Steering clear of sales fever

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AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli A sold sign is displayed in front of a house in Sacramento, Calif., on July 5.


Special to The Press

Earlier this year, a home on my street was sold at auction. Assuming a cash deal was required, we figured the home would be purchased by someone hoping to rent the home or make improvements and sell it at a small profit.

The buyers turned out to be flippers, and over the course of a couple of months, they made some nice improvements to the home. It wasn’t a complete overhaul by any means — some improved landscaping, new carpet and flooring, etc. Just enough to put it back in line with what some of the surrounding homes had done to entice buyers.

When the “For Sale” sign finally went up, my wife and I were shocked at the price. They were listing the home a good $50,000 more than what we paid for our house almost exactly a year ago. This home had less square footage and, by the pictures anyway, compared very nicely to our home.

We laughed and laughed, assuming it wouldn’t garner a single decent offer. We thought a price drop or two would be in its future, and the home would sell for something much closer to the sale prices we’d seen gradually increase around the community.

Then the house sold. In a day. At full price.

We couldn’t believe it. We looked at the listing again, at all the pictures. We leered at the house as we drove past it, wondering where in the house liquid gold was oozing from the walls.

I mentioned it to one of our neighbors, and sure enough, he had been following the sales action as well. He was just as surprised as we were. And another neighbor joined our gossip group to also share his disbelief at the price.

Then the irrational thoughts started to take over.

When you hear news like a neighbor’s house selling for a huge price, you can’t help but think what could happen with your own house on the market. In this case, the math was especially easy to figure. A similar house at almost the exact same location sold for $50,000 more than ours. Add that to the equity we already had, and we could walk away with more money than we’d ever seen in our lives.

Or at least enough money to finally pay off some student loans.

Eventually, reason set in.

For one, selling our home creates the obvious problem of where to live next. If the market is that hot, then chances are good we’d be paying much more for any kind of meaningful upgrade. At best, we’d probably make a lateral move, and what’s the point of making a lateral move if you already like where you live?

The other option is to simply rent a home and get out of the ownership game altogether, but there are probably a few Realtors out there who would tell me not to encourage such foolish behavior.

It’s also a bit presumptuous to think our home could muster a similar price. For one, it’d require quite a bit more lawn work out of me, and I’m not interested in more manual labor in the summertime heat.

Then there’s the obvious one — we just moved a year ago. Moving is terrible. On the plus side, we’ve still got a few boxes we haven’t unpacked.

When you’ve bought into the so-called American Dream, it becomes much easier to keep dreaming about the next best thing. You buy a “starter home” when it’s just two of you, then you have kids and want more room, then your kids leave and you want something different — either bigger or smaller or in a more relaxed environment.

The cycle of wanting something more never really stops between those major life choices. Friends buy a new house that has 1,000 more square feet, or someone else you know builds a custom home with features you’ve always dreamed of having.

At the end of the day, we still sit in one living room, cook food in one kitchen and sleep in a single room with a bed. Our kids have rooms to themselves, and all they want to do is sleep in the same room, next to each other. It’s just space, and space isn’t nearly as important as what fills it.

Now if someone wants to buy my house for $75,000 more than I paid for it, then you’ve got yourself a deal.

• • •

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