Finding a Great House, Losing in a Bidding War

Early this year (and this month), I finally decided it’s high time I get myself a permanent address. Not another apartment, but an actual home. Something I can call mine. Something where I have my own walls, my own roof, my own hot water tank, my own hefty problems with municipal sewer service and high property taxes…

It’s more sobering than jumping in a frozen lake in the dead of winter (but without the sudden shrinkage of certain body parts).

I’ve been looking for a little while now — I’ve been through about 30 homes so far (I’ve actually lost count — though I did intend to keep track of every one). I’m looking primarily close to downtown, currently in about a 5 kilometre radius around Calgary Tower. So far, I’ve found a number of places that come “close” to what I want.

What do I want? Something with more character than the average crap infill or new housing development. The majority of the places have about as much appeal as week-old squirrel road kill — and generally smell about as nice. I want something much older — preferably built before 1930 (although I’ve seen a few built since then that have a certain charm). Why? First, character — they just ooze it. Second, they’re quite sturdy — some goofy building code that was in place until the 20s required homes to withstand massive earthquakes (although we live in one of the most geologically stable regions in North America) and tremendous windstorms. Third, they’re most likely to have good hardwood floors — none of this pseudo-wood flooring.

Luckily, Calgary’s got lots of these homes. So finding one isn’t too hard. Finding one for sale? Well, that’s a little more difficult. And finding one for sale in Sunnyside, where I want to be, is darn near impossible. It’s a 10×8 block area (roughly), and there’s about two homes for sale at any given time.

Usually for about a day each.

Take the one I just saw today. It was a small home (~950 sq. ft.) about a block from the river. Beautiful little place, built in 1912 and kept in immaculate shape. I liked it so much, I put in an offer to purchase. (You need to do this sort of thing when looking for home I am in the part of the city I like. The basic rule is: You snooze, you lose.) This was at 10:30 this morning, sitting in the Starbucks on Centre Street with my realtor, Robyn.

(A quick aside on Robyn Moser. I met her completely by chance while starting my search for a home while in Oakville at Christmas. I chanced across the home she and her husband are selling, for which she is the realtor. Although her home wasn’t what I wanted, it was enough to start a relationship. Since then, I’ve gotten to know this woman very well, and I’ve gotten to the point with her where we’re more a team than a client/realtor. Although she’s still in this for the money, obviously. If any of you are looking for a new home in Calgary, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with her. I’d recommend no-one else in this city.)

The house was listed at $209,900. A little high, perhaps, but when you’re aiming for Sunnyside, this is almost the norm. With the offer contract in hand, she dropped me off at home and told me she’d call later in the day with news. We expected to have the offer presented around 5pm to the seller.

I should point out at this time that the house has been on the market for one day.

At 2:30pm, I got a call from Robyn. I had a competitor. It was time to up the ante. I’d put in my offer at $206,000. We bumped it up to $209,900. To further sweeten the deal, Robyn cut $500 from her commission. (See why I like her?) We thought this would be good enough.

I continued at the office until about 4:30pm, when Robyn called again. At first she said: “I’ve got some good news, and some bad news.”

There was a pause.

“Actually, it’s all bad.”

I had two more competitors. There were now four of us vying for the same home. It was time to raise the stakes again. $214,000, and Robyn cut $1,000 from her commission. We debated about removing the inspection condition, but I wasn’t comfortable with not inspecting a 90 year old home. We felt it was solid enough, and put it in. Then the wait began.

At 5:15pm, I got the call. Well, not the call I’d expected — Robyn just told me that I had to wait until after 6:00pm before the decision was made. My offer expired at 6:30pm (according to the contract), so I was getting a little anxious. And Robyn didn’t know what was going on — she couldn’t offer me more information than what I already knew. We had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

I couldn’t concentrate. This was just annoying. And frustrating, because there was nothing I could do anymore. All I could do was trying to push through the work I had and try not to think about the fact that there was someone negotiating my finances to try and buy me a house, while taking a pay cut herself to do it.

Did I mention I really like Robyn?

Anyway, I got “the call” at just after 6:30pm. I could tell by the tone of her voice that we had lost out. Apparently there was still a counter offer going on, but we weren’t in the running anymore. As it turned out, I came in a “close second”, and was “neck in neck” with someone else. Neither Robyn or I know what happened yet, but we’re dying to know how we got beat out.

So the hunt resumes. This is the second house I’ve put a bid on (I did one earlier this week, but the price couldn’t come low enough to meet what I could afford), and it won’t be the last. But it’s going to be nasty, particularly in Sunnyside. It’s a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog market right now, and Sunnyside is where everyone wants to be.

I’m going to rely a lot on Robyn to find me a place. It’s going to be hard, because I’m a picky SOB. But I know what I want. The tricky part is getting it, especially with all the competition that’s out there. It’s too bad there aren’t other ways of settling the problems of competition. Personally, I’ve got a great one:

The first rule of Fight Club is…

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