Wed, 16 Mar 2022

Experience Buying Residential Real Estate Without a Buyer's Agent

In response to

I think buyers without agents are pretty rare. In Portland, a listing agent refused to present my initial offer to the seller, despite a legal obligation to do so, because it wasn't on the customary form created by the local Realtor association. I ended up buying a license for the forms, plus a license for the software to complete the forms. I resubmitted the offer, and the rest of the closing process went smoothly. The seller's agent had to a little extra work that a buyer's agent might typically do, being present for the inspection and appraisal. The sale price was about 9% below the asking price. I don't know if the listing agent reduced his commission, about $13k that was saved by not paying a buyer's agent commission.

I made an offer on another property without a buyer's agent, contingent on me being able to see it, and the listing agent refused to schedule time to show me the property. That one received multiple offers above asking so she didn't feel obliged to deal with an unusual situation, I guess.

The second property I bought without a buyer's agent was in Chicago. The seller was a real estate agent. He was fine using the purchase agreement form created by an Illinois lawywers association, which is publicly available. I believe the Chicago Realtors association has their own forms as well that aren't available to non-Realtors/lawyers. In Chicago, buyers and sellers typically use lawyers in addition to real estate agents, but close through escrow at a title company. I didn't bother hiring a lawyer for this transaction. (The lawyer we used on the purchase of our primary residence was about $800.)

I haven't sold a property without an agent, but if you have time to do showings/open houses, I don't see any reason not to. The buyer will likely have an agent, and the agent will probably expect the customary commission from you. I know someone who came to an agreement with a buyer's agent for a 1% commission.

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Tue, 10 May 2011

Is Misinformed Consent Rape?

Kat at was appalled by a Hornitos Tequila commercial in which it is implied that a man is about sleep with his twin brother's girlfriend while deceiving her into thinking that he is her boyfriend. She wrote the company a letter to express her displeasure.

I wrote up a comment to her post, but her WordPress blog rejected it as spam so I'll post it here:

Thanks for the thought-provoking post.  Like some of the other commenters, I
also didn't initially draw the conclusion that the scenario you describe in
the commercial was rape.  Once you made the connection, intuitively, it makes
sense to call the scenario rape.  Rape is non-consensual sex.  The woman is
consenting to have sex with her boyfriend, not his brother.  Therefore, the
brother having sex with the woman is rape.

But upon further reflection, it's not so clear to me.  The woman is giving
consent, but it is misinformed consent.  Is sex under the context of
misinformed consent always rape?

The are two aspects to the scenario that make the consent questionable:
possible intoxication and misrepresentation of the brother's identity.
Although the line where judgment is impaired through intoxication enough to
make consent non-informed may be fuzzy, most people would agree that consent is
non-informed at some point, even if the intoxication is entirely self-inflicted
and not assisted through involuntary ingestion of rohypnol or similar.
Therefore, I think the impersonation by the brother raises the more interesting
question.  So let's assume that the pair are partying with Hornitas Ginger Ale.

Is misrepresenting one's identity as a pretext for sex rape?
Suppose the guy lies and says he's Kobe Bryant and the woman agrees to sleep
with him.  Is it rape?  If not, suppose he sells her an autographed basketball
instead.  This would be fraud.  If the fraudulent basis for sex isn't rape,
what is it?

Suppose the guy proposes, promising to marry her with no intention of actually
doing so, and she agrees to sex, after which he calls off the wedding.
Suppose he does marry her with the intention of divorcing her after she sleeps
with him.
Suppose the woman lies and says she's a virgin, convincing the guy to sleep
with her.

Are these all rape?  If not, is it because the would-be victim has some
responsibility to become informed to some reasonable level before giving
consent?  In the Hornitos commercial, asking her "boyfriend" if he's really an
evil twin brother would presumably be beyond such a level of reasonableness.
What if she knew her boyfriend had a twin brother?

Finally, what if the victim gives misinformed consent with no act of
misrepresentation occurring?  Suppose the woman recognizes a man in a coffee
shop as her favorite author and goes home with him without the man being aware
of who she thinks he is.  Although I can see a case for the other scenarios
above being crimes, I can't imagine this being interpreted as a crime.

