Monday, January 30, 2017

House Hunting for Writers

By Shari Randall

If you visit WWK, you’ve probably seen my blogs about my house, AKA Musty Manor. I love this ramshackle house by the sea, but my lease is up at the end of May so I’ll have to say goodbye to the dear girl soon. The latest nor’easter was not good to my favorite tear down (I have to whisper – I don’t want her to hear) so I’m starting to see the merits in buying a newer home.

Since my dream of tearing down Musty Manor and rebuilding her exactly the same (except with modern bathrooms, modern kitchen, new roof, new windows, new garage, new walls, new wiring) won’t be coming true, I spend a lot of time thinking about real estate, watching real estate shows, and searching real estate listings.

Aside from finding a home where the doors actually close, shopping for real estate is its own consolation. Touring houses appeals to both the house hunter in me and the writer. And if I’m honest, the snoop in me, too.

I spend a lot of time on the real estate website Zillow and realized that it’s a good tool for two writerly things: setting and use of language.

Chez Blofeld
Want a particular setting for your story? The perfect seaside cottage? That modernistic Bond villain lair? A family split level? The executive’s sleek lakeside getaway? They’re a click away on real estate websites and chock full of details that will bring your setting to life. Further, seeing these homes piques the writer’s imagination. Who is the person who kept this all white living room pristine for forty years? Who is the person who put a stripper pole in the middle of the family room? Why are there cat doors in every room of this house? How did those stains get there?

After seeing a home described as having a “captivating kitchen” and discovering that all the appliances had been ripped from the walls, I’ve worked to become fluent in “realestate-ese.”
Not Musty Manor

This coded language helps real estate agents share information with other agents while putting out a positive spin for buyers. If I ever have a real estate agent character, I’ll be ready to write her or his dialogue.

“Cozy” means small.
“Spacious” means it’s a long walk from the television to the refrigerator.
“Convenient to highway” means noisy.
“Great neighborhood” means that the property for sale is the neighborhood eyesore, surrounded by much better tended homes.
 “Expansive” means impractically large and/or this family didn’t want to spend a lot of time together.
“Charming” means old.
“Well maintained” means old.
“Quiet” could mean quiet. Or it could mean it’s an hour's drive to the grocery store.
“Bring your imagination!” means you don’t even want to go there.
“Handyman’s Special"? Run!

Have any adventures in real estate to share?


  1. “Oh, no one does a radon test around here” means if they did no one would ever buy a house around here.

    ~ Jim

  2. We've never had a house buying go easy. Fortunately, we haven't bought too many.

    At the closing of one, the couple selling (and divorcing) ended up pens at each other and walking out before the paperwork was signed. The agent managed to follow them and get the signatures.

    One inspection at the last house (the one we're living in now) kept getting postponed. When it finally happened, a week before move-in day, the septic system failed and the certificate of occupancy would be withdrawn if a solution wasn't found. We ended up with a sand mound which was put in within the week. The number one factor on my list of "houses not to even bother to look at" was "if it has a sand mound." Oh, well.

    We like the house and we love the several wooded acres around it.

  3. Selling a housed provided me with incentive to kill. For example, when we questioned the radon results and consulted another contractor--suddenly the first contractor admitted his equipment might not have been well calibrated. He offered to do the test again--presto--no more radon!

    Our pest contractor claimed we had structural damage due to termites. Now he picked the wrong guy to mess with since my husband is a structural carpenter. Oops--no structural damage.

    I felt badly for our buyers. Their confidence in the house was the only thing that was damaged. All the contractors were scam artists preying on sellers. The radon tester's son happened to fix radon issues. His father fraudulently tested and then handed his son a client on a silver platter, costing the house seller $900, which consists mainly of providing more ventilation (a fan!). Nice work if you can get it, huh?

    So Shari--I'm sure there are a lot of houses with issues, but don't believe all the reports.

  4. We unloaded our last house in a highly competitive market. We had it pre-inspected and corrected every single item on a 50+ page report. Sure enough, I overheard potential buyers complaining that with the pre-inspection, they wouldn't be able to screw extra cash out of us to pay for their new furniture.

    Shari, good luck with your house-hunting.

  5. Ha! Love that vocabulary primer at the end—and good luck with the house hunt!

  6. Hi Jim, Radon! I'll have to add this to my list.

  7. KM, we had one closing where the couple was divorcing because of the real estate agent. The Mrs. Seller and the agent played footsie during the closing - talk about a miserable Mr. Seller.
    And I am adding "sand pile" to my list of things to avoid! I'm glad you ended up liking your house. Happy ending despite sand pile.

  8. EB, you are so fortunate to have a husband who knows his stuff about houses. Most of us don't and feel at the mercy of a bunch of sharks.
    And I love your comment about selling a house giving you incentive to kill. I feel a story coming on! Maybe someone will do an anthology of house selling and buying - Buyer Beware!

  9. Thank you, Margaret. When we sold our place in VA the buyer gave us her inspection report. One thing on it was "replace hall lightbulb" - $300!

  10. Hi Art,
    Thank you for stopping by. I'm learning the lingo (sadly - it takes a long time)

  11. When we sold our ninety-year-old house we had a long list of deficiencies. We paid a lot to get it up to code. I talked to a friend about his sale of another house in the neighborhood. He said he refused to correct anything. He sold it as is without any problems.

  12. Hi Warren, That's the thing about real estate - I think you have to choose your philosophy "fix it" or "as is." This home buyer would like everything fixed first, please!

  13. Cute - In my old neighborhood that generally meant someone went nuts with drywall and created ten rooms in a 1,500 square foot space.

    Huge backyard and well-landscaped both meant to bring your own machete.

    Fruit trees meant need rat traps.

    Newer roof meant sometime last century.

    But know what - I love seeing inside houses, I always come away with ideas and HGTV is my favorite TV watching!

    Happy hunting!

  14. Shari, when my ex left me, I started house hunting for a place with a barn for my two horses and chickens. I found an old farmhouse with 20 acres and a barn quite reasonably priced so I bought it. Only my mother had anything positive to say about it because it hadn't been painted inside in many years, the roof leaked, two basement walls were collapsed with wild animals running in and out, and the wiring dated back to 1917. But I loved it in spite of all this. My son and I gutted all the walls so he could rewire the house. I hired a roofer to put a new roof on. My son with help put in new basement walls and put new dry walls up. Over the years he has added on to my house, I had one front room turned into a library, and I love the house everyone except my mother thought was a big mistake to buy and get lots of compliments on it now. I hope you have the same experience as I have had. Or maybe not!

  15. LOL, Kait!

    Hi Gloria, You saw the potential in that farmhouse and it's great that you were able to bring it back to life. That's a dream come true!

  16. Funny, Shari! I'm so glad we're not in the market for a new house. Our last move six years ago should be the last for a good long time.

  17. I'm real-estate obsessed, too...enough that I wonder if a real-estate license might be in my future. (After I find the perfect home in the perfect beach town, of course.) And I've used a real estate website to help me write more realistically about a fictional house before. Fun post, Shari!