldn’t pay attention to those details.

I also take note quite often of how people make choices and decisions. This can happen in line at Amy’s Ice Cream, in the parking lot at Barton Creek Mall (it’s curious the effort people go through to get a closer spot, or “better location”), or even eating out and observing the phenomenon of how often “I’ll have the same thing” is selected. Decision-making just interests me, which is why I like working with and helping home buyers so much.

Thursday night last week I escorted my youngest daughter and her friends to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II. We arrived about 8:45PM, waited in a line for a while, then we were let into the theater at 10:30PM, an hour and a half before showtime.

As we were about middle in line, the best seats were already taken, but there were plenty of good ones remaining in the top section, though they were filling fast. Our group of kids stalled at the bottom entrance as they scanned the remaining supply of seats. I said bluntly “Don’t think, just go”. and one of the boys said “good idea” and they immediately hauled it up to the third row from the top where they claimed 5 seats in a row, relegating me to sit a row below on an end seat (most likely to the delight of my 15 year old daughter, who would have preferred an even greater distance I’m sure). This actually proved to be an excellent vantage point from which to observe the slow stream of remaining viewers enter the theater and look for seats.

Latecomers to theater seating exhibit almost the same behavioral attributes of buyers in a sellers market, where there are no easy pickings. Here’s what I observed.

Theatergoers arrived at the bottom left of the seating section and quickly looked up to the right to scan the available “inventory” of seating. Several different behaviors were repeated.

The Doddlers
I’m not a professional lip reader, but “Oh no!” and “Oh sh*t!” are pretty easy. Groups ranging mainly from 2 to 6 kids would arrive, see that there were no easy pickings, then stand, frozen, not moving while they processed the options. Those options were to head up to investigate whether some of the empty seats were truly available (as some in fact were), perhaps split the group into two smaller groups, or head down to the dreaded front section, just below the screen, which is generally considered “too close” (bad location). As these indecisive doddlers stood contemplating, others arrived, made quicker decisions, and eliminated what would have been the best available choices had the doddlers not doddled. Eventually they made a move, but an uncertain one, and the delay cost them by reducing the available choices.

This is just like buyers in a tight Austin real estate market, or the somewhat overpriced market we currently have. They arrive in Austin, are surprised to find the pickings not as easy as they were expecting, and often fall into a trance of inaction, not wanting to settle for lesser pickings, but observing that it’s not getting better while they wait. Eventually they make a decision, but waiting has not necessarily benefited them as others more ready to decide select the best homes available.

The Investigators
These kids also expressed “oh, no!” upon glancing up at the seating, which deceptively had some open spots, most of which were already “saved” though. Unlike the doddlers, they take immediate action, moving tentatively toward the unavailable seating just to make sure. Asking politely “are those taken?” as they move up the rows. Some got lucky, but only the first groups. After confirming that all the rows of 3-5 empty seats are “Pending” (being saved), they reluctantly move down to the available seating in the less desirable section near the screen. Some made this assessment and moved on quickly, others remained in denial a bit longer, paying an opportunity cost for delay as the lower sections continued to fill with the next group of arrivals.

This behavior is just like the buyer who wants a nice, charming cottage in central Austin with a remodeled kitchen and bath for $200K. We tell them it doesn’t exist, but they need to see for themselves and check it out a bit. See firsthand. They email listing after listing. “What about this one?”. We’ll go see it tomorrow. It’s a dump, you don’t want it, trust me. Eventually they accept reality, make search criteria adjustments, and expand the search.

The Decisive Opportunists
Another type of theatergoer would arrive, look up at the mostly full seating, look down at the less full lower seating, and immediately, without delay, head toward the best remaining lower seats and take them. Not much time was spent thinking about this. Literally, just seconds. Maybe some of those empties up higher might actually be available, but they don’t care, they want a quick, sure thing and to be done with it. Usually there was a leader commanding the others to follow. “Let’s go .. come on!”

