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Daring buyers make blind bids

Submit an offer on a home sight unseen? It's one way to get a jump on the competition.

June 13, 2004|Diane Wedner | Times Staff Writer

Like a spy on reconnaissance, Amy Sanchez silently cruised a South Pasadena neighborhood often over the course of a year, eyes alert to for-sale signs on the street she wanted to call home.

On a cloudy morning four weeks ago, the 30-year-old social worker and mother of two finally spotted a modest three-bedroom house for sale, the home that would become the object of her affection, if not obsession.

Sanchez smacked into a problem right away: She and her husband, Rafael, a teacher, couldn't get inside for a look because the house was undergoing a remodel and was closed to prospective buyers, they were told. Furthermore, they weren't the only ones eager to make an offer -- two other bids were on the table for the 1,651-square-foot house whose bedrooms, new kitchen and freshly tiled bath had yet to be seen.

In a Southern California real estate market that is more competitive by the day, and sometimes hour, some daring buyers have begun to make offers on homes sight unseen. As they head toward the peak purchase season in a region well stocked with buyers but severely lacking in moderately priced homes, frantic families are willing to buy on the fly after repeatedly losing in multi-bid situations.

"Buyers who have played this game are taking it up a notch," said James Joseph, owner of Century 21 Grisham-Joseph in Whittier. "The usual weapons aren't enough."

Amy and Rafael Sanchez pulled out the big guns. After inquiring about the South Pasadena property they wanted so badly, they put up their condo for sale, stretched their pennies to make a full-price offer of $525,000 for the new home and visited the next-door neighbor's house -- similar in design -- to get an idea of the floor plan.

Heeding their agent's advice, they also wrote a letter to the seller of the house, which has a pool and avocado, orange, pomegranate and loquat trees in the backyard. They expressed their love of the neighborhood, their involvement in Little League, their desire to raise their children in the home. They expect to find out soon whether they're the lucky buyers.

Patricia Kelly, the Huntington Park Century 21 Powerhouse agent who represents the seller, said that she received 100 calls about the sale and that 1,500 fliers were snatched up immediately by buyers interested in the house, which is priced competitively with others in the area.

The median price for a home in South Pasadena jumped from $532,000 in the first quarter of 2003 to $674,000 in the first quarter of this year, according to DataQuick Information Systems, creating a sense of urgency among buyers interested in that neighborhood, Kelly said.

"People living in places like San Bernardino and Lancaster are selling their homes, then renting an apartment or living in hotels, and want to find homes back here," Kelly said. "When they find a home, they aggressively go after it." Whether they've seen it or not.

Agents usually discourage buyers from signing contracts for homes they have not inspected, but sometimes both parties give in to that scenario when, for example, uncooperative tenants won't allow potential buyers to see a home, or agents' clients live out of town.

Shorewood Realtors agent Shirley DePasse navigated business executive Ed Sawyer, 45, through just such a blind sale beginning in April, when the Florida resident accepted a job promotion in Santa Monica. He had only two days to find a home before heading back to Jacksonville to prepare for a June move.

DePasse took Sawyer to North Hills in the more affordable San Fernando Valley, where he wanted to bid on a house the agent felt sure Sawyer's wife, Lina, would dislike. But Sawyer, feeling desperate, insisted, so the agent wrote up an offer. The appraisal came in lower than the seller's asking price, so Sawyer passed, to his agent's relief.

That feeling was short-lived, however, as DePasse scurried to find a home she knew her clients would not see before purchasing.

She quickly found two homes for sale, both of which the Sawyers bid on sight unseen, when DePasse, at the 11th hour, saw a brand-new listing for a four-bedroom townhome in Canyon Country, with all the amenities the Sawyers hoped for: high ceilings, manicured backyard and kitchen appliances thrown in.

DePasse pounced. The sellers agreed to a two-week escrow and the Sawyers were in business.

With the help of technology -- photos of the home were sent via e-mail and contracts were faxed -- the Sawyers got the townhome for $430,000, a price that would have been far higher had other buyers tendered competing offers that Memorial Day weekend, DePasse said. The Sawyers will see it for the first time when they arrive at the end of the month, with the moving van, their cat and high hopes.

"I'm not really nervous," Sawyer said. "I'm just relieved to have a house."

Real estate agents, typically reluctant participants in sight-unseen sales, occasionally give in themselves to the urge to buy without a look-see.

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