House Hunting Journal – Slogging through Open Houses

A short post today. The hunt is on, and how the game is played here in Silicon Valley is that you pretty much have to hit open houses.

How different this was than our experience of selling in Phoenix. There, open houses were drains on the agent’s time. They would come, set out some cookies, and wait. And wait. And wait.

In 3 hours (or sometimes 5 hours, as they often started at 11 instead of 1) they would count it lucky if they had more than 5 visitors. And, truth be told, at least half of them were neighbors looking at the “competition”.

In Silicon Valley though, the Saturday and Sunday open houses are wild. Gourmet snacks are common, well staged houses, and throngs of people.  Literally scores of groups of people. Some stay for a few minutes, some for an hour, allowing the agents to gauge interest. But always, even in the worst looking houses in the worst neighborhoods, the cars keep coming.

For a buyer, knowing that you will need to compete against all the potential suitors, it is a groaner.

House Hunting Journal – You need an agent

In many ways, it is a glorious time to be looking for a house, the Internet provides wonderful tools to search, Trulia, Zillow, and others are easy to search, and useful for checking out properties, but they do have a downside.

Unfortunately, they are plagued with out dated information. Often houses you are looking at, and watching are under contract, or otherwise not available.

Additionally, it is impossible to determine if the house is a short sale or other distressed condition. So a place that looks fabulous suddenly looks like a pig.

Having a good agent is invaluable. They have access to details hidden from the public facing tools.

Fortunately, we have a great agent, and he has been super helpful. We haven’t found our house yet, but the search has become more interesting.

Yep, it sucks that the MLS has a monopoly on the inside track, but it is the state of the world.

House Hunting Journal – Listings

There is no doubt that the Internet has greatly enhanced the experience of hunting for a house. Trulia,, and Zillow all put hundreds or thousands of listings at your fingertips.

However, after sorting through the mountains of listings, I have some observations:

  • Some (far too many) agents phone it in. Looking at the photographs is the first symptom. Out of focus, poorly framed photos. I know I can take better pictures with my iPhone. You are going to make 3% on a $700K house, or $21K, HIRE A PHOTOGRAPHER DAMMIT.
  • Wide Angle Lenses. Nothing like a phat wide angle shot to make 836 sqft look like the damn Playboy Mansion.
  • Complete “don’t give a shit” in preparation. No clearing of clutter. Barely make the bed, stuff stored in the middle of rooms. Yep, no effort at all to tart up the place.
  • Tacky descriptions. Alum Rock seems to have replaced the “A Mountain View” as a euphemism for East San Jose. You know what else is awesome? All capital letters. The Caps-Lock key is your friend.
  • Lipstick on the pig – Here is an actual snippet from a pretty much completely un-updated old house in a desirable neighborhood: “The traditional Willow Glen bathroom has a full tub and a separate stall shower with tile wainscoating.” For $734K to boot.

It does suck to be in a market where they don’t even bother to hide ceiling water damage in the photos. And that house sold for $50K over asking.

All for the privilege of bidding and losing on houses.