Open Housing

The open house tour is some good, clean fun, even with a serious agenda. Lian Dolan explains.

BY: Lian Dolan


Like many Southern Californians, I believe open housing is a legitimate Sunday afternoon activity, on par with antiquing or food trucking. My husband and I have long enjoyed schlepping through other people’s homes and judging their closet space or garage conversions while taking advantage of free cookies and bottled water. We justify our sanctioned trespassing because my husband is in the real estate biz and he “needs to know what’s happening in the market.” But really it’s because we’ve never developed any other hobbies as a couple. Who needs a creative or intellectual outlet when you can waltz into a dozen condos on Orange Grove wearing paper booties and signing in with a fake name? That’s some good ‘together time.’

Recently, we’ve been open housing with a purpose. Our son attends a nearby college that comes with a hefty tuition and no dorms so we are in the market for a condo after seeing what rent looks like in the area (Again, spouse in real estate. Hard for him to pay rent for child to live two miles from our house.). I have to say, after so many years of tire kicking, it’s exciting to have a goal when we inspect the ample storage space and 10-foot ceiling height of a 1 bed/1 bath unit within walking distance of the train station. At least that’s what our wish list says.

It’s hard to stay humble when you’re in the market and I blame HGTV. After years of watching people buy “forever houses” on various aspirational real estate shows, we want our moment, too. You know, that moment where we “decide” on House #2 (The Fixer-Upper) while we pretend to drink wine, never having any intention of buying House #1 (Cute and Cozy) or House #3 (Far from Town).

But, have we become those people on House Hunters whose wish list is twelve times the size of their budget? The same people who say, “I can see myself having coffee every morning on this tiny, tiny porch off the master bedroom with the view of the building next door,” even though there is no way they will ever sit out on the superfluous patio in a bathrobe with a cup of joe. Will we fall into the trap of demanding granite counter tops even though there is no evidence that our 20 year-old son can heat food and produce a meal? And don’t even get me started on those people in the Midwest or Texas who feel entitled to four bedrooms and an open floor plan for $250,000, then whine because they don’t like the carpet in the finished basement. (On that note, why do so many men in America want to spend so much time in the basement watching football? Don’t they know they could be open housing on Sundays?)

Here’s one wish list item that’s non-negotiable. No cats. Like ever. I understand that people love animals and want companionship and that many condos have a “no dogs” rule so the homeowner is forced to get a cat, but the cat/condo connection is stronger than I ever would have guessed. As a cat allergy sufferer, I can’t tell you the number of open houses I’ve had to flee because of an immediate reaction to Kitty, even if Kitty has been banished to the garage for the afternoon.

Agents, please note that the worst thing you can say is, “But I just vacuumed!” That kicks the cat dander into high gear, energized by some sort of magical ionizing process. For people like me, it’s a deal killer. We were very interested in a two-story on Arlington, but the cat situation was so extreme, I never made it upstairs. We had to abandon our agenda so I could return home, take some Benadryl and watch Vacation Homes for Free.

While I have fallen many times for scented candles and sunflowers on the dining room table, I must say that the best sales tool is a good paint neutral paint job. Not a bad neutral paint job, because we’ve seen plenty of those where flippers have come in and spent five bucks painting the house stark white. And you know what? Five bucks looks like five bucks, people. But a well-done paint job in Swiss Coffee can make even a dog of a unit look like purebred.

We’re so enjoying this new phase of open housing that we haven’t even put in an offer yet. But, after seeing dozens of units and drinking our weight in bottled water, we’ve added one more item to our wish list: never-ending inventory.

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