There are buyers like this. They size things up rather quickly, scan the adequate choices and make a decision. Oddly, as I’ve written in past blog articles, including this one back in 2007, these are often the happiest buyers. Much less stressed. Perhaps slightly disappointed there wasn’t more to pick from, but unwilling to torture themselves agonizing over improbable long shot efforts. They go for the low hanging fruit and seem satisfied to a higher degree than those who search endlessly for the “perfect” find.

The Researchers
Finally, there was one young couple, about 15 years old each, dressed in costume. The girl, dressed like Hermione was trailed by a young Harry. She arrived at the same location as the others, looked up and started scanning seats. They only needed two together. Using a combination of eye contact and hand motions/pointing, she located a lone empty seat and started straight toward it, with Harry right behind. This was about three rows below me. “This one is available?”, she confirmed. I was surprised. I thought at that point everything was full. Then glancing down about 8 seats to her left, she located another lone seat. She walked straight to it, Harry in tow.

Alas, it was taken. But I knew what she was trying to do. Had the second been open, she would have orchestrated an 8-person shift to the right and created a 2-seat spot for her and young Harry. She gave one last glance at the other options, then immediately marched across the rest of the row, down the other side to the very front of the theater, and again scanned the entire theater top to bottom, ending up identifying what was probably one of the last remaining sets of two seats on the edge of the second row from the front, and securing them immediately. That young girl is going to be a leader some day, if not already.

There are buyers like this too. They don’t settle for first and easiest, but they don’t waste a lot of time sizing things up either. They methodically explore all options quickly, then make a decision. Most commonly, these are the investors we use to help back in the 2005-2007 boomlet we had in Austin. Fly in on a Thursday night, look on Friday, make an offer Friday night or Saturday morning, wrap things up by Sat night then fly out Sunday. Occasionally, an owner-occupant on a 1-trip purchase visit will do the same, but these buyer-types were usually investors unencumbered by emotion.

The funnest thing for me though, in killing an hour and a half watching teenagers and young adults demonstrate their assessment and decision-making skills in a “market” of an ever shrinking ‘supply” of seats, was witnessing how hard it was for some, and how easy it was for others, to size things up, accept reality, and make a decision.

This is exactly what we see in adults buying houses. Some really, really, honestly have a very difficult time making a decision. Others are very quick and sure. Most are somewhere in between. In this way, the young Harry Potter fans are not much different than adult home buyers. All eventually learn, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get what you need.

One Last Thing

Finally, at the end of the night, at 3:30AM as my younger daughter and I pulled up to the house, my older daughter and about 6 of her friends were sitting out on the driveway still talking. They had attended a different theater. On the ride home, my younger daughter had explained to me why this Harry Potter movie “wasn’t one of the best. It was ok, but not that great”.

She recounted scene after scene that departed too much from the book, in her opinion, or was left out. It wasn’t the right two guys (Crab abd Goyle) in the scene with the fire. The scene with Griphook the Goblin didn’t explain enough. The final showdown with Voldemort was all wrong, and anti-climactic. She liked the movie despite all that, but, as she explained to me in great detail, it had a lot of room for improvement.

We greeted my other daughter and her friends on the driveway. “What did you think?” I asked. She said, “it was the best movie of them all. My favorite”. All her friends agreed.

Had they seen the same movie as my other kid?

The next day we drove to Padre Island for a short weekend vacation at the beach and, along the way, the two girls debated in the back seat whether Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II was a good movie or not. Finally, the older daughter nailed the younger with the following truth:

“The reason you don’t like it is because you let yourself be annoyed and upset by small things that don’t matter and aren’t important to the big picture. All the important stuff was perfect, line for line just like the book. Snape’s memories were perfect. Your just choosing to focus on little things because you don’t want to like the movie”.

Whoa! This is exactly like a lot of buyers. “I don’t like the color of the garage door”. “The front porch seems small”. “I don’t like brick”. Even homes in the perfect location, the right price and with a good, decent floorplan are not good enough because the minor items are not up to snuff and are allowed to become important factors.

