I Brake For Real Estate

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An essay on the Canadian pastime of braking for real estate.

Submitted: June 15, 2017

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Submitted: June 15, 2017



I Brake For Real Estate

CBC Business recently claimed that with the introduction of electric cars and a greater demand for ride sharing, car dealerships might be obsolete in a decade.  I won't delve into the issue of autonomous cars, which frighten me.  Won't they be controlled by just another computer waiting to be hacked?  And can you imagine being stuck in the back seat of a vehicle while some basement programmer takes you for a joy ride?  It's a plot that will be in an action movie soon enough and I can already see Garfield's paws on the rear window replaced by the trembling fingers of some famous actor.  The thought of being ushered from point A to Z with us just going along for the ride is a scary thing.  Who knows where we'll end up.  

With artificial intelligence, our minds and lives are being placed in the hands of "intelligence agents" that duplicate our intellectual functions. It almost seems that freedom of choice will one day be taken away from us.  As such I was comforted to read "How Canada has completely lost its mind over real estate" by Joe Castaldo in Maclean's, which shows us to be a country obsessed with real estate.  Having dabbled in the industry for over twenty years, I can relate.  I brake for real estate and with Canada's out-of-control housing market, this could easily be our official bumper sticker.  Which means I'm pleased to say that autonomous vehicles have no place here.  We just need better brakes so we can stop quicker in front of those glossy lawn signs that crop up in our neighbourhoods every so often.  

Castaldo writes that Canadians are obsessed with getting rich on real estate.  This makes it easy to understand why braking for real estate has become a national pastime.  For my part, if I see a nice house for sale, within minutes I'm on my mobile phone researching the listing and viewing the photos.  Granted it would be better if I wasn't behind the wheel of a car when I did it, but that's a small price to pay for the privilege of knowing I can pull over in the first place.  I would hate to be at the mercy of an autonomous vehicle that doesn't share my real estate sensibilities, spinning me past my next great house in its quest to get me to the mall.  If that were ever to happen, I tell you Garfield on the window would have nothing on me.

But why are we so obsessed with real estate?  The answer is simple.  A home is still the biggest purchase we'll ever make and we want to know how our house compares to the other ones around it.  Call it pride of ownership, keeping an eye on the market, spying on the neighbours.  Whatever it is, the internet has made it easy for everyone to be a real estate expert.  

Because of this, realtors are a dying breed.  Why hire one when MLS is accessible to everyone?  In Canada, realtor.ca is a wonderful site that does all your real estate thinking for you.  Click on any listing and not only will you find the price, address, and photos of a home, but you'll also get detailed demographics for the area, including average household income, age, and education levels.  Look at the photos close enough and you might even see the brand of jam the homeowner spreads on their toast.  This isn't a bad thing - it makes it easy for you to sort through a multitude of listings and narrow down your search to a few choices.  Artificial intelligence would call this "Smart Searching", with new software and sites being able to calculate the return on your real estate investment.  Why wouldn't Canadians want to invest in real estate when artificial intelligence makes it so easy for us?  The promise of untold riches for little work is tempting.  And woe to the realtor who's supposed to be the all-knowing guide on your real estate journey when AI has made it possible for you to chart your own course.

Or has it?  Smart Searching is handy and the internet is my go-to tool when I'm looking at houses.  Obviously I want to know the average cost-per-square-foot for homes in different neighbourhoods, as well as how long it will take for a place to sell and the median sale price.  But that's where artificial intelligence and I part ways.  AI might steer me to what it "thinks" to be a great listing, but I'm not signing anything until I've walked through the door and checked the lay of the land.  Someone who curls would liken it to reading a sheet of ice.  All the calculations in the world won't tell you what an experienced eye can see.  Sure, a smart search will draw attention to the south backyard and the nearby school, but it won't say anything about the chipped bathroom tile, the carpet underlay that needs replacing, or the bedroom window that doesn't lock properly.  And it certainly won't mention the lingering smell of takeout that eliminates the appeal of those 10' ceilings on the main floor.

It doesn't matter if we're buying a property for investment purposes or not.  Before we finalize any deal we tour a house or walk a parcel of land once, maybe a few times.  We don't actually feel the dirt between our toes but you get my idea.  Humans buy what they like and even if the numbers are right, it's old fashioned horse sense that indicates if a place is right for us.  We're either drawn to a property or we're not, and thank goodness artificial intelligence hasn't mimicked gut instinct just yet.  Maybe the day will come when it does, but for now my hands will remain on the steering wheel.  Signage is responsible for about 12% of all real estate transactions, and like every Canadian I'll continue to brake for real estate based on that first rush of curb appeal.  No doubt I'll conduct a speedy "smart search" on my phone as I'm parked on the side of the road, but ultimately it's that certain something which will draw me into a place.  It's a feeling that will bring me in, not a calculation.  Some might say this is a backwards step that makes for lousy business, but at least it's a human one that will keep me in the driver's seat. 

© Copyright 2018 Jackie Buell. All rights reserved.

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