First Person: When You Buy a House, Can You Return It With a Receipt?

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I have been a realtor for many years, and I have seen it all.

Prices inflated, prices slashed, demand so overwhelming I had to refuse clients, and times when supply outnumbered buyers by a ratio of three to one. So I am an old salt in the sea of realty, and my job as a realtor is not just to show homes but to handle all the details of realizing the American dream.

Most people, before they buy a home, see it for less than an hour before they decide to buy it. Think about that- less than a hour for a decision that may affect the rest of their lives. Personally, I have lived in only two homes since I was married- a span of 40 years. So even for experts in the field of real estate, the average length of time people stay in a home (five years) is not true for everyone.

So to excise the problem of buyer's remorse catalyzed by impulsive buyers in a rush, or impatient, or facing external pressures such as a job relocation where the window to find a new home is limited, I have recently developed an idea of the "Sleep Over" for buyers who are serious about a listing.

Simply put, it is a chance for them to "live" in the home for 24 hours, and experience the ineffable and intangible aspects of it- the feeling it gives at dawn and dusk.. the sounds and silences of the local birds as well as the local kids, neighbors and trash trucks.

Does a train ramble by every night at 3am? Does the basement leak in the rain? Does the house feel like a home? These are questions that can only be answered by really experiencing the home in real-life conditions. Therefore, the program I am developing allows for buyers to come with their family and have a real sleep over, providing, of course, the seller no longer lives there and it is vacant but furnished.

I have attempted this before (informally) for a friend who ended up buying the home afterwards. This was possible because I knew all parties involved personally, but the success of the experiment made me think that buying a home should be like buying a car- you should get a test drive. Imagine buying a car before you drove it! Imagine marrying someone after a first date!

Well, I guess both things happen everyday, but it is not prudent to do in the case of home buying (in my view) when considering the large amount of money you must pay in order to purchase a home, obtain a mortgage and endure the closing process which can take an entire day. Right now this idea is more viable than ever, because the buyer has the advantage- it's a buyer's market and you need not be an expert to know that fact.

So providing them this option of a sleep-over or a home test drive or a try-out or a first date- whatever you want to call it- is a smart technique as most home purchases are made by EMOTION not rational reductionism based upon dry facts. Like people and other possessions, we often just "know" if it is right or wrong after we get a sense of the thing or person in question, and the only way to get that sense is to spend enough time with them or, in the case of a home, in them. Sellers seem open to the idea- most just want to sell the house and they will do anything within reason to facilitate that transaction.

Furthermore I tell sellers that allowing this may create leverage for them as just one night in a strange home can form an emotional connection between the home and the would be buyer- just like sometimes driving a car for 10 miles takes you not only to a new geographical place but also, sometimes, a new emotional state as well. And as I said before, the act of purchasing a home is a right and left brain decision ratio 51% emotional 49% rational, that is my analysis by my calculations after decades in the business of family relocations. In then end, I want the buyers to be happy and not regret the purchase, and anything to ensure that they are making the right choice is a good thing in my view.

Details like insurance for damages and other legal issues are obstacles easily overcome in order to make this idea a real viable program for buyers, and while first we used pictures, and then video to show homes to buyers, now we are close to letting them "buy it for a day" without having to pay, and the next day, after their stay, I knock on the door around three o'clock or four, and escort them out and confirm the house is all cleaned up. As we walk to our cars, we discuss the experience. The few times I have done this on my own, most buyers call me later on the phone, emotionally attached to a house they can now imagine as a home. Will my company institute this idea formally? Is it really a worthwhile thing to try? In this market we are experiencing, realtors should do anything legal to help their buyers... buy.

M.E.N., Licensed Realtor in Pennsylvania

(This was written by the realtor who sold me my home- she is the greatest realtor I have ever known)

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