If People Bought Houses The Way We Buy Cars

I’ve been buying and selling stuff lately other than real estate. Mainly with Craigslist ads. Washer/Dryer left over from a sale. A Fridge too. Bought a used car for my daughter, and we’re selling our minivan. It’s funny how the non-real estate inquiries differ so much from real estate inquiries.

First up, I’m selling our trusty 2007 Honda Odyssey. It has 107,000 miles now, and we no longer need it. Our oldest daughter is in college and youngest in high school. We just don’t haul around gaggles of kids to parties, playdates, etc. anymore. Plus, the van is a 16 mpg gas hog. As a replacement, we bought Sylvia a 2012 Hyundai Sonata Limited, which achieved 38 miles per gallon driving our daughter up to TCU in Ft Worth last week! It’s a neat little car. GPS just like the Honda, and built in blue tooth connectivity for the phone. So, when driving and the cell rings, Sylvia just taps a button on the steering wheel to answer and start talking hands free. It’s roomy inside and nice enough for taking clients around, but more economical and easier to drive and park than the minivan.

Anyway, if real estate buyers were like auto buyers from Craigslist, and you were selling a home, let’s say, for $285,000, you might receive a text message saying “wil u take 235 I buy today“, and similar gibberish. What sort of dummy thinks this method of engagement is an effective initial communication for a purchase discussion? After enough of these pings, all of which I ignored, I altered my ad to say “Calls only. DO NOT TEXT. Text messages will not receive a response“.

So now I just get calls, thankfully, from intelligent people . For the Odyssey, the buyers all ask the the same opening question: “Has the timing belt been replaced?” Huh? No it hasn’t. But after enough of those calls I took it down to Howdy Honda to get the timing belt replaced. It’s just an $800 preventative maintenance thing that’s recommended at 7 years or $100,000 miles. I just figured a new owner would get it done, but that’s not working. These Honda buyers are tough! Way tougher than house buyers.

And, if house buyers acted like Honda Odyssey buyers, and you were selling a 15-year-old home, the first questions would be: “I see it’s 15 years old, have the HVAC, water heater and roof been replaced? What about the appliances?” But buyers don’t ask those questions.  Instead they look at pictures online. “Look honey, it has granite countertops and a walk-in shower!”

Auto buyers are much more focused on the mechanical integrity of the car they are buying, right out of the gate, than they are colors or other “emotional”” attributes.

Real estate buyers look for a home to fall in love with, then they get an inspection to find out about the condition, sometimes with very disappointing results.

That’s backwards. I wish Texas real estate consumers would buy into the value of pre-inspections, but it’s just not a common practice in Texas. Homes are sold as-is, and it’s 100% the buyer’s responsibility to determine the condition and then negotiate repairs with the seller. If you have a good buyer’s agent, you’ll be prepped and warned about the 12-18 year old home and the “end of life” mechanical issues the inspection will reveal. Also the code issues and other issues with even older homes.

On the flip side, I was also a recent used car buyer. I bought my older daughter a used car to take back to college. I called one Craigslist ad, set an appointment. Before meeting the seller, I did some online research about the car, found it to be a suitable candidate, with pretty good consumer reviews on Edmunds.com.

I looked at that one car, bargained for a better price, and bought it on the spot with no inspection. I did this, with no inspection, because, after talking to the seller first on the phone, then in person, I judged that the car had been meticulously maintained by this original owner. It’s a 2007 Ford Focus with 37,000 miles, and in like-new cream-puff condition. Candy-Apple Red. A total “chick car”. Perfect for a college girl.

The seller was an engineer, smartly dressed and,  to me, seemed honest and possessing the character type of one who takes good care of things. Plus, I didn’t want to spend much time shopping for a car, which is a real time sync and a major hassle, so I was willing to trade any risk of foregoing an inspection for the convenience of just being done with it that fast.

After we went to the bank and I gave him the Cashier’s Check, his wife came back in with a small portable hand vacuum that they had used to keep the car clean. She gave that to my daughter. And they also gave me a CarFax report which they had purchased to show interested buyers the maintenance history, but which I hadn’t seen yet. It confirmed my guess that this was a meticulously well cared for automobile.

Which brings up another point.

Meticulous people take good care of their homes and cars. If you buy a house or a car from a slob,  it’s going to have problems that haven’t been addressed. I always love those homes being sold by older sellers where you open the HVAC closet door and there, taped to the back of the door with old yellowing tape, is an exhaustive history log of maintenance and repairs to the system, dating back to 1973. Sweet. When you see that, you know the owner took care of the entire house. You can also tell this by looking at people’s yards, and the amount of or lack of weeds.

A perfect yard free of weeds tells me the home has been well maintained also. This is confirmed when you look in the garage and it has a painted floor, a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, and a super organized wall of household tools and garden implements.

When you see those houses that are staged well, but the yard is rough, then you go into the garage and it’s stacked to the rafters with junky furniture with cat hair all over everything, get ready for a rough inspection. These people haven’t done any preventative care or maintenance to the home. They only take care of stuff after it breaks. And that perfume smell in the home is hiding something as well.

Not sure where I’m headed with all this so I’ll end it by saying that, when buying houses or cars, you can in fact judge a book by its cover more often than not.

4 thoughts on “If People Bought Houses The Way We Buy Cars”

  1. Great article–thanks for writing what I’ve always thought! I wish everyone selling a house would read it and get a clue. If you haven’t taken care of your yard–front AND back, that’s already Strike One. If you haven’t staged your home for potential buyers (get rid of the pile of dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, kids toys all over the place, and junk/crap everywhere), Strike Two. If you haven’t done ANYTHING to enhance the saleability of your home (replace the shredded carpet or buckled wood floor; repainted the pink kid’s room, or the bright purple bathroom, replaced the aging hot water heater, AC, or leaky roof), STRIKE THREE. It will take you longer to sell and at far less than your asking price.

    Buyers/investors care about the big ticket items like roof, AC, plumbing (and maybe yard/landscaping); many can overlook the formica countertops in the kitchen, the linoleum on the kitchen and bathroom floors, and other cosmetic issues that date a house.

  2. this is a fun article – and something I find myself mulling over too. For some strange reason, I have bought a dozen cars in the last 8 years, and am familiar with the irritating text gambits and the rest. I agree that I tend to make a decision based on the cleanliness and approach of the owner, though sometimes I pay less for a “poorly cleaned car”, knowing that I’ll probably clean it and sell it in a year. Guess that makes me a car flipper.

    The only thing I’ll say is that when meeting the car seller, you made a judgment call on the history of the car – you went the FSBO route. If you go to the car dealer, they will clean and detail the heck out of a car. In the house situation, the Realtor – though I shudder at the comparison – car dealers are typically much more trustworthy that agents (jk) – should advise the seller to do the same. Not all do. It’s a shame for sellers when they don’t get the right advice on making their home at least look spic and span.

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