Through a Fogged Mirror Darkly

More meditations on the ubiquitous “open house”.  The love/hate staple of real estate that gets trotted out each weekend with over-seasoned regularity.  Whether we really want them. Or need them. Or not.

Sellers have an exceedingly ambivalent relationship with them.  They hate opening their lives. Putting their privates on display.  But how do you sell a house no one can see?  Some Agents hate open houses too. They do them to humor Sellers who hate having them but insist on having them nevertheless.

Other Agents love open houses.  They represent the promise of new leads, new contacts, new clients. Specially when so much new business (in the form of actual buyers with the ability to fog a mirror and qualify for a loan) seems to have gone AWOL for the foreseeable past and future.

Calls into question the whole purpose behind open houses.  Do they exist to please Sellers going through the motions?  Do they exist to please Agents with secondary agendas? Do they exist to provide simulated reality-show entertainment for lookey loos checking out how the other half of the 99.9% live?  Do they actually exist to sell houses at all?

I don’t know. Yes. No. Maybe. Chalk it all up to an existential morass that may never get unmucked.

Hey, the good news is that without all the open house ads in today’s paper, there wouldn’t be a little corner of the real estate section for Real Estate of Mind to snuggle up in.

Maybe we should all be resting on the 6th and 7th days. But rest-assured there’ll be a cadre of the usual agent-suspects out there today and tomorrow.  Pounding the neighborhoods. Propping up those rickety plastic signs on street corners.  Fluffing the auras on all those tired-looking distress properties or those over-staged museum pieces that evoke the surreal air of Martha Stewart shopping at Crate and Barrel pumped up on steroids.

If you want a great visual of an open house routine, watch American Beauty – the Oscar-winning film from 1999.   The part where Annette Bening  scrubs the grout between the tiles on the kitchen counter with a tooth brush and lights those ticky-tacky Tiki Torches in the sad-looking backyard she’s trying to hype as a lush tropical paradise.

Years ago, while sitting an open house in Aptos, I  had one of those unexpected moments of clarity  that  floats out of the ether and into one’s skull  from time to time.  An epiphany as it were.  A small window of light that illuminates some dark corner of the mostly unknowable real estate universe.

It was back in the oh-so-slow days of the early 90’s. The one’s we thought would never end. Until they did. With an infusion of internet frenzy coming out of Silicon Valley starting in 1995.  (Hang in there folks this too shall pass.)

There I was, my rear end parked on someone elses’ couch. One that was clearly more accustomed to providing for its owners cheeky comfort. Not a great fit. Or ergonomically correct. But just one more reason why we supposedly undereducated, overpaid professionals continue to garner the big bucks.  Call it an occupational hazard.

I noticed a strange fluctuating pattern.  First one person would come in, look around  and pronounce in no uncertain terms that I was practically giving the house away.  Then another person would come in and announce with equal vehemence that the place was decidedly overpriced.  This continued on and off, off and on the entire afternoon until my head was spinning in circles. Doing 360’s like Linda Blair on steroids watching Martha Stewart shop at Crate and Barrel.

I didn’t know what to think. And then it hit me with riveting force and gut-wrenching realization.  The first people were all the neighbors worried about their own property values. Dreading to see what the market value would turn out to be on their own nearest comp.

The second people were the pseudo-buyers. The sorta, kinda getting-ready-to-buy-any-year-now philanderers.  On a mission.  Trying to erode the certainty of listing Agents. Soften the prices up on all those places they might someday consider buying.

As though it really was/is the Agent’s own house. As those it really was/is the Agent’s decision where to price it. As those it really was/is the Agent who was going to buy it in the end.   Instead of it being that big old mysterious market out there. Full of buyers and sellers and agents and the entire cast of characters just doing their thing. Just like the market always does its thing.


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