It takes a certain level of obsession to be considered a realestalker: a prospective homebuyer who goes beyond the occasional open house, pining after prime property for years until it comes on the market. Even in a recession, some families have jumped on opportunities to buy their house-in-waiting — no matter the cost.
Shelley Saunders and Andrew Benjamin fell in love two years ago — with someone else’s house.
At first the relationship was simply one of admiration for the Laurelhurst home, which emphasized metal and industrial lighting, so different from their own art-deco- style house 10 blocks away. But one thing led to another, and admiration became a desire to possess.
“We’ve become — maybe me a little more than my husband — a little fixated on this house,” Saunders confessed.
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They aren’t alone. Local real-estate agents say a class of would-be homebuyers exist who go beyond spending their weekends visiting open houses. There’s even a term for them: realestalkers.
Saunders and Benjamin bid for the other house when it came on the market in 2007. The offer was 30 minutes too late. But they never gave up hoping that someday it might be theirs.
“True realestalkers are people who are truly motivated buyers,” said Windermere real-estate agent Kay Rigley, “and they will put their money where their mouth is.”
That parked car looks suspicious
Don’t worry — realestalking is not the same thing as actual stalking. Real stalkers target people; realestalkers only lust after property, often from afar.
There are some similarities, however. Case in point: Rigley once represented buyers so infatuated with a Ballard home that they parked their car near it often enough to attract the owners’ attention — and alarm.
“I was telling them, ‘My buyers have been hovering around the house quite a bit,’ ” Rigley recalled, “and they said, ‘We were getting really worried because there was a silver Honda Accord across the street and we were wondering whether someone was getting ready to rob us.’ “
Some carry a torch for years while waiting for a particular house to go on the market. In the meantime, like the couple with the silver Honda, they keep tabs by finding excuses to see the property.
In 1997, Tom and Terri Turnure became enamored with a “turnkey-perfect” home for sale in the Windermere neighborhood in Northeast Seattle. But the 4,500-square-foot colonial, which Terri described as “Father of the Bride-ish,” was being courted by other suitors, and wound up selling for more than $300,000 over the asking price.
Terri Turnure found it hard to let go. “We carpooled with someone in the neighborhood, and I’d make sure to drive by on the way. … “
The Turnures waited 11 years to move into their dream home, which went back on the market in May 2008. By then, the house and the economy had fallen into disrepair, but the Turnures didn’t care. They purchased it, then did an extensive overhaul on the house before moving in.
“Being that I saw what it could look like, I wasn’t scared,” Terri Turnure said. She has no regrets. The couple appreciate it even more, she adds, because of what they had to go through to get it.
‘The right one’
What leads people to such levels of adoration? The subject is explained in Marjorie Garber’s book “Sex and Real Estate,” which asserts that “anyone who doubts the possibility of falling in love with a house — with all that implies of fast-beating heart, sweaty palms and waiting for the phone to ring — just hasn’t met the right one yet.”
Realestalkers work in various ways. Matt Goyer, editor of local condo blog Urbnlivn.com, uses the Internet to keep tabs on certain properties.
“There are people who are stalking condos online by reading blogs,” he said. “It’s a little harder to do that for houses because nobody’s writing about houses. If I had more time in the day, I would do that.”
Goyer, who works for Redfin.com, is tracking a unit at 1310 E. Union on Capitol Hill. He uses his company’s free listing alerts — a daily e-mail with addresses that have just gone on the market — to keep up on what’s available.
Other stalkers can be shy about actually approaching owners with offers. Ardell DellaLoggia, an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Bain, said unique, well-crafted homes in historic areas often attract realestalkers. Most of her encounters with such buyers came when she worked in Newtown Borough, Pa., a town allegedly founded by William Penn in the 1680s.
“The town was chock full of historic and unique homes of varying styles, shapes and sizes. It was not uncommon for people to schedule their daily walks past their favorite houses and dream of some day owning ‘the big yellow house’ or ‘the Grand Home near the Buck Hotel,’ ” DellaLoggia wrote on raincityguide.com, a Seattle real-estate blog.
“People would come to my office wondering if any of their favorite homes, of which there were many, might be coming up for sale. Being a rather bold person myself, I would say, ‘Well, why don’t we take a walk around town and you can point to all of the homes you like, and I’ll write down the addresses. Then we’ll just knock on the door and ask the people if they are thinking about moving. Or you can write them a letter complimenting their home and ask them to please let you know if they are ever thinking about selling.’
“It always surprised me when they didn’t want to do that.”
Not everyone is deterred if their dream home isn’t on the market, and some buyers will pursue their obsession for years.
When Saunders and Benjamin originally bid for their Laurelhurst dream home in 2007, the offer was rejected by a seller who wanted to avoid a bidding war, having been involved in an unpleasant one when buying the house. “We were crushed,” Saunders said. “Our hearts were set on it.”
They tried to move on. After their son left for college, Saunders and Benjamin hired Windermere agent Maggie Weissman to help them downsize. They began seeing other places, and even had a brief flirtation with a houseboat. But whenever they saw another property, they would look at each other and say, “It’s not the one on 47th,” the one that got away, Saunders said.
Finally, she asked Weissman to draft a letter to the home’s owners with an offer to buy it.
“I think she said yes because she thought it would give us some closure,” Saunders said.
The new owners, who were about to go on abroad on a trip, said they would consider it. Four days later, they wrote from Ireland, accepting the $840,000 for the home, according to county records.
“We haven’t regretted it,” Saunders said. “It was a great move for us, even though it was a terrible time to be putting our house on the market.”
Blythe Lawrence: firstname.lastname@example.org.