Here in Seattle it seems like we’re ground zero for real estate search websites, with Redfin, Estately, John L. Scott, Windermere, and many others constantly competing to add newer fancier features that make it amazingly easy to find a shiny new home in Seattle from the comfort of your old and busted hovel anywhere in the world.
Of course, just because you can complete the entire home-buying process remotely through your internet connection doesn’t mean you should. Here’s a cautionary tale of the risk you take by relying solely on what you see online and the word of a real estate “professional” (warning, disgusting photos of dead rats): Windermere Watch
For the ultimate and absolute life-ruining real estate nightmare, just imagine this: You move back to Seattle, a city you loved when you worked there years before. You’ve been financially responsible and conservative, arriving with zero debt and a little cash to start a new business. You’ve got a large down payment for a home, and even your car is paid off. Your life is in boxes, you go shopping for your new pad, and you find one in Shoreline that’s right in your price range. It’s on a great lot, too.
The house itself is a little bit old, but it’s been painted up nicely with what the Windermere guy’s brochure says are “Martha Stewart colors.” [Agent names redacted.] You’ve got great credit, a big cash downie, and pre-approved everything. Your agent recommends an inspector who has a neat business card with a logo saying he has insurance and belongs to an inspector’s federation. He gives you a nice little report with digital pictures saying the place is crackerjack and just needs a couple minor fixes. So you slap down nearly $47,000 and sign the papers, tickled to get the place.
Then the day you actually get possession and wander around inside your new home a bit, you start getting sick, and swelling up, and eventually you start having a full-blown allergic reaction. Then you find rat droppings, a rat hole torn in a closet ceiling, a rodent bait station behind the refrigerator in the kitchen pantry closet. A closer look around reveals durable wire mesh screening nailed in-between and over various holes and gaps around the house.
Yikes! The purpose of the website is to get people to boycott Windermere, but I think there’s an important lesson here for all potential homebuyers, whether you’re planning on using an agent or not. If you’re considering the purchase of real estate in someplace other than the city you live in, fly out and check it out yourself before buying. Sure, plane tickets are expensive, but I’m sure most people would rather spend $600 on a flight than $30,000+ on unexpected home repairs.
One thing I think the housing bubble has taught us is that when it comes to a transaction involving such large amounts of money, you simply cannot trust that all parties involved are going to be honest, and you certainly can’t count on them acting in your best interests. Verify everything.
Hat tip: Marlow Harris of 360 Digest (Incidentally, a Coldwell Banker Bain agent)