There is a veritable geyser of data tracking housing today. From existing-home sales, to house prices, to new-home permits, to starts—housing metrics abound.
Come Saturday Morning
Saturday dawned like most Saturdays do at my house — slowly. No one is in a hurry to get out the door. There are no school buses to catch or expressways to navigate.
|Heather McCune, Editor in Chief
Saturday dawned like most Saturdays do at my house — slowly. No one is in a hurry to get out the door. There are no school buses to catch or expressways to navigate. We linger longer in our pj’s, reading the paper, drinking cup after cup of coffee, and blaring the stereo so we can actually hear our music over the kids’ cartoons a floor away.
The phone interrupted my Saturday morning nothingness. On the other end of the line was a friend with the only words that could erase my irritation at the interruption. “I’m moving back,” she said. After much whooping and rejoicing on both ends of the line, the real work of the morning began.
“Where should I live?” she asked. After running through all the options — city or suburbs, rent or own, attached or detached, etc., together we created her housing spec. The dream: a new home in the suburbs, preferably detached (though attached wasn’t ruled out as an option), 1,800 to 2,000 square feet, and priced in the mid-200s. You didn’t really think I’d let her consider — forget buy — a used house, did you?
Armed with this generic outline, I combed through the New Homes section of the Chicago Tribune while she searched the Internet for the same information from 750 miles away. After her 20 years away from the Chicago area, the territory each of us knew as kids as “the suburbs” had expanded to include much more geography, so location became our first filter. That decision eliminated a lot of the Saturday real estate ads for me and Web sites for her.
“Listen to this,” I told her. “Embark on the life you’ve always dreamed about.” She laughed. “Stay with me,” I urged. “Voted best community of the year. More than 800 homes sold in less than 2.5 years. $3.8 million sports core and clubhouse. Thirteen fully decorated models. Award-winning school district. Choose from four collections of homes.”
“What else does it say?” she asked, her interest piqued.
“Lots of stuff about families, parents and children,” I answered.
“So I’ll be the only single homeowner all the neighbors view as a stalker, after either their husbands or their kids? I don’t think so. Keep going.”
OK, I figured, the ball is in her court now. It was her turn to put forth a prospect so I could swing at it. “Tell me what you’ve found,” I asked. Her comeback: “Lots of houses I can afford in areas where I want to live, but not a whole lot of places that look like they want to sell homes to buyers like me.”
Her answer stopped me cold. Here was an intelligent woman of serious economic means who has bought and sold more houses during the past two decades than I’ve ever lived in, yet now she can’t find even one community she would be comfortable calling home? Not possible, I kept thinking.
“Let’s knock this off for now,” I suggested, as both of us grew more frustrated, each with the other. “Forget what the ads say or the Web sites show. Next weekend when you’re in town, we’ll go see for ourselves.”
So we set out on another Saturday morning. With the perspective afforded by a few days, we went first to the community whose advertisement had started us down the previous weekend’s slippery slope. It was as promised — a community of wonderful homes and amenities built to serve families.
We kept going and struck the jackpot at our second stop. There, at a community whose Saturday ad I hadn’t even bothered to retell, a salesperson greeted us in the model complex, and instead of talking about her offering, she got the conversation going with questions that forced my friend to articulate not only what she wanted to buy but also what she was afraid of getting. With the information uncovered in 10 minutes of talk, the salesperson highlighted the community, named specific buyers and detailed the product, all the while drawing a picture that helped my friend buy a home and not just a house. That difference is dramatic.