| Family Diary |

Close to Home: Chapter 10   

Bottom line: if you want a metziah, go to the flea market. If you want a house, expect to pay real money


Nechama Norman with Batsheva Berman


ews don’t pay retail,” they say. We all love a good metziah. It’s exciting to snag that ticket to Israel for half price. We’re thrilled when we get complimented on our “diamond bracelet” that’s actually costume jewelry. And credit card points are a hot topic for a reason. When it comes to house-buying, though, the metziah-mindset can work against us.

Menashe and Esti Sloane* were both in their mid-thirties when they got married. Esti’s family lived in Lakewood and she wanted to be near her sisters. Menashe’s job was remote and he was happy to settle wherever Esti wanted. Both had saved up; both had good jobs, and together, they had a substantial nest egg. The couple didn’t have many requirements, and I thought it would be easy to find them a home they loved. And it was.

But it was impossible for Menashe to pay the going rates. He wanted a metziah, so he nixed house after house because the prices weren’t rock-bottom. Esti watched in dismay as they lost one deal after another.

Then Covid hit, and prices started inching up. Still, we found a house that had nearly everything that mattered to them, was in a good location, and was well-priced too. But Menashe felt the asking price was too high. He made a lower offer, and refused to budge, no matter how many times I warned him that someone else would snatch up the house.

Someone did snatch up the house — and I told Menashe I could no longer work with him because his expectations were unreasonable. Every time I drive past the house that got away, I feel a twinge. Bottom line: if you want a metziah, go to the flea market. If you want a house, expect to pay real money.

You need to pay real money for a house, but you also need to be realistic. Before you go house-hunting, meet with a mortgage lender and find out what you can afford. I won’t work with a couple until they’ve done this. It’s not respectful or smart to show houses to people when I have no idea what they can pay.

There’s the number you can swing, and there’s the push number — the number you can possibly make work but only with huge strain.

I tell clients, “I don’t want to be grocery shopping for Shabbos, and putting chicken into my cart, knowing that you may not be able to afford that chicken because of the house you just bought.”

Let’s keep to the comfortable number.

When interest rates fluctuate — like they are right now — rates can change by the week. All mortgages are linked to the interest rate set by the Fed. In the ’80s and ’90s, the rates were around 18 percent. During Covid, the rates were crazy low — as low as 2.5 percent. There were newlyweds buying houses. Now the rates are climbing up again. If your comfortable number is $500,000 at 2.5 percent interest, and the rates jump to 6 percent, you can no longer afford a house at $500,000. There can be a lot of frustration and fear when the interest rates jump.

Chaim Kleinberg’s comfortable number was $570,000, so I’d show him and his wife houses that were in the $500,000  to $550,000 range. I like to have some wiggle room. But he kept asking me to show him homes in the next tier. I told him that’s a really bad idea and gave him the Dor Yesharim mashal.

A girl may have great middos, and be geshikt and funny and warm, but if you’re both carriers of the same deadly disease, you’re not going to date her. Why date a girl you can’t marry? Similarly, before going out on a date with a house, you have to get pre-approved, and then only date the houses you can buy.

Chaim wasn’t convinced and kept pushing me to show him pricier homes.

“Look,” I finally told him, “I’m just not comfortable with this. If you want to look at homes above your budget, do so with another agent. I can’t in good conscience be part of that.”

He hung up, and I thought that was the last I’d hear of him. But two days later, he called back. He said he’d been thinking over what I said and realized I was right. He wanted to date the right houses.

I redoubled my efforts to find him a home in his price range that had all the elements he was looking for. Just a few days later, the ideal house, which had been listed at $590K, suddenly dropped to $572K. I called him immediately, and he and his wife looked at it that very day. He made the offer, and it was accepted.

Then someone offered the seller $600K cash, but since he’d committed to us, he didn’t back out. Chaim hadn’t compromised on what he could afford, and he still got his dream house.

It’s easy to get hung up on small expenses — but it’s crucial to keep the big picture in mind. Some of the houses in the adult community nearby have a really odd placement of the bathtub faucet. You can’t get into the tub without banging into the faucet. One client told me he absolutely refused to buy a house with one of those faucets. I pointed out to him that it doesn’t cost that much money to move a faucet — and it’s not worth rejecting a house over it.

Shimon and Avigail Blinder were insistent on a home that was fully detached and had a lot of privacy. Unfortunately, they were looking in an area that mainly had semi-detached homes with small yards that all the neighbors could see into.

They’d look at Google Maps from a bird’s-eye view, finding the few homes with large, private yards in the area, and ask me to check them out. I’d send letters, call, or door knock on specific homes that were not for sale, to see if the owners would sell. (Called prospecting. I do this when no homes on the market work and we need more options. We give potential sellers an offer we hope they can’t refuse.)

Finally, we found a corner house on a large lot, shielded from neighbors. But the Blinders started getting frustrated about small defects, like a loose porch railing.

“Remember what you wanted,” I told them. “Location, privacy, and a corner lot were all really important to you — and baruch Hashem you got all those things. The rest will work out.”

The Blinders grudgingly agreed and purchased the house, but did so reluctantly. A year later, prices shot up, and the house is now worth $300,000 more than it was when they bought it. There are no regrets anymore.

to be continued…


Keyed In

Getting pre-approved is hugely important (your real estate agent can guide you how to do it). For pre-approval, the bank takes a deep look at your financials and credit. This isn’t set in stone: I’ve seen clients with mediocre credit work on it and lower their monthly payment substantially.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 808)

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