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You don't have to buy just to look

Sign for an open house

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: As we heard earlier in the show, a lot of the predictions about the economy this year hinge on the housing market. Seems like it couldn't possibly get any worse.

Home sales plummeted 20 percent from November of 2006 to November 2007, but lots of folks are still trying to sell their homes and the most common way to do that is by staging an open house.

Believe it or not, some people go to those events just for fun.

Here's Cash Peters.


Cash Peters: Open-housing is a hoot; it really is. You get to snoop around houses you could never afford to buy while pretending you can. Everybody's doing it.

Marian Goodman's a top real estate agent in LA. She says -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- that most people are delusional, though. Oh, and cheap.

Marian Goodman: Yeah, some are just totally dreaming and need entertainment for free, so they go to open houses. And sometimes they get free chocolates like we're giving away today.

Peters: I love that. I may buy it on that basis alone.

Just kidding. Nothing would make me buy it, because that's not the point. The point is to look -- and criticize. And I do, every weekend. But only at homes valued $3 million and up. That's the rule. I dress in my Sunday best and walk around making comments, like I own the place. Or could. Y'know, hypothetically.

The house Marion was showing that day was in Encino, Calif., and worth $2 million dollars, so technically I was slumming it. It was then she told me, though -- and this was a shocker -- she told me that dressing up counts for nothing.

Goodman: Some people are just raggedy-looking. They have a lot of money; they don't need to impress me. So the people that come in with torn jeans and flip-flops might be a $4 million buyer.

Peters: I'm trying to pass myself off as like, um, Russian royalty or something that you'd come in and go, "Wow, he's got the money."

Goodman: Russian royalty doesn't have any money. The Communists took it from them.

Rats. Anyway, I'm not the only one who visits houses he can't afford. For instance, I found this guy on the patio and, I mean, the way he was dressed, he could have been the pool cleaner.

Guy: It's LA, no one cares.

Peters: And can you afford this?

Guy: No, not even close.

Peters: So why are you coming here?

Guy: It's fun to see what I have to work harder to get.

Peters: So you would come around this place just because...

Guy: To see how the other half lives.

Peters: And how you never will.

Guy: Exactly.

Peters: Why you here? Why did you come to this?

Man: We're looking to buy a house.

Peters: But are you really?

Woman: We're really serious.

Wow, how unusual: real buyers. The house was massive, with a certain LAX Terminal 3 quality to it: high ceilings, great prairies of marble flooring. It even had this weird hose thing that vacuums the house for you, sucking up dust and dander and possibly -- if you don't hold onto something -- you.

Goodman: Welcome! What a cute dog. You wanna keep that kinda dog away from the central vacuum system.

Peters: Oh yeah, we've got a central vacuum system which will actually suck the dog up and deposit it in the garage.

Customer: Oh good, then we'll...

Peters: Keep the dog on a leash at all times! What are we thinking?

Goodman: No potential buyers.

Peters: Really?

Goodman: No.

Peters: Why not?

Goodman: He didn't brush his hair this morning.

Peters: The fact that he didn't brush his hair means he doesn't want the house? There's no logic to your argument.

Goodman: Yeah, I know.

Peters: Now what about this couple?

Goodman: It might be his daughter, or it might be the second trophy wife.

Peters: Or maybe they're seriously buying the house.

Goodman: Yeah, he wants to impress her. Bigger is better.

Peters: Here they come.

Goodman: Welcome! They have this certain look about them.

Peters: He smelled nice.

Goodman: He looked good. Her hair looked expensive, and...

Peters: They could actually feel your drool down their back as they walked by.

Goodman: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm going "Ka-ching, ka-ching." I hope they can afford it.

Yeah, right, well, they couldn't. After all, it's not your dream house, is it, if you actually have the money?

Peters: So why are you not buying it?

Woman: 'Cause I can't afford it?

Peters: So, why even come around?

Woman: Because you wanna know what's in the neighborhood!

Peters: But do you not feel a total phony when you come in here, looking like you're gonna buy the place?

Woman: Nope, absolutely not. Everybody does it.

Peters: You have no shame.

Woman: None whatsoever.

And no, neither do I.

So here's what we've learned: First of all, look around for pleasure. Don't dress up. Don't ask needless questions. And don't think you're fooling the agents, because seriously, you're not.

In Encino, Calif., I'm Cash Peters for Marketplace Money.

Goodman: Thank you for coming.

Peters: You're welcome.

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