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The one that got away.

Note from Rita: This month, in reflection upon the current sellers market trends and rising real estate prices, we are bringing back our most popular article to date. Enjoy!

One of mine, and most other real estate professionals for that matter, mantras to first time homebuyers is that there are plenty of fish (houses) in the sea (market). If their first attempt at a home purchase goes awry, be it due to a higher bidder, or a terrifying home inspection discovery, there is always another home in the neighborhood waiting for them, better than the last. And I really believe that. Sort of. So long as it does not apply to me.

If I didn’t have a passion for real estate I would not be in this business. That being said, I have had my heart broken by properties more so than I have had it broken by men. (Hopefully none of my ex’s read this blog, they would, I assume, be a bit miffed to discover that I have spent more time mourning over lost houses than over them.) One property, in particular, continues to elude me.

Back in 2005 I was, like most of us, doing quite well financially. Between mine and my boyfriend’s combined incomes, we were easily pre-approved for a $300,000 mortgage. Oh yes, good old sub-prime financing. The golden days. (Just kidding).

We began to drive around the state, dreaming about our perfect home (FYI, for those of you who don’t know me well, my version of a perfect home is a total rehab project).

One cold, rainy, and overall typical Rhode Island winter day, we were in my favorite area of the East Bay wandering down a narrow lane when we looked up to see an imposing Victorian resting on a hill overlooking the river and one of Rhode Island’s lovely bridges. It was love at first sight. Our excitement was only amplified by the “For Sale” sign at the base of the hill.

We called immediately. We knew we were out of our league; the paint was peeling but the gutters were all in place, and no boarded up windows. As soon as the agent picked up we nearly screamed into the phone, “what is the asking price?!” Answer: $425,000.

Despair. We lingered for a while longer, then sadly drove away, each of us already lost in our plans to return the home to its original splendor.

In the weeks that followed, I developed an unhealthy obsession with the house. I would check the listing online, stalk the agent, and drive by the house on a nearly daily basis. My version of a substance abuse problem. I was, no doubt, addicted to the “Bridge” house.

Finally, good news came. The agent told us that the price was dropping to $379,000. We were ecstatic. That was out of our range but not so much that it was impossible. We met her at the property to finally look inside (a beautiful mess) and nearly immediately told her that we wanted to put in an offer for $300,000.

Our offer was summarily rejected by the sellers. Not surprising. But now we were determined. We asked to take another look at the house. Our goal was to point out so many issues in need of attention that we would be able to justify our price. In the meantime, we begged our loan officer to up our pre-approval. We would cancel our cable subscription and live off of rice and beans for the next two years we pleaded. Socks with holes in the heels can be easily mended.

We met the sellers. They loved us. We loved them. I brought my mother, grandmother, and sister all down to see the house (my Italian entourage). They loved it. My mother was just as excited and irrational as I was.

Finally our loan officer gave us the good news: $349,000. We immediately told the agent. We told her that on top of it we would be willing to seller finance the rest. We would even help the sellers pack up their lifetime’s accumulation of things. Cluttered is not the right word for the house’s basement. Think floor to ceiling un-navigable piles of children’s toys, knickknacks, clothes, junk, you name it. We were convinced that offering to help throw everything into boxes would be a sure winner, just the push they needed.

The agent disappointed us. She told us that the sellers were not ready to accept an unconventional offer like ours, and that they were going to take the house off the market for the winter so as to reassess things.

I cried. A lot. We slowly tried to move on, and eventually found our way to Providence. But we never forgot the house. I continued to check in with the agent until she left her real estate company.

Flash forward to about a month ago. Someone asked me where I really wanted to live. There is only one answer to that question. The Bridge house. Being a broker now, I now had access to all the tools of the trade. I immediately looked up the property, making excuses that I “was just wondering whatever happened to the place.” Like running into an ex with your current boyfriend and pretending it was no big deal. I felt like I was cheating on my current East Side home.

To my utter shock, there was a 2009 listing for the Bridge House. Status? EXPIRED. Asking price? $199,000. I leapt up from the computer shrieking. Complete elation. I immediately set to work trying to find the owners.

I pride myself on my abilities to track down hard-to-find property owners. But these two proved impossible to find. All I could figure out was that they were somewhere in Florida. No forwarding address, not local relatives, no nothing. So I went to the house for answers.

The house was empty. But through the window I could see tools and paint cans. Someone had been there cleaning it up. I confidently figured that it was only being worked on to be put back up on the market in the Spring. I decided to keep going back until I ran into the contractor face-to-face.

A few days ago, I finally pulled into the driveway to find a very un-construction-like white SUV in the driveway. I ran up the hill and burst through the front door, barely able to contain (okay not able to contain at all) my excitement. The surprised young man inside stared at me perplexingly as I hurriedly asked him if he could put me in touch with the owners as I wanted to buy the home immediately. Slowly, his kind face fell. He hesitated, and then said, “Well, I have some bad news. I just bought the home from them.” All the air went out of me. Tears welled up. I nearly fainted right there. I was too late. How could that be possible? How could this house be breaking my heart again? I struggled to accept the news.

He showed me the work he was doing inside. Everything I planned to do years ago. Jealously seized me. I hated him. He was violating my precious house, the lovely built-ins, sun porch, and roof-top widow’s walk. It was all supposed to be mine. Because the plenty more fish in the sea mantra simply does not apply to me.

I have learned two things from this. One, while we have to try our best to protect our buyers hearts, sometimes they will be broken. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we won’t be able to close the deal. And that is okay. Some people, people like me, occasionally fall victim to their emotions and to their irrationality. Sometimes, as agents, we have to let them.

As far as the second thing I have learned, it is this: I will never give up on the Bridge house. My latest crazy, “unconventional” plan is to simply offer the current owner more than he can refuse for the home. Sound investments and current market value can kiss my ass. I’ll even offer to pack up his things.

Rita Steele, Broker Owner

Original Publication 2010


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