I wanted to go house-hunting, so I called my old friend, Rhonda the Realtor.
“I want to look at houses,” I told her.
“Are you serious about buying?” she asked. “Because the last time you called, you had no intention of buying. The only reason you wanted to look at homes was because you had spent an entire weekend watching House Hunters on iTunes.”
I didn’t say anything.
Rhonda sighed. “You’ve been watching House Hunters again, haven’t you?”
“Not necessarily,” I said. “I’m seriously in the market for a home this time.”
“Buying a house isn’t as easy as they make it look on TV,” Rhonda said. “It’s not just touring houses and sneering at outdated fixtures. You have to get pre-approved, and then there’s the home inspection, renovations, unexpected problems. They don’t show those parts on TV.”
“Sometimes they show the renovations,” I said. “In fact, there’s a spinoff called House Hunters Renovation where they find a house and renovate it in forty-five minutes. It’s fantastic!”
“Isn’t there another Realtor you can call?” Rhonda asked. “Or am I the only one you know?”
“Only when they renovate it, they always use subway tile and barn doors,” I said. “It’s always the same design on each episode. When you’re picking out houses for me to tour, keep in mind that I don’t want any fixer-uppers. I want to look at three move-in-ready homes and then pick the best one — just like they do on TV.”
Rhonda’s anguished sigh lasted a full thirty seconds.
“If I choose a house, then maybe we both can be featured on House Hunters,” I suggested, to cheer her up. “We could watch ourselves on TV!”
Later that day, I met Rhonda at a model home in a newer neighborhood.
“What do you think?” she asked. “It’s a brand-new development.”
“It’s kind of noisy with all the tractors and equipment barreling around,” I said.
“Keep in mind that there’s going to be some ongoing construction because they’re still building,” Rhonda said. “Don’t whine because the brand-new neighborhood you wanted is still being built.”
“I didn’t think I was whining,” I said. “I thought I was just commenting on the construction noise?”
“Sorry,” Rhonda said, “but from my perspective, it all sounds like whining. It’s one of the pitfalls of the profession. ‘Buyers are whiners.’ It’s a phrase we use in the industry.”
She led me up the driveway. “What are your first impressions of the house?”
“It’s not bad,” I said. “And I love the low-maintenance landscaping. That caught my eye the moment I pulled up.”
“One thing to keep in mind is that this is the base model,” Rhonda said. “So the landscaping would be considered an upgrade.”
“When you say ‘upgrade,’ I’m thinking additional dollar signs,” I said.
“About 20,000 of them, yes.”
“On second thought, maybe I could just run a rake through the dirt,” I said.
We walked into the grand foyer, which opened up to a large living space with a stone fireplace.
“Love the fireplace,” I said. “It’s clearly the focal point. It drew my attention right away.”
“That’s also an upgrade. You’re looking at several thousand for the installation and the finish work.”
I shrugged. “But then again, fireplaces tend to get smoky, and the soot gets everywhere.”
“What do you think of the hardwood floors?” Rhonda asked. “They extend into the kitchen and formal dining room.”
“Are they also an upgrade?”
“They are, yes. The base model comes with a thin, nondurable carpet.”
“Oh.” I bit my lip. “Well, hardwood floors are overrated, anyway.”
Rhonda led me into the kitchen. “Here you have quartz countertops, a farmhouse sink, stainless-steel appliances and recessed lighting.”
“Do any of these come with the base model?”
“Not a one, no. Each is an upgrade.”
“What am I looking at price-wise if I opt for the upgrades?” I asked.
“Oh,” Rhonda said, shrugging, “I’d say $20,000, easy. Maybe more.”
“Now are you quoting me that estimate based on your expertise as a real-estate professional, or are you just pulling it out of thin air?”
“Same difference,” Rhonda said. “That’s how real-estate professionals come up with their figures.”
“I see,” I said, following Rhonda out of the kitchen and back into the living room.
She led me toward the staircase. “Now up on the second floor, we have a nice loft with built-in bookshelves and a desk.”
I clucked my tongue. “I’m going to go on a limb here and assume the loft is an upgrade?”
“Not just the loft, but the built-ins as well.” Rhonda walked down the hall. “And here is the master. The attached bath comes with a jetted soaking tub, a shower with 20 heads, tile floors and a vanity with dual sinks.”
I sighed. “And all of those are upgrades, I’m assuming?”
“Hey, you’re catching on!” Rhonda said, grinning. “Maybe you should take some real-estate courses and get your license.”
“I would, but I imagine I’m going to have my hands full paying for all of these upgrades.” I followed Rhonda downstairs and into the backyard.
“Here you have your finished fence, heated swimming pool, and paver-tone patio,” Rhonda said, pointing.
“Upgrade, upgrade and upgrade?” I asked, my eyes narrowed.
“Correct, correct, and correct,” Rhonda said. “And over there is your built-in brick barbecue, and on the side of the house is a concrete driveway for RV parking.”
I glared at her. “Neither comes with the base model, do they?”
“Nope. Neither one.”
Ronda locked up the house, and we met in the driveway next to our cars.
“So,” Rhonda said, “give me your thoughts. Is this a contender?”
“It’s the base model only,” I said.
“And it essentially comes with nothing we saw inside.”
“In fact, everything nice we saw is an upgrade.”
“And remember,” Rhonda said, “the more upgrades you choose, the higher the final price tag.”
“I appreciate the insight. Your professional guidance is proving invaluable.”
“So what do you think?” Rhonda asked.
I shrugged. “Well, I’m just thinking. Let’s say I didn’t want any of the upgrades. No fireplace, no hardwood floors — just the most basic of base models. What would the house look like? I mean, living-wise? Would it be comparable?”
“Essentially, it would be four walls and a roof,” Rhonda said.
“So nothing nice or aesthetically appealing?”
“Nothing at all, no. At your desired price point, you’re lucky to have a flushing toilet.”
“Would I at least get light fixtures for the hallways and bedrooms?”
“No — even those are upgrades. I think for you, it would be bare lightbulbs screwed into the ceiling.”
“Oh.” I looked at the ground, biting my lip.
“So,” Rhonda said, “is the home-buying process as exciting as they portray it on TV?”
“Not really,” I said. “It’s kind of disappointing so far. All the features I want are out of my price range. As a professional, how would you deal with something like this?”
“Well,” Rhonda said, “the first thing I intend to do is to find myself a richer client — one who can actually afford to buy a house. And then I’ll refer you to someone else.”
“So you’re saying you don’t want me for a client?” I asked.
“Well, no offense,” Rhonda said, “but in your case, I’m going to opt for an upgrade.”