I don't have a lot of good answers at this point, but thanks again for
provoking interesting questions.

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Wed, 12 Nov 2008

I'm An Idiot

To cover my state and federal taxes for last year and my estimated payments for this year, as well as my IRA contribution, I scheduled a transfer from my ING Direct account to my regular checking account for Monday. I actually had enough in there to cover the taxes, but not the IRA contribution, so I wrote a check for the contribution and mailed it on Monday so I could be pretty confident that the ING transfer would be complete before the check was presented for settlement. Despite the fact that the government was going to be sucking a bunch of money out of my account, I was relieved to have my taxes done and all the payments worked out.

One small problem: I accidentally scheduled the transfer from my checking account to ING instead of the other way around, so on Monday my checking account was emptied resulting in the rejection of three of the tax withdrawals as well as a scheduled credit card payment, generating four NSF fees, and my taxes not being paid on time.

I called ING to schedule the transfer of the mistaken withdrawal as well as the original deposit I meant to make, and my other bank to ask that they honor payments presented in the mean time. I hope that my IRA contribution check clears or I may have to file an ammended tax return without the contribution and pay more taxes plus penalties. What a disaster.

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Three Years on a Novafoam Mattress

My post about the first night on my Novafoam mattress still gets the most traffic on this blog (although a homework assignment about the French health care system has been remarkably popular the past month or so). Every couple of months, I get an email asking about the mattress. Dale emailed me this morning to ask how we like the mattress after sleeping on it for over three years:

In searching the web, I found your blog ("first night on..." on pinkhamster) on
shopping for a Novafoam mattress - now that your blog is more than three years
old, I'd like to hear an update if you could take a moment to let me know (or
add a posting and point me to it) as my wife and I are in need of a new
mattress and no better source than a longer-term customer...

I'm happy to report that we are still satisfied with our Novafoam mattress. It hasn't lost its support, and it still very comfortable. One thing that I didn't mention in the original post is that motion isn't transmitted laterally much when your sleeping companion moves. It's much better than the bouncing that happens on when sleeping on a cheaper spring mattress or an air mattress. Having spent two nights on an air mattress a couple weeks ago reminded me how much I like our mattress. I think we'll probably buy a King Novafoam mattress when we move to a larger home.

p.s. This season of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! has an episode on mattresses and sleep aids.

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Wed, 05 Sep 2007

Book News: News About Books on Your Wishlist

I've created a new site at that searches blogs and Google News for references to books in an Amazon Wishlist.

It uses Amazon's E-Commerce Web Service to find a wishlist by name or email address, and to retrieve the list of books on a wishlist. Then it uses Yahoo Pipes to search for news for each of the book titles and sort the results by date. Finally, it takes the results and replaces the book titles and authors with links to pages that will return results for an individual book or author. It also uses Freebase, a sort of structured Wikipedia, to retrieve a short description of on author pages where they exist. Every page also provides an RSS feed of the results that are returned.

For example, if you use my wishlist of mostly economics books (which also happens to be the default list used at the homepage), you might see an except and link to an article about Nassim Taleb's Fooled by Randomness, one of the books on my list.

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Tue, 22 May 2007

Buying an Audi Under Invoice

I bought Denisa a new Audi A4 a few weeks ago. The last new car I bought was my 1999 Honda Civic. When I bought that car, I think it was still relatively novel for a buyer to have looked up the invoice price on so I felt relatively well-prepared to negotiate when I went into the dealer. I ended up paying $226 over invoice. I had pre-arranged financing at around 7%, but they offered me 4.9% if I'd buy a LoJack for $600, which worked out to about the same monthly payment. My car was stolen on Christmas Night, 2003, and the police helicopter found it within about an hour of when I reported it so that deal worked out alright.

This time, my strategy was to see how close I could get to invoice by going back and forth between a number of dealers. I submitted my info through Edmunds which sent it on to Keyes Audi in Van Nuys, The Auto Gallery in Woodland Hills, and Santa Monica Audi. I never talked to the Santa Monica folks, but I had quite a bit of interaction with the other two, as well as Pacific Audi who got my info through CarsDirect, I think. Most of the dealers seem to hate giving you a price over email or the phone. The Auto Gallery was the exception.

