Home Work

Being Possessed by What You Want to Possess

Dec 26, 2002 at 2:06 pm

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us. There are traffic jams to sit in and check-out and gift-wrap lines to wait in.

We're willing to go to extreme lengths to pursue the ultimate trophy to present as an indication of our fidelity and commitment to those near the top of our gift-buying list. For those further down the chart, we simply dig a little deeper in the closet and continue the ancient art of passing on to others what's been passed unto you.

It's an exhausting process that consumes an inordinate amount of time energy and fiscal resources. Yet we somehow find the strength and energy to persevere.

So why is it, then, when it comes to making what in all likelihood is the largest investment most people will ever make, buyers often instruct their Realtor® to cavalierly call the listing agent and "make them a verbal offer and see what they'll take"? Why is it — after months of searching, touring, pre-qualifying and being a day late (it was sold yesterday) — would you be willing to risk the consequences of losing out and losing it all simply because you didn't want to write it down?

After all that buyers go through just to get to the point of even contemplating making an offer, you'd think that once the decision is made buyers would be possessed by what they want to possess in the same way as they're driven by wanting to find the perfect gift.

While there are many causes and reasons as to why some people suffer from what I loosely term "offerphobia," the most common one is lack of knowledge.

That is to say, understanding the complexities and legalities of what's involved when real estate changes hands.

To begin with,verbal contracts aren't binding. They're not an effective substitute for a well-constructed contract that spells out what you're offering and agreeing to do. In the event of a dispute, the written contact is the Holy Grail superceding anything that might have been said by anyone at anytime, and of course they're admissible in a court of law.

By using a contract, specifically one designed for real estate, buyers and sellers reduce the potential for conflict since many of the unforeseen contingencies or questions either party might not have considered are addressed. Furthermore, it specifies precisely what each party is responsible for and clarifies what each party is agreeing to.

Because buying a house is a significant investment, you should know what you're getting into before you get into it. This is best accomplished when you write it down and specify precisely what you want and are willing to do and how you're going to do it. Let the facts speak for themselves in written form and avoiding a game of "he said she said" and "therefore I thought."

It's a lot easier to turn the page of a contract and look at what was resolved than it is trying to reconstruct from memory the particulars of a conversation, perhaps a series of them, and conclude who and what was said. You can be sure that your version of what transpired will be entirely different from the other party's version.

It's just like shopping for the perfect gift — only this one's for you. The more time you spend paying attention to the details, which in this case means putting it in writing, the more likely you are to find and get precisely what you're looking for.

THIS WEEK'S TIP: Legal Addition
While it's hard to get away with an addition in town without all the requisite permits, it's not uncommon for folks to build something only to find out later that it wasn't OK. If you're doing it yourself, be sure to check with all concerned local officials and that all the permit requirements have been met.

Work with the inspectors — they're your friends. If you're contracting the work, make sure the contractor isn't taking short cuts and sidestepping the regs. There are tons of rules about what can and can't be done and where you can and can't do it.

If you proceed with an addition, remember you don't get to visit the site and then go home as if building a new house. You'll be living in a construction zone for a period of time that will seem endless, and you'll have a new understanding of the word "stress" before it's over.

Home Work is a weekly column geared toward residential real estate.