home shopping tips from a non-expert

I spent the greater part of Saturday looking at nine homes in the greater Grand Rapids area, and my offer on one of them was accepted the next day. So congratulate me, friends–I’m now in some stage of owning two different homes. Fortunately, I’m not paying mortgage on both! (The closing date for both the one I’m selling and the one I’m buying is October 31–happy Halloween to me.) This has been my second time shopping for a home, so from my limited experience, I would like to offer you some simple tips.

  1. Speak your reactions aloud. Even if it’s something really obvious (“And here’s another closet”), process your observations verbally and externally. This will not only reinforce your memory–which will become important when the houses you’ve seen all start running together in your mind–but it will also help your realtor know what sorts of things you like and dislike, as well as what sorts of things you might not be noticing at all. Which brings me to my next tip…
  2. Know your areas of in-expertise, and let your realtor know. Right from the start on Saturday, I told my realtor, “I’m not good at noticing things like the age of the wiring and the furnace, so I’d appreciate it if you could point those things out to me.” Your realtor is not the stereotypical crooked used car salesman, so admitting your lack of knowledge is not setting you up to be swindled. Your realtor wants to help you find a safe, quality house and be satisfied, so even if he/she is the listing agent of the house you’re looking at (which doesn’t happen that often in my experience–maybe it would in a less-populated area), he/she is acting in your best interest.
  3. Accept that you won’t get everything on your list. I stole this one from my realtor. He said, “You’re going to have a list of about ten things you want in a house, and you’re going to get about six or seven of them.” That made-up (but pretty accurate) statistic sounds like a bummer, but as you look around, you’ll start to realize which of those items are the most important to you. And you may be able to compensate for some items: The house I’m buying doesn’t have a garage, which–because of the lake effect snow I’ve been warned of–was a pretty important item for me. But because of the low price of the house and the nice-sized driveway, I have the money and space to get a carport installed. (I could probably put an actual garage in someday too, but that’s more space for me to fill up with stuff. #hoarder)
  4. Take your time, and get a second opinion. I’m not only a hoarder; I’m a rusher. In life in general, it’s hard for me to slow down and really pay attention. I think a lot of people are like this today, so this is one reason why it’s good to have a realtor to help you notice things you might have otherwise skimmed over. If you’re buying a house alone, I also recommend taking someone along with you–I’ve brought my parents along with me while home shopping. Just make sure you don’t end up with a Say Yes to the Dress scenario. That show used to stress me out because these brides would bring huge crowds of family and friends to their dress fitting sessions, and then they’d have huge crowds of opinions to deal with. And it always seemed like there was at least one naysayer, impossible to satisfy, and at least one person who wanted to control everything. Often the sessions would end in yelling or crying. So, for your sanity, when you go home shopping (or wedding dress shopping, I guess), bring only one or two people whose opinions you trust but who won’t be offended if you disagree and who will let you make the final decision.
  5. Have fun! This goes along with the previous tip: It’s hard to have fun if you’re in a rush. On Saturday, I succeeded pretty well in making myself slow down and have a nice time exploring the homes and the area. It helped that it was a beautiful day–a quintessential First Day of Autumn. But regardless of the weather, take the pressure to find the perfect home off of yourself and enjoy the opportunity to snoop into houses you’d never get to see otherwise. Go ahead, open all the little doors and find out what they lead to. (I do this compulsively–I’m kind of like a child in this regard. This is especially fun in old houses, where you might find an old milk-bottle delivery slot, or at least a laundry chute.) Make jokes about what they’re hiding behind the doors, especially if you’re in a creepy basement. Make up stories about the people who live or have lived in the house. And if you happen to visit a home that’s having an open house, make sure you get some coffee and donuts!

my life as a middle manager

I’ve been thinking recently about my job.  As the director of a writing and language center, I’m basically a middle manager, a term I’m defining to mean a person who works regularly with both direct reports and direct superiors, and who spends a lot of time trying to keep both parties happy.  I never thought I’d have this kind of job.  I was an English major who had a fairly narrow conception of what English majors eventually grow up to do (I guess I thought I was going to read novels and drink tea all day), so there are actually quite a few things in my job that I never thought would be a part of my life, such as Excel spreadsheets and HR paperwork.  But this business of having to mediate between real people–that was the biggest surprise.  I do think my English education helped prepare me for this work, though that’s a topic for another post.  It just wasn’t on my future career landscape when I was in college.

Middle managers get a bad rap in pop culture (they are usually portrayed as frustrated middle-aged men wearing bad ties) and in the popular literature on business (doesn’t everybody want to “cut out the middleman”?).  I don’t think these portrayals are fair.  I prefer to conceive of my job, and others like it, as a form of interpretation or translation.  People are speaking two different languages (e.g., the language of academia and the language of management), and it’s my job to help them understand each other.  Perhaps an even more accurate analogy is that of a negotiator.  Last week, I found myself dashing back and forth between two different people’s offices as I tried to broker a deal regarding the division of a newly constructed space between two departments.  At one point I laughingly used the real estate term “counteroffer.”  And I realized that, career-wise, I might have more in common with the ReMax agent who helped me buy my house last summer than with many of the other faculty members at my university.  But why stop with the real estate analogy?  Diplomats need this same set of skills.  I don’t think it’s delusional to say that I’m in a similar career category to the people who try to make sure major world powers don’t destroy each other.

Let me share one lesson that being a middle manager has taught me.  I am naturally a pessimistic person.  I’ve always been a worrier.  But I’ve been learning lately that we can change these traits that we think are innate.  (For example, I think teaching has helped me become more extroverted.)  And I think that having to mediate between two parties has helped me become more optimistic.  If I’m going to convince other people that a particular arrangement can work–even if it’s not what they originally envisioned–then I have to believe that it can work.  Because if I don’t believe it, they’re going to see right away that I’m just trying to sell a defective product.  So I’ve learned to look for solutions instead of problems.  Don’t get me wrong; we need people who see potential problems.  That’s an important job.  But it’s not my job.  It’s my job to show you that we can all get along–because I’m a middle manager.