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Open Compliments

By Mordechai Schmutter

Ever since I wrote an article about how we’re looking for a new house, people keep asking us how the house hunt is going. The ones who ask us most are my parents. They already knew we were looking for houses, but thought the fact that I started writing about it meant we’d found something. It didn’t. It just meant that I realized that house hunting could fill way more than one article, and that I might as well get started.

But the only people who haven’t asked us how it’s going are some of the real-estate agents we know. They were offended by the article because I mentioned that we’ve been talking to an agent, and they couldn’t remember it being them.

We’ve spent a lot of time going around and looking at houses, mostly to spend some time out of our own house, which we’re pretty sure is shrinking. We especially do this on Sunday afternoons, when all our kids are home, and our house feels smallest.

But it turns out that I’m a horrible person to look at houses with. I totally blame my mother, who always taught me that when I’m in someone else’s home, I have to be complimentary. Especially if the person is standing right there. So even if I find something I’m not crazy about, I look for a good spin.

“Oh, look, it’s right on the highway! How convenient, if you want to go west!”

“Wow, we can cook supper without getting off the couch!”

“Hey, I can see the inner city from here!”

Fortunately, a lot of our looking is done at “open houses.” Open houses are specifically held when the seller is not around—often without his knowledge, I think—because it’s hard for the homeowners to stand there and watch you going through their stuff, opening up all their closets, and trying on their clothes.

“Ooh, are you going to leave this jacket?”

I feel bad doing this, but we need to know about closet space. That’s a huge issue in Passaic, where builders sometimes forget to put in closets at all. Or they put in a closet, and people assume it’s a half-bedroom, whatever that is. If a half-bathroom is one that can’t fit a bath, is a half-bedroom one that can’t fit a bed? And sometimes, they put in a closet that is not quite as deep as a hanger.

And it’s not just the builders who are at fault. I’m pretty sure the house we currently live in used to have a coat closet. But then one of the previous owners decided, probably during the summer, that they didn’t really need one, so they took it out. Or maybe they decided that during the winter: “The house is drafty. Why would we ever take off our coats?”

But there’s always someone at the open house, to make sure people don’t just walk off with the house. Usually, it’s the real-estate agent, who also takes the time to put out the house’s shidduch information, as well as some business cards and snacks, which, like me, are complimentary.

But I still feel the need to make compliments to avoid awkwardness, because the agent says, “And this is the next room,” and then it’s my turn to talk. And usually, when someone says something like that—“This is my baby,” for example—you have to say something. You can’t just greet it with skeptical silence while furiously scribbling things down in a notebook. Or you can ask a follow-up question, but a lot of those can be misunderstood as offensive. (“Wow. Is it a boy or a girl?”)

So I’m walking around, thinking of at least one compliment to say for each room, and the agent is getting more and more convinced that I’m absolutely in love with this house and he’s going to have to take down the balloons before 3 o’clock. So I try to balance myself out by taking my wife.

My wife is a lot better at not complimenting every room she walks into. I don’t mