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When a Listing Lies to You

Posted by Johnine Larsen on May 16, 2018
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I helped Anne and Su buy their first home last winter—they finally escaped what they called “the renter rat race.” I loved working with them. They’re wonderful people, first of all, and second, it was a challenge.

Both women have been activists their whole lives: Su as an organizer with the Freedom Socialist Party, a founder of Seattle’s early Pride marches, and an activist for affirmative action; Anne as an organizer with Radical Women and an activist for immigrant rights and against police brutality. They’re people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. I’ve mulled over one of their personal philosophies for the past few months, and the more time I spend with it, the more I appreciate its simplicity: “Trying to make the world better around you is a rewarding way to live. Otherwise you’re just pissed off all the time.”

When we met, back in July 2017, Anne and Su were already educating themselves about the home-buying process. They had read through Home Buying for Dummies, and they had attended a few home-buying classes. One of their biggest take-aways from their research: the importance of a real estate agent, especially in a market as competitive as Seattle, and even more especially in their unique circumstances.

Su and Anne had saved up enough money to afford a down payment on an entry-level home, but they are fairly low-income. Although they could afford a big upfront payment, the mortgage would hamstring them. Frustratingly, many people who devote their lives to making the world better find themselves in a situation like this. I have a soft spot for people like Su and Anne, so I took on this challenge and got creative. Our options:

  • Pay for pre-inspections and waive the inspections to make their bids more competitive.
  • Find a house that required a smaller down payment, and spread their extra saved money across future mortgage payments.
  • Buy in a less desirable neighborhood.
  • Get a fixer-upper and put in some hard work.

The option that worked best: we got lucky. Here’s the story:

We went looking at houses only twice. We were exploring affordable neighborhoods, like SeaTac, and we were checking out small houses. On that second outing, a Saturday, we found a single-story home built in the 1950s. A previous owner had remodeled, but other than that, no one knew what was underneath. The listing said the house had a post-and-pillar foundation.

Now, normally, post and pillar is an instant deal-breaker. That type of foundation involves wood posts or concrete piers set deep into the ground that bear the weight of the building. It’s cheap and easy, but because the foundation isn’t set deep in the earth, it should only be used in areas that aren’t prone to earthquakes. Seattle, as we all know, is prone to earthquakes.

But I didn’t trust the listing. Post and pillar foundations weren’t often used in Seattle’s 1950s homes, and I had a hunch that the listing description was in error. I encouraged them to pay for a pre-inspection.

If the pre-inspection revealed that the house wasn’t actually post-and-pillar, Anne and Su would have a leg up on the competition—many other potential home-buyers would have been scared away, and those that weren’t wouldn’t make as high as an offer as the place actually deserved. AND, since they had already paid for an inspection, Anne and Su could waive the inspection in their bid and stand out from the other offers. This was a gamble, though. If the listing was correct and the house was post-and-pillar, we would have wasted money on a house we didn’t want.

That Sunday afternoon, just a day after seeing the home for the first time, Anne and Su decided to risk it. I got to work. I arranged for an inspector to come out Monday morning, and I prepared all the paperwork for a bid—a bid that was due Monday at noon.

Anne, Su, and I met with the inspector Monday morning, and he gave us the lowdown on the house. It had some problems, certainly. Anne and Su would eventually have to sink some money into fixing things up. But the foundation? Solid. No post-and-pillar, which meant we were all clear to make a bid.

We submitted our bid just before that noon deadline. There were thirteen other offers, but Anne and Su were one of the top bidders, and they had the advantage of waiving the inspection. They got the house.

Here’s what Su and Anne had to say about the experience:

Johnine is knowledgeable, and she knows how to work with working-class people. We’re people who spend a month researching a $1,000 computer—and for a house, we spent $360,000 in a three-day whirlwind. Johnine was genuine, and she never tried to hard sell. She was always frank in her pros and cons, and she was clearly interested in what we wanted in a house. We trusted her judgment, and without her, we couldn’t have gotten our house.

We got lucky with the listing error, and we managed to find a great home that fit Anne and Su’s budget. They’ve already started transforming the place. They’ve painted over the gray walls, and now the rooms dance yellow-orange and purple, with a sponge pattern they applied themselves. They haven’t hung photos yet, but they’ll get there. It’s an exciting feeling, finally owning your own home, and I’m thrilled to have helped make that experience possible for these two.

  • Sarah Donaldson
    Sarah Donaldson
    18:44 18 Jul 19
    Darcie was such a joy to work with. She felt like family during the sale of our house and the search for our new home. We may have found our forever home, but if we ever need a Realtor in future, Darcie from Real Estate Gals will be our first call.
    Brian Heagler
    Brian Heagler
    16:55 02 Jun 19
    I have worked with Johnine and her team for 19 years and have always received personal, knowledgeable and professional service and attention! There is never and pressure and they will guide you away from a property when appropriate, which is always appreciated when a market is hot and the tendency is to move quickly. I trust them and have never been let down!
    Anne Slater
    Anne Slater
    18:03 25 May 19
    Johnine Larsen is fabulous! She listened and came up with ways we could get what we wanted in a house and stay within our limited budget. When we found the house we wanted, she moved super fast to get the house inspected and implemented creative ideas to make our offer appealing. And out of 13 offers, we were selected and got our house. I recommend her to anyone buying a home.
    Amy Burdick
    Amy Burdick
    19:13 24 May 19
    Real Estate Gals made sure we found our perfect house! Then, when we were up against other bidders, Johnine worked tirelessly to ensure we were tops! Her extensive real estate experience combined with exceptional character and integrity provided peace of mind throughout the process. She also made sure we received the right value as a seller and got the transaction done quickly and efficiently. Simply stated: there is nobody better to help you find your dream home.
    Bill Hollman
    Bill Hollman
    22:21 19 May 19
    I'd give Real Estate Gals 6 stars if I could. We have used them multiple times, both in selling and buying homes in Seattle and the surrounding area. I can't say enough about the professionalism, knowledge, and patience they bring to the task of buying a new home, or selling your current residence. And they know the Seattle area so well, they'll offer valuable insights into the pros and cons of any location you may be to considering. Look no further, call Johnine at Real Estate Gals. You will be glad you did!
    Beth Guerra
    Beth Guerra
    01:14 18 May 19
    Johnine was a breath of fresh air in the real estate market. She listened intently to our wishes and goals, and was tireless in her search for our perfect house. She is well versed in both Seattle and the surrounding areas. She made sure all the details were taken care of after the inspection, and made the closing process seamless. She even gifted us with a housewarming present. Nearly 7 years later, we still receive holiday cards and well wishes. I highly recommend Real Estate Gals and will look no further in the future.
    Aidan Key
    Aidan Key
    15:44 17 May 19
    Johnine and the Real Estate Gals brilliantly took us through the home buying process two different times. Their willingness to educate (I was new), hear our home hopes, and support us through the process are a few of the reasons that I highly recommend this team. Speaking of a team, I love their collaborative business model - it meant that we--the home buyers--always had a returned phone call and an ability to look at a house on OUR schedule. Truly felt like they place the customer first!
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