He wants, she wants

A retired real estate agent pinpoints obstacles couples face and suggests ways to make house-hunting more effective.

hansel gretle house 88 (photo credit: )
hansel gretle house 88
(photo credit: )
'A big kitchen and a balcony." The woman sitting across from me rests her hand on her husband's knee. "That's what I want." He leans back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. "All I want is a garden." Hasn't held a shovel since his kibbutz days," her lowered voice implies a concept that only another woman can grasp. "And who needs ants in the house, right?" "Did I mention a two-car garage?" he asks. "For his mountain bike, a racer, and that three-speed piece of junk he insists on keeping." She sits back and adds, "He's out riding every Saturday morning." "More time for you to cook lunch in that big kitchen," he retorts. "Which we'll eat on the balcony." "No," he says, "in the garden." I glance at the poster hanging on the wall behind them. Garden apartments hug the Carmel. Figures on balconies watch sailboats on a splash of blue sea. A man and a woman flash smiles at the camera. Their shoulders touch, his arm encircles her waist, and Ahuza Estates - our little piece of paradise - crowns their heads in rainbow colors. All that's missing is a pot of gold. "What about location?" I ask. She turns to him. "Don't start carrying on about a moshav again." "At least I could hear birds, not traffic, outside our window." "I'll buy you a canary," she says. "I'm a city person." Then she pulls out the big guns: "And so are the kids." Whether because of job changes, a growing family, an empty nest, windfall or whim, house-hunting thrusts couples into a maze of choices: cities, suburbs, villages and moshavim, complete with cottages, villas, semi-detached, high-rises, low-rises, fixer-uppers and new places with all the trimmings. It's a tough task for couples to zoom in on where and how they want to live. Sharing a bed and a bank account doesn't ensure agreement. "Let's talk budget," I suggest. "That's where we really have a problem," he says, as if it's been smooth going up to this point. "We can do $350,000, but anything more would require a mortgage." He sticks his hand into his pocket as though searching for a wad of bills. "I'm perfectly happy taking $50,000 from the bank, even more, but …." "We've never taken out a mortgage," she says. "Why tie ourselves down now?" "So we can get exactly what we want, without having to compromise. We've worked hard all these years. It's the least we deserve," he says. Buying a home has nothing to do with what people deserve. Nor is it connected to getting exactly what they want, no matter how much money is invested. It's a financial transaction based on supply and demand. However, it's the only purchase people make that costs every shekel they have - and then some. And it has to satisfy the physical, spatial and emotional needs of all family members. "When do you want to make the move?" I ask. "No pressure," he says. "I'd like to find something within the next three months," she says, "so we can renovate over the summer." "Renovate?" he says. "I'm not going to deal with contractors. Bunch of thieves." Potential buyers often head for the windows the first time they see an apartment. They check out light, the view, street noise and surrounding buildings - all the features they can't change. Then they examine the interior. While sellers are busy pointing out improvements they've made, costs incurred for the finest materials, the best architects and contractors, buyers rearrange the house: "We can move the kitchen into the dining area, tear down that wall and make a huge master bedroom, extend the bathroom to the service porch, turn the security room into a walk-in closet...." The fact that different families have different needs is obvious. But what all buyers have in common is the need to make their mark, to infuse their style and taste into a place designed and lived in by other people. The chances of finding a perfect home are minimal. "My afternoons are free," she says. "I'll look at all the places you have to offer and take him," she nods in her husband's direction, "to see the best ones." Disagreement is not a mistake. Appointing either husband or wife as chief house-hunter is. Peeking into other people's homes, picturing yourself at work in a stainless steel or rustic kitchen, walking on polished stone or old tiles, imagining your Persian carpets in a modern penthouse or Warhol prints in a crumbling Bauhaus - all of it's a way of working out how you want your new home to look, where you want your things and how to create space for every family member. It's a three-way conversation, between each spouse and the property, and the spouses with each other. Discussing pros, cons and trade-offs is the process necessary to chip away at differences of opinion. And then there's the "love factor": the morning sun streaming through a kitchen window, the heady whiff of jasmine at the front door, September light dappling a living room wall or a bedroom overlooking the sea. It's that intangible something that evokes buried memories and brings fantasies to the surface. It sends a buyer over the top, despite the parameters, priorities and rational requirements stated at the outset. It's the sense of coming home. And though it may be experienced by only one spouse, it's the one experience that the other can understand. While he and she discuss when they're free, I make notes on the computer, entering five properties. Each has a balcony or garden, one has a two-car garage, another an eat-in kitchen. They're all in quiet areas of Haifa, though I can't guarantee birds. I know they'll buy none of them. Not yet. There's a long haul ahead, but in the end they'll come to the negotiating table together, ready to close a deal on what will be their little piece of paradise. I walk them to the door. "You know," he says, "I didn't want to work with an agent." He reaches out to shake my hand. "But I wanted to," she says.