The Preview Snafu
The Preview Snafu
Years ago, when I was a newbie, I worked in Madison, Wis. Whenever I had down time, I would fill up my day by scheduling previews at vacant listings. I figured this was a good use of time for several reasons. First, I got to see what was out there on the market. This came in handy when I was at a party or social event, and people asked me about real estate. I could say, “I was just in this amazing mid-century modern the other day right in your neighborhood.”
Also, when I first got my license I was clueless and had only lived in Wisconsin for a few months. I found previewing a great way to learn the neighborhoods of Madison and familiarize myself with what buyers could get for their money.
Next, it was a good way to get insight into the status of the sellers. If the property was vacant, that meant the owners had already moved and were probably pretty motivated to sell. It could also suggest the house had been sitting on the market for a while, and the sellers could have been frustrated with their current agent. If they stopped by to check on their property and saw my business card there, who knows? They might call me when they got fed up & desperate.
Finally, it was around this time that I started working closely with investors, so I was trying to train my eye to look for houses that could easily be renovated and restored to their former glory. In other words, this is about the time in my career that things started to get really interesting…
One frigid Wisconsin winter, some friends of mine were being relocated to Indianapolis and they enlisted me to sell their home. I knew their neighborhood pretty well but it had been a while since I had someone looking there specifically, so I thought I should preview some neighboring homes to get a feel for current market conditions. Fortunately, it just so happened that the house two doors down was recently listed. The house had been built by the same builder in the late 1960s and appeared that it would have a similar layout. I decided to pop in one morning on my way into the office.
I had pulled up a bunch of listings on the MLS the day before, and the showing instructions for the house on my friends’ street indicated it was OK to show upon leaving the listing agent a message. I called and left a message on her voicemail indicating I’d be by around 10 a.m. the next day. Considering these instructions, I assumed the house was either vacant or the owners would be at work. Looking back, assuming that was where I made my first mistake.
I arrived at the home on a brutally cold Wisconsin morning. I got the key out of the lockbox and fumbled with it a bit, but when I put the key in became clear the door was unlocked. I knocked very loudly, rang the doorbell, and yelled “Hello,” to no response. I had adopted the knock & yell policy about six months prior after a tenant in a building I was showing didn’t hear me knock and freaked out when my clients and I walked in on his family dinner. OK, lesson learned.
Anyway, the entrance was at the foot of the stairs with the kitchen down the hall, a den to the left, and the living and dining area to the right. I could tell by the random keys on the entry table and coats on the hooks by the door that people were still living in the house. Also, it felt too warm in there to be unoccupied.
I decided to check out the main floor first. I walked through the living and dining rooms, noting the green shag carpeting and wood-paneled walls. I was feeling really good about how my friends’ place would stack up, considering they were going to be in the same price range and their house was totally updated. In the kitchen, I noticed the coffee pot was still on and there was a plate on the counter with toast crust and orange rind. It struck me as a little weird but I really didn’t think too much of it at the time, figuring the seller must have been behind schedule and left in a hurry. I mean, once you start showing a lot of houses you see so many weird things and so many home owners who just don’t care enough to pick up for a showing.
There was a basement off the kitchen, but even back then I rarely went into basements when I was previewing properties alone. I decided to do a quick run-through of the upstairs before heading out to look at some other homes in the neighborhood.
I headed down the hall and up the stairs. When I got close to the top the stairs I started to smell a fresh shower scent — you know, that clean humid air that’s in the hall outside your bathroom right after you shower. I will say the wheels started turning and I started to wonder if maybe someone was home. I paused to listen for someone moving around upstairs and said a meek, “hello.” Again silence. This further confirmed my suspicions that I’d just missed the seller and that they’d been in a rush to vacate for the showing. I forged on up the last few steps.
When I reached the landing and turned to head down the hall I simultaneously noticed the bathroom door was slightly ajar and the shower was running. What I smelled a few seconds prior wasn’t a “just showered” smell — it was a mid-shower smell! I couldn’t believe it! The owner was there, in the shower, and I was standing right outside a partially opened bathroom door! I guess they didn’t get the message about my showing. I was bundled up like the kid in “A Christmas Story” and I started to sweat with panic. I thought to myself, “Holy crap! What do I do? There’s a stranger showering a few feet from me, and at any moment they could hear me and freak out. I’ve got to get out of here!”
I remember envisioning the owner hearing me, rushing out of the shower, and chasing me down screaming while partially clad in an old tattered towel. I don’t know if it was Mr. or Mrs. Seller, but in my imagination not only was it Mr., but he was a giant, middle-age, borderline psycho, gun-toting Wisconsin hunter who would not appreciate exiting his morning shower to find some twenty-something yuppie chick standing in his hall.
Life moved in slow motion as I literally backed down the hall, crept down the steps, and slid out the front door as quietly as I could. Thankfully, I remembered to grab my business card off the entry table while I was shutting the door as silently as possible. Once outside I ran to my car, careful not to slip and fall on the icy walkway. I drove around the corner then parked my car and paused to catch my breath and process what had just happened. I was still in complete shock that I walked in on a home owner showering. It was super creepy to me that I spent several minutes walking all over the house while the owner was upstairs naked and clueless. It’s scary to think that some stranger could be wandering around your house while you’re in the shower and you may not even hear them. So bizarre. Not only was I creeped out, but I felt like such a stupid, oblivious girl. In hindsight, it seemed pretty clear someone may have been home. The keys, the breakfast, the coffee pot, the shower smell. It all started to add up once I was removed from the situation.
Not only did I feel like an idiot but I was seriously worried that I’d made a mistake and had violated the showing instructions. Once I collected myself, I pulled out the MLS sheet to double check. Phew, I wasn’t losing my mind and I hadn’t screwed up; the instructions stated “Call first/Lockbox.” I decided I should call the listing agent again. Once again I got her voicemail. I left her another message saying that I tried to preview it, but it looked like the owner was home so I left. I didn’t think the owner had heard me but I thought it best to let her know I’d tried to go in just in case Mr. Shower heard me leave, looked out his bathroom window, and saw me scurrying down his walk. I also asked the agent to give me a call back; I was dying to talk with her and find out the scoop on this place. Despite my attempts I never heard back from her. I guess that’s a good thing since it means I managed to slip in and out of the house as undetected as a ninja.
A couple weeks later I listed my friend’s house at a comparable price and we sold it in short order. Not long after that, my ex-husband and I moved to Pittsburgh to be closer to friends and family. The shower house was still on the market and still listed for the same price. I’ve never forgotten that experience and often think about what would have happened if I had been a few minutes late for my preview. Or a few minutes early. Yikes! That could have been really bad. Not only would the towel-clad Mr. or Mrs. Seller and I be embarrassed, but I can only imagine the potential repercussions involved on the part of the agents. “Convicted trespasser” is not something I’m looking to add to my list of credentials. Luckily, the only thing that came of it was some laughs with my fellow agents at First Weber Group and a vow that I’ll be sure to make contact with the listing agent despite what the showing instructions say. The last thing I want to do is have a refresher on that “fresh shower” incident.