It should be very hard

It should be very hard to think about greed in this week of death and dying, but in between vigils, greed continues to rear its ugly head repeatedly in the Arizona real estate market, reminding us how little we learn from our mortality or anyone else’s. Can you take it with you? Real estate investors apparently think so. They are willing to do anything to get their hands on homes in Phoenix.

Although I’ve had a real estate license for many years, I’ve never used it as a fiduciary for other people until recently. And now I see why I haven’t. I’ve been helping a few friends try to buy and sell homes (notice I don’t say houses, because these are places friends of mine actually either live or want to live) over the past few months — in the craziest real estate market Phoenix has ever known.

Apparently, what’s going on here now has spread like an epidemic from California. People figured out that Arizona had affordable housing, and they rushed in to buy some and jack up the prices. Although you can read in the media about investors who buy up dozens of as yet uncompleted homes, I’m personally experienced with resale housing, and with real people like my buddy Rafael.

Rafael bought a house in 1997 for $77,000. It was forty years old when he bought it. Over time, he has fixed up the kitchen and added a master suite. He did all the work himself; he owns a lawn care business and he has lots of friends who are laborers. The layout of the home is, shall we say, eclectic, as is the decor. It does not look like a model home.

Rafael has a wife, three children, and a mother who occasionally visits from Guatemala, where he grew up. He also employs his brother, who just got back from Guatemala where he had hip surgery he couldn’t afford in the US. Rafael arranged it for him, and while the brother was gone, Rafael took in the brother’s two children. Rafael, as you can tell, is a wonderful man — a hard working husband and father.

In Rafael’s back yard, there are two roosters, five chickens who sit on their eggs in an abandoned dog house, a puppy, and a trampoline. There’s no room for a pool. Rafael’s youngest child, Vanessa, wants a pool. So Rafael put his home on the market and began looking for one with a pool. He asked me to help, so I listed his home and started looking for homes in the same price range with pools.

On the first day his home appeared in the multiple listing service, for the (to him)astronomical price of $190,000, he had crowds of people trying to look at it. My phone rang every five minutes with desperate realtors wanting to show the home, interrupting my “real” life. A realtor made an offer of $193,000 and we accepted it.

What we didn’t know was that the realtor had not even seen the house. When he finally went by to see it, three days later, he decided he didn’t want it. By this time, Rafael had bid on about three homes that he didn’t get, and finally “won” a house by bidding over the asking price and sending a letter from Vanessa, who is four, telling how much she wanted a pool and including a crayon drawing. We were, in our own little way, learning to game the system.

Rafael had gone into escrow with the new home, putting up his earnest money. He asked me if he could change his mind. Not unless the appraisal was lower than the asking price (which happens all the time in fast moving markets), I told him. So we wait for the appraisal–appraisers are way behind the market.

In the mean time, we put Rafael’s home back on the market. Again, troops of realtors and clients pass through it, disturbing the family. Three more offers appear in the next week: $5000 below the asking price, but no appraisal required; $5000 over the asking price, with all kinds of caveats; the asking price, but a need to move in a week.
All these offers are from investors, and all of them want Rafael to reply within four hours to twelve hours.

Rafael works outside all day long. When he comes home at night, he is tired. He doesn’t want to make financial decisions that will affect the rest of his life over dinner with five kids running around in the room. But if he doesn’t accept something, and keep going through the process, he may lose the chance to sell his home and get Vanessa her pool. Rafael falls asleep worried.

On the other end of this transaction, three investor groups are crunching numbers, trying to beat each other to this house, which they see as a “fix and flip” in a desirable neighborhood. If they don’t get this house, they will write another offer tomorrow.

And the Pope continues to struggle between life and death.

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