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Incoherent Rambling

YHB happened to be watching television the other day (for the next month or so, I will be with satellite television and without broadband; for the last year I had broadband but barely had broadcast TV. I prefer the other way. There are way more channels on the internet.) and saw one of those home-improvement shows about selling a house. In this show, they take a house that hasn't been selling, and spend a couple of days and a few hundred dollars to make it much more attractive to buyers. The thing that struck me that was more sort of generalizable out of house-selling (there were some very odd things about house-selling, but there it is) was how tricky it is to do game-playing with people who are not rational. Which is most people.

Selling the house is actually not bad; there are four or five components of the buyers' decision that you can probably more or less identify: location, layout, condition, space, light. Different buyers will place different weights on each of those components, of course, and in fact each of the components could be broken down into components, which different buyers give different weights to. Still, you can probably identify, highlight and possibly improve some of the components, and can probably (perhaps with the assistance of an expert) price the house to more or less maximize your payoff. On the other hand, in addition to the four or five components that make a lot of sense, there are probably four or five components for each buyer that are completely wacky and may be unpredictable. Things like a room that reminds the buyer of his childhood bedroom, or a neighborhood like that one in that movie.

Now, two of my close friends have recently been in situations where they really wanted specific people who they didn't know to react in a particular way. In each of those situations, there were clearly a few components of the strangers' choice preferences that could be estimated, and possibly improved. On the other hand, there were clearly other components, and we couldn't tell what they were, much less how to deal with them. One of the situations was fairly easy, and it was clear that the rational stuff was going to play a big role in the choices. In the other, the stranger on the other side of the metaphoric gameboard persisted in a strategy that made no sense to anyone.

You see, I like to play games. I'm not a heavy-duty strategy gamer, but I do like to play the odd game of Settlers, El Caballero, or Anti-Monopoly. I play cards a lot, particularly Hearts and Gin. And I used to play a lot of poker. The thing with all these games is that you need to predict what other people will do. You also use actual moves to extrapolate what their choices were, and thus what their choices will be in the future, and thus which choice they will actually make. All of this is based on an understanding of the people you are playing with. It's easier if that opponent is rational, but a consistent and predictable pattern of specific irrationality works just as well. A fellow who stays in with an inside straight can be beat, and if you know that he stays in with an inside straight you can beat him bad.

There's a sort of grey area there, between rational and crazy. It's understandable behavior, doing the wrong thing, but for a reason. The smell of cookies in an open house will put a lot of people in a good mood, and people in a good mood will be more likely to buy the house. Of course, some people will get all cranky; you can't win 'em all. But there are some pretty basic ways to manipulate people's semi-rationality. In fact, that grey area is pretty much where games are played. You try to shape that area for other players, and they try to mess with yours. This is also true, if not voluntarily, in the games that make up real life. But what do you do when the other people leave the grey area and head out for left field?

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

Post Script: Still carrying a floppy to the library. They tell me broadband is two weeks away.


The broadband train has left for Morrow...

Lisa and I have seen a lot of those "improve your house to sell it" shows. Her insight is that once you've done all these things to make your house more attractive, you're more likely to want to stay in it, so maybe we can get some good ideas for how to improve our house for our own enjoyment without pretending we're going to sell it. (Of course, her insight is much smarter and better phrased than that, but she doesn't really post here, so you're stuck with my rendition.)

I find it interesting on those shows that there are investments that can pay off ten-fold, such as moving all your possessions into off-site storage or painting the kitchen, because buyers are not really calculating rationally about space or about their own expenses. I tried to adopt a hyper-rational approach to my own house purchase, and I know that I avoided several traps that way, but I wonder what my own blindnesses were.

And, of course, because I like games and I like a good challenge, I'm tempted to try to sell our house to see if we can do better than some irrational third party would predict. But I'm not sure that's the best reason.

The odd thing (to me) is how many of the improvements are not things that would make living in the house more enjoyable. Things like getting rid of all those books and cds, or moving the furniture to highlight the fireplace, or the window, or whatever. Some of them (a new coat of paint) are probably a good idea anyway, but sometimes I look at the show and think If my house was on the market for six months, there is no way I'd live like that for every open house.


I am cable-free and blissfully ignorant of the how-to-get-your-house-to-sell program. Its existence makes me worry a bit: when people turn to reality television in desperation to sell their houses, has a housing crash already started?

I'd say that when a couple of days with a truly mediocre decorator on a minimal budget can get your house to sell within a week (as happens on these shows), the shows are not an indication of a housing crash.

so there's more to this show that just turning the house into a lifestyle-for-sale.

narratives sell. green mushroom clouds, rip-mix-burn, naked hotties drinking beer, hallelujah.

Ah, I see. I'm used to an environment where it's only the badly overpriced homes that *don't* sell within a week, so my calibration is off. What is a reasonable length of time (outside crazyland) for an unexceptional house to stay on the market before it's sold?

Several months is pretty typical in a neutral market.

I recently saw one where the house had been on the market for eight months before getting on the show, and wasn't actually sold when they finished filming. Seemed like a nice place, though.

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