The car Denisa wanted was a black, automatic (CVT) A4 with just the Premium package, which is the cheapest package with leather seats. Invoice was $28,663. (Edmunds now shows it as $28,718 and the dollar is up slightly against the euro since I bought, but I don't know how often they update the numbers.) The Auto Gallery quote was $29,550 which I was told "is the best that I can do for you over email. If you want to talk to my Manager David over the phone, perhaps he can do better."

I stopped by Keyes that night and the woman who had emailed wasn't in so I talked to Greg Arouchanov, one of the salespeople on the floor. With a printout from Edmunds in hand, I asked what the best price he could give me on the car I wanted. He said it was basically up to me, "whatever amount over invoice I felt was fair". I left with verbal quote of invoice.

Now I was getting somewhere. I talked to David Lang from the Auto Gallery the next day on the phone. He also told me he could sell me a car at invoice, but the price he gave me was a bit higher than $28,663. I think the car he had in stock had some extra option, but I was on-site with a client and didn't have time to talk to him too long.

So now I have two dealers who will sell at invoice. Is invoice the new MSRP? Edmunds didn't show any dealer incentives or even a hold-back on Audi's. Is the published invoice price really the price dealers pay? Beats me.

I also talked to David Gentry from Pacific Audi on the phone a number of times. He told me that he could beat any other dealer's price, but wouldn't give me a number over the phone. I wasn't about to drive down to Torrance without a number so I never met David in person.

At this point, neither Denisa nor I had actually driven an Audi. So on April 23th, we went down to Keyes and drove both the A3 and A4. The A3 was more fun to drive with its fancy double clutch transmission, but Denisa wanted a grown-up car, so the A4 it was. Greg wasn't in so we talked to Daniel Mocioaca. I told him we were planning on buying a car the following Saturday, but he was pushing me for a number that would sell me on the car. I told him that I had multiple quotes at invoice, so I was just looking for the best quote under invoice. I don't know that it's a good negotiating tactic to never give a number, but I really wasn't prepared to buy the car that night; we hadn't yet sold Denisa's old car, and I needed to transfer some money into our checking account. I left encouraged when he told me he could sell me the car $500 below invoice. The cheapest black, automatic A4 with the Premium Package they had in stock also had heated seats which Daniel said he'd throw in at no charge.

A couple days later, I talked to David at Pacific Audi again. He said that he couldn't beat the Keyes price. I also emailed me David at The Auto Gallery. The best price he could give me was $28,592, $429 more than the Keyes quote, for just the Premium Package.

On Thursday, the 26th, Daniel from Keyes called and asked if I'd be willing to buy the car that day if they would give me the $2,300 I wanted for Denisa's '97 Mercury Tracer. I was pretty confident that I wasn't going to get a better deal on the A4, so whether they bought the Tracer or not, I was probably going to be buying the car from them. He wasn't willing to fax me a written quote, so I then I was thinking that they wouldn't honor the quote when I got down there. Worried that I might be wasting my time, I reluctantly drove down. The manager asked if they had to buy the Mercury, and I said that it'd be nice, but no. I ended up selling it for $2,300 the following Saturday to the first person who drove it.

They didn't have the car with heated seats any more, or they found a cheaper one to give me, but I ended up buying the car for $28,163 with the Premium Package and Sport Suspension, another option I didn't care about that had a lower invoice price than the heated seats.

The following week, I took my sales contract to The Auto Gallery to take advantage of their $200 low price guarantee. David reluctantly agreed to send me a check. A few days later I got a call from Glen Fagin at the Auto Gallery telling me that the check had been issued, but that the boss had stopped payment because I "had bought a used car". My sales contract said "used" where it should have said "new". I had noticed this before signing, but the sales manager who drafted the contract told me it was because it was a dealer transfer and wasn't in Keyes's computer yet. He was able to print out the contract with the VIN so it was in a computer, but I'm guessing the dot-matrix printer is driven by antiquated software.

So I went back to Keyes, had them draw up a new sales contract and an "Acknowledgement of Rewritten Contract", and faxed it to Glen. Glen couldn't read the fax, so I emailed him pictures I took of the documents. I received the $200 check a couple days ago.

