Eighty houses. In about a year, my wife and I had toured 80 homes — hundreds more if you count online searches.
If you're not an insurance salesman, cat burglar or (like us) first-time home buyers in a wacky Atlanta housing market, you've probably never skulked through so many strangers' living rooms in 12 months.
On a rainy Tuesday in March, we toured Nos. 79 and 80.
We were exhausted.
Elizabeth and I had made our fifth offer on a property (tour No. 78) just days earlier. It was a brown brick Dunwoody, Ga., ranch with a manicured yard and screened-in porch that reminded me of my late grandparents' home. The first day it was on the market, we scoped it out along with at least six other couples.
"Is this your house?" I asked Elizabeth.
"I don't know," she said. "Is it your house?"
Elizabeth envisioned children — those we one day hope to have — building forts in the backyard and chasing geese around a nearby pond.
We knew the house was hot, and we made an audacious bid — $8,000 above the asking price. But we lost. Our real estate agents said it was likely to a hedge fund, private investors scooping up homes.
We were crushed.
Home price forecasts and economic reports show the metro housing market is on a tear. As a business reporter, I've covered the fall and rise of Georgia real estate. But I hadn't really understood how insanely tough finding a home can be.
We'd had two previous houses under contract last year and bailed on them both after the home inspector we hired raised too many red flags for our comfort.
When we set out to buy a home, we thought it would be easy. Foreclosures were everywhere, and buyers could seemingly name their price.
But we've witnessed the housing market rapidly shift from buyer's paradise to seller's rebound. And the dynamics are off-putting.
Supply is at an all-time low, according to real estate data firm SmartNumbers. Much of what is for resale isn't pretty. Basic upkeep is lacking, as many sellers hunkered down in the recession. And where we wanted to live, we couldn't afford to buy a new house.
There's also another dynamic at play: Wall Street.
Big name funds backed by millions of dollars are not only buying foreclosures hawked from county courthouses across the region, they're bidding against traditional buyers for single-family homes they plan to fix up and rent.
We've lost to them at least twice.