Occasionally, I am reminded that buying a home isn’t all about price, mortgage rates and square footage. That’s important but it’s not the primary reason most people buy a home. A few weeks ago I was showing a young couple a modestly priced home in Placerville that needed some TLC, real estate speak for ”trouble likely condition.” They loved the house and asked me the procedure for making an offer. I told them I would crunch some numbers and prepare a purchase contract.
“Which is more important to you?” I asked. “Getting the house at the lowest possible price or having the seller do some of the repairs?”
“We really like the size of the back yard.” she said. “It’s perfect for a garden like my grandmother has at her home.”
“And the oak tree is where I will build my son a tree house.” he added. “I had one in my back yard growing up and I want the same for my boy.”
That wasn’t exactly the answer I expected. The back yard wasn’t landscaped and the tree’s branches were scraping against the roof and rain gutters. Both issues I viewed as a negative. Landscaping can be expensive and time consuming and the oak tree would require extensive pruning to protect the roof. Where I saw problems, they found opportunities.
That’s when I got to thinking. Why didn’t I point that out? Surely, a more skilled salesman would have drawn the buyer’s attention away from the dry dead weeds to the “joys of backyard landscaping.” The nearly dead, mistletoe infested oak was of course a “majestic giant, providing natural backyard shade and a refuge for wild birds.” Was I becoming a calloused curmudgeon or just overly protective of my first-time home buyers? If you’re a hammer, you see everything as a nail.
My client’s imagination and enthusiasm reminded me that houses are more than the materials that go into them. Once occupied, they take on their own character. Owning a home has the advantage of personality. That’s unique to other investments we may own. What’s the personality of a saving account or a stock certificate? Too often we attempt to codify our home’s value as we would something as impersonal as our 401K.
This column often focuses on hard core statistics, following our county’s monthly median selling price as we would the S&Ps daily average. Housing economists and pundits are bloviating daily on the market’s current condition and speculating on its future direction. Entire companies are dedicated to tracking every incremental movement in property values in every major U.S. city. But despite all the efforts in converting home values into a hard statistic, there is a softer side of real estate ownership.
Buying a home comes with a bonus. Sure, you get the three bedrooms, the walk-in closet and large back yard, but also included in your purchase price are the many community benefits that each neighborhood has to offer. That bike trail and community park is available to use anytime. The community center or library may be a short drive away. If you live in the more rural areas of the county you are blessed with many outdoor recreational opportunities. Fortunately, we live in a county that offers many different community personalities from which homebuyers can choose; from the upscale Town Center of El Dorado Hills to the remote wilderness of Mosquito.
Owning a home allows a family to have a sense of permanence. As a boy growing up, our family moved around a lot. My father was career military and every 18 months or so, we would be transferred from one military installation to another. Owning a home was not an option. One year we were living in Chicopee, Mass., and the next year in Tampa, Fla. By the time I was ready for college, I had lived in a dozen states.
Relocating so many times has some benefits. We learned not to become too attached to material belongings; especially large pieces of furniture. Our life’s possessions needed to fit within the military’s prescribed moving allowance. If it didn’t fit, it didn’t get shipped. We also learned to make friends quickly while not getting too close. A transient lifestyle may have its teachings but a sense of permanency isn’t one of them.
Many renters have the same issues. Neighbors come and go as quickly as leases expire. Renters know their term is only temporary. They will voluntarily move on or their landlord will simply not renew their lease. Knowing this, tenants take little interest in their temporary home or the community.
Unlike renting, ownership has permanency and with it security. Owners feel secure in making improvements to their property and have the option of customizing the home to their own personality. That pride of ownership is evident in neighborhoods that have a high percentage of owners and not so much with neighborhoods dominated by non-owners.
This sense of permanence and security allows homeowners to form deep attachments with their home and their community. They become protective of its status quo and pro-active in any attempts to change its personality. Our homes offer physical protection from the elements and a psychological refuge from life’s daily stress. A home becomes the container of many memories. It nurtures families. It is a statement of who we are and how we see ourselves. It is today and will remain part of the American Dream be it ever so humble.
Ken Calhoon is a real estate broker in El Dorado County. He can be reached through his Website www.kencalhoon.com.