This fault-finding plagues a lot of buyers, the jumping out to them of small imperfections while the overall greatness of the things that are most important – location, price and layout – go unrecognized because of the “noise” of minor and curable imperfections. It’s a human condition, really. Not everyone has it, but a lot of home buyers do. It makes it really hard to fall in love with a house, because all homes are imperfect in some way. Even brand new homes.

I’ll leave it at that.

11 thoughts on “Keith Richards, Harry Potter and the Austin Home Buyer”

  1. I find the mall parking situation fascinating myself. You frequently see a car waiting for a space 25 cars back in the row closest (vertically) to the mall entrance when there is an open space 4 cars back one row to the left or right. For some reason the lateral distance is weighted heavier than the overall distance. So the spaces that are closer with no wait sit empty.

    There’s obviously some genetic mental hurdle that must be overcome to break out of herd mentality even when there’s a fairly obvious reward. I haven’t figured out how to exploit that yet, but I feel like the best salespeople are generally the ones who can.

  2. Hi Tim,

    Yeah, mall parking lots are strange. I have to admit to having a dark side that has me walk with keys dangling up the wrong row while being “parking spot stalked” by a slow rolling car behind me. They stop when I turn and walk to the driver side of a car I don’t own and keep walking through to the other side where I’m parked. Then they accelerate away, having been foiled.

    Once coming out of HEB I had a couple of important transaction calls to return that I didn’t want to take while walking through the store, so I sat in my truck talking after I got in. I heard a honk and didn’t think much of it. Then again.

    A parking spot stalker saw me get in and was now honking at me because I wasn’t pulling out fast enough. They drove off after the third honk.


  3. Interesting piece, thanks. We didn’t find the problems with most Austin houses to be minor at all. What you described – price, location and layout all in one package, just a little vision needed here and there – we ever saw one like that.

    As far as investors go, I don’t think those 2005-07 buyers are doing so well right now. I know quite a number of them, they all saw themselves as leaders and now every one of them is licking wounds. Some exited with big losses, others became accidental landlords. I’ve found that sort of snap decision making to be foolish unless you’re in a market that is starting to recover after a long fall (sort of like California in 1996 where a year later many markets were up 20-30%).

  4. I had once a professor in a subject I’ve studied who always had related our course to anything which will pop on his mind or anything which is leading a trend. I guess, that’s just the same with you relating Real Estate to anything you may bump into. 🙂 I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II, I cried when Harry was facing all the souls of his loved-ones but yes, I think a lot of improvements could have been used. 🙂

  5. In a turn around that I love to gloat about, it actually brings me joy to be going somewhere with my mother, and I park in the first spot that I see which I can get my truck in and out of without much difficulty. She always frowns at me for not spending 15 minutes going up and down the aisles looking for something closer, as she used to do when I was a kid and she was driving. What cay I say? Other than, “Paybacks are a b!.ch, Mom.” On a more serious note, interesting analogies. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Sellers sometime.

  6. Seeing a blog post title with the name Keith Richards in it, while scanning certain real estate blogs, immediately grabbed my attention. To say the least. The quote you chose brought up a great point. I have committed to firmly believing “things fall into place.” Sure, you have to be proactive in your life. You also have to just, as you said, “don’t think, just go,” and the results can be amazing. And yes, I imagine the teenagers really did believe things fall into place when the “chaperon” got booted from their row.

  7. What a great post– and a spot on analogy regarding decision making. I have worked with all those types and am also facinated as I learn who falls into which catagory…which is why I too enjoy working with buyers.

  8. Thanks Craig, Minerva, Michael, Carol and Jeff for your comments.

    > I imagine the teenagers really did believe things fall into place when the “chaperon” got booted from their row.

    Yeah, they only wished I was further I’m sure. But I’m not a pesky parent and I dutifully ignore them.


  9. Well it’s good to know that the real estate market in Austin is as popular as Harry Potter. I like how you noticed the similarities between the cinema goers and real estate buyers. I suppose human nature is what it is, whatever the situation is.

  10. Where I live you have to choose your seat when you buy the ticket, and you can see what is available on the computer monitor.

    Everyone always takes the back rows first, and hardly anyone sits right at the front.


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