Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Or Maybe I'm Just Naïve...

After two months looking we thought we'd finally found our house. Location, condition, yard, kitchen, space, character. It was vastly above the original price we'd intended to pay, but it seemed like it was worth it. However, if you want to buy a house in Seattle these days, especially in the price range where everybody else is buying, you have to get into a bidding war. After months of saying that was insanity and saying we weren't going to get involved in it, we decided, "This is our house, this is what it takes to get a house in this market, let's write the offer we think will take to get it." So the night before last, that's what we did.

Then the freak-out happened.

I bought the place we live now about five years ago, so I'm a little used to what happens to you when you sign away a ginormous amount of money for something, but this was different. We started to realize just how far above our original price we were, how much money the escalation clause on our offer left us open to paying, how we would be affected if L.'s teaching job didn't get renewed and she couldn't get another one. We thought: "Holy shit. We can't do this." Long story short, we called our agent the next morning--he wasn't, you know, happy with us, and he countered, why don't we submit the offer, but just take out the escalation clause--we probably won't get the house, but you never know. So we assented, certain that someone else would get this house, and frankly kind of relieved about it.

Yesterday afternoon, our agent called. The sellers thought our offer was really strong and if we would increase it $6000 dollars, we could get the house. Having originally thought the price of the house would get bid up 10% or more, this seemed great to us, and we said yes pretty much immediately. Our agent said great, called back the other agent...except, oh wait, somebody must have misunderstood, they weren't actually going to sell us the house for that price. It turns out what we did instead was trigger somebody else's escalation clause. We'd been played. Or rather, somebody else had been played--that buyer paid, as it turned out, $15,000 more for the house than they should have based on the offers the seller received--the sellers just used us as a pawn to do it.

L. and I are sitting here today have pretty mixed feelings about buying a house now, and after 24 hours of thinking we were just bad people because we didn't have the balls to get into a bidding war over a house, we are today thinking that, well, thank god we didn't have the balls to get into a bidding war over a house, because it seems an awful lot like that agent would have found a way to make us go to the top of our escalation clause. I am not Playa-Hatin' (said the whitest white man in the history of blogging) here. It was, based on the laws of markets and capitalism, absolutely the sellers' agent's job to get the best price she could for that house, both on behalf of her clients and herself. What I am doing is Hatin' on The Game. This is people's life savings, they are (nigh literally) mortgaging their future, and to squeeze more money out of them, as L. said yesterday afternoon, is just mean.

The Game is to get the best deal you possibly can--you want to get as much x for as little y as you can. You want the other guy to pay you as much y for as little x as you can give him. Nowadays, y is pretty much purely symbolic scrip, electronic tallies moving from one person's account to another. So perhaps it's my fault for attaching any value to it at all; an enlightened person would say, if it takes 15,000 more electronic tallies to make the seller happy, they should have them.

I'm not making an ethical judgement here either--maybe the other seller's escalator clause really did say, anybody makes an offer and we'll beat it by x dollars. Technically, we did make that offer. We made it because we thought we were actually buying the house for that money when we weren't, but we did make it. You could argue for hours about business ethics in this or any case, but I'm not arguing that. I'm arguing that it's mean. The Game rewards meanness, rewards you for taking advantage of someone who doesn't have all the information, or writes their business contracts with the incorrect legalese because they didn't have expensive enough lawyers, because they made "bad choices." You can argue all manner of ethics, fault, coulds and shoulds, choices and obligations. You can't argue that it's not mean.

So that's it. Enough. I'm giving my notice: I'm bringing down Capitalism. In the same way that Feudalism fell to the long bow, a small and simple invention is going to bring down the established social structure that governs how we relate to one another. I might know what that innovation is, and I might not. But Capitalism is going down.

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