You don’t need money just to look . . .

Marketplace Staff May 25, 2007
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You don’t need money just to look . . .

Marketplace Staff May 25, 2007
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TESS VIGELAND: The latest housing numbers came out this week.
New homes flew off the market in April – biggest jump in sales in 14 years.
But here’s one reason why: prices dropped by the largest amount ever.
Not good news for sellers.

But that doesn’t keep folks here in LA. from slapping million-dollar price tags on two-bedroom one-bath ranch houses. And it doesn’t keep people from checking those homes out. Whether they can afford ’em or not. Cash Peters is one of many Americans practicing a new sport-of-sorts called “open housing.”

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, cuz 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. Well, Mrs Buyer didn’t like that.

WOMAN: It’s a big hose that you have to drag around with you. It’s almost better to have a regular vacuum, honest to God.

(GASP)! What? This was news to Marion’s assistant, Fareeba Majoobi.

PETERS: You know what they didn’t like?

FAREEBA MAJOOBI: Me.

PETERS: You were number one on the list. Number two hates the hose in the garage.

MAJOOBI: I find that totally absurd.

GOODMAN: Most likely we will not sell this house at an open house. And that’s why I don’t like having open houses where people actually live. Because people come in and go through drawers.

PETERS: That’s me, that’s me! Well, I don’t take things but I go in, I rummage through cupboards, I’m on their phone, I’m busy busy busy.

GOODMAN: Oh, in an occupied house you won’t be able to do that.

PETERS: This is why I would never come to one of yours. I need to be free to roam.

GOODMAN: But I need to protect my sellers.

Ugh, where’s the fun in that? Don’t be fooled, though, I take open-housing seriously. I’m like the real estate version of a frivolous litigant. Turns out that most other – ahem – buyers, are the same. It’s one big game. Meanwhile, the agents watch them walk in and walk out, and whine about them.

GOODMAN: The look on her face is miserable, it’s hot, they don’t have air conditioning in their car so they wanna cool off . . .

PETERS: So they’re coming in here just for the air conditioning?

GOODMAN: Yeah. 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: Well 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 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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