So that's how I bought an Audi for $500 under invoice (plus sport suspension!) and made $200. I don't know that it was the most productive use of my time, and I spent way more than I would have on a car for myself, but I did feel a sense of accomplishment when it was all done.

The next time I buy a new car, I'll offer invoice, and then try to negotiate down from the best offer in $500 increments between a few dealers.

If you're in the LA area and looking for the best deal on an Audi, visit Daniel or Greg at Keyes. If you only want to negotiate over the phone or via email, contact David at the Auto Gallery.

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Sun, 06 May 2007

Carbon, Where's Dioxide?

Why do people write and say "carbon" when talking about CO2 in discussions of global warming?

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Sun, 28 Jan 2007

Junk Mail Update

I've been meaning to blog about various things for a while, but everytime I think about doing so, I figure I should post an update about the Post Office, and then I get all pissed off and don't want to think about it, so I do something else. Today, an old co-worker IMed me and mentioned that he found my USPS posts amusing.

(04:45:41 PM) Andrew Arrow: your junk mail blog post is hilarious
(04:46:07 PM) Xn: i need to update it. i hate those bastards.
(04:46:20 PM) Xn: they're so evil
(04:46:47 PM) Andrew Arrow: i wrapped my wife's xmas present in shredded junk mail to re-use it
(04:49:00 PM) Xn: i filed a prohibitory order against pennysaver and advo, the two main co-conspirators of the usps, but they're still sending me crap. i'm consigned to marking out my address and dumping it all off at the post office periodically.

I filed the prohibitory orders with Dhanoa, the delivery supervisor at the Northridge post office, on December 30th. As far as I can tell, he's the only person working there that's not completely evil. He was supportive of my effort to refuse junk mail, and told me I was in the right. Ultimately, he was over-ruled by the postmaster.

I also spoke with someone from Consumer Affairs, which is supposed to be above the local postmaster on the org chart, but his only advice was to black out my address when refusing mail, as described above.

So that's where the saga stands. My prohibitory orders aren't being honored and I have a pile of junk mail on the floor that needs to be deposited in a mail receptacle. I promise that the next think I write will not be about the post office lest people that find my blog will think I'm a nutter.

Update: My wife feels that calling people evil bastards is uncouth, and that I should present a more civilized persona online lest it adversely affect my chances of getting into grad school or getting a job in the future. If, at any point in the future, you are in the role of potential employer, admissions officer, client, agent, publicist, co-author, partner, investor, shareholder, voter, professor, customer, friend, student, landlord, tenant, or undertaker, I ask that you not limit your investigation into my character to this blog post. Please consider continuing your research at Google or perhaps LinkedIn.

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Sat, 02 Dec 2006

Junk Mail Battle Continues

Thursday, the mail carrier once again put the refused junkmail back in my mailbox. I posted a copy of the relevent section of the postal regulations which states,

1.1.3 Refusal After Delivery

After delivery, an addressee may mark a mailpiece "Refused" and return it within a reasonable time, if the piece or any attachment is not opened. Mail that may not be refused and returned unopened under this provision may be returned to the sender only if it is enclosed in a new envelope or wrapper with a correct address and new postage. The following may not be refused and returned postage-free after delivery:

a. Pieces sent as registered, insured, certified, collect on delivery (COD), and return receipt for merchandise mail.

b. Response mail to the addressee's sales promotion, solicitation, announcement, or other advertisement that was not refused when offered to the addressee.

Yesterday, he did it again and circled the following section:

1.1.6 Remailing Returned Mail

Generally, a returned mailpiece that was undeliverable-as-addressed or refused by the addressee may not be remailed unless it is placed in a new envelope or wrapper with a correct address and new postage. A returned shortpaid mailpiece can have the necessary additional postage affixed to the original piece and does not have to be placed in a new envelope or wrapper.

The USPS carrier exam apparently doesn't cover reading comprehension, as the above regulation states that refused mail cannot be remailed once it has been refused. Despite the fact that the refused mail is only traveling about 6 inches, since no additional postage has been paid, such a remailing would be a violation. Today, I added a Post-it note to that effect.

Yesterday, I spoke with Lynda Buss, the local postmaster for Northridge. She was not much more helpful than the mailman. I pointed out that the Domestic Mail Manual stated that I could refuse the junkmail, and she said, "You can read the Domestic Mail Manual all you want," but that they were still going to deliver the junk mail. I said that was fine, but that mail that I refuse must not be redelivered. She made the absurd statement that if I refuse the junk mail, then the mail carrier won't know who lives there. The junk mail is not addressed to me personally, but "Postal Customer", "Resident", or similar. I emphasized that I would accept delivery of mail that was actually addressed to me. The only concession I could get out of her was that she would speak to the mail carrier to see what they could do. She's the boss. All she has to do is tell her subordinates to follow their own regulations.

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Thu, 30 Nov 2006

Don't Throw Away Your Junk Mail

Last month, I tried to alleviate the flood of junk mail I receive my not removing it from my mailbox. The idea was that the mailman would get the hint that I don't want it, and would stop stuffing it in my mailbox. I suppose it could have been easily predicted that such a tactic would be unsuccessful. If I were to eat at the same restaurant on a regular basis, and I always left the pickle on the plate, the server might notice that I don't want the pickle and stop bringing it to me. The mail carrier's job, unlike the waiter's, isn't to please me.

Despite the fact that that my junk mail may be addressed to "Postal Customer", I am in fact not the customer while in the role of junk mail recipient. Rather, I am the victim of one organization taking money from another company to bring me garbage. Although I wasn't able to quickly solve my problem, my little experiment showed that I was not completely helpless in working to eliminate this annoyance.

About two weeks after I stopped removing the junk from my mailbox, the mailman asked why I wasn't taking the mail out. I told him that I was hoping he would stop delivering it. He said that it was hurting his wrist, having to shove in new mail. I told him that I didn't appreciate having to carry it up to my apartment to throw it away, and then have to carry it back out to the dumpster. He said, "I'm not going to argue with you," and refused to discuss it further.

So, keeping the junk mail in the mailbox at least provided the right disincentive to delivery of the mail. If I could just get another 20 million "customers" to also leave their junk mail in their mailbox, the mail carriers would either complain to their superiors, demanding higher wages, or face increasing medical costs due to sore wrists, which would have to eventually be passed to the real customers.

Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to wait for the junk mail revolution to take hold, for my mailbox would soon be full and I wouldn't be able to receive my weekly copy of The Economist. There had to be another way.

Next to the mailboxes in our apartment complex, there's a note that says that the mailman would appreciate if we didn't put junk mail in the outgoing mailbox. Well, that certainly makes sense. If my job were to say have a dog crap on other people's lawns, I'd appreciate it if they not return it to my home. But you can't blame the poopee for refusing deliveries by the pooper.

I looked up the relevant regulations on refusing mail. Section 508.1.1.3 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual states that basically any piece of mail can be refused by marking it "Refused".

So I took all of the junk out, wrote Refused on it, and stuck it in the outbox. The next day the mailman removed it from the outbox and left it on top of the mailboxes. It sat there for two or three days before he re-delivered it to my mailbox. I contacted the USPS through the form on their website to let them know that the mailman was re-delivering refused mail. I received a semi-personal email a few hours later telling me that a case had been opened, and that I would receive a phone call by the end of the next business day. They were only one day late, but I received a call on Tuesday. I explained what happened and was told that mailman would be spoken to.

I waited a couple days to give them time to talk to the mailman, and today re-refused the original mail as well as other junk mail that has since been delivered.

Please join the fight to stop junk mail by refusing delivery of it. By doing so, you provide a disincentive to its delivery, and put the burden of disposal on the junk couriers.

If you are feeling especially ambitious and are willing the enter the den of evil, you can take copies of junk mail from each individual sender down to the local post office with form 1500 and get a prohibitory order against each. You will have to file a separate form for each piece of junk mail that you would like blocked, and although the form is meant to block sexually oriented mail, they may not refuse to accept your form because you seem particularly prudish. Check out the excellent Junk Busters page for more information.

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The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. - Frederic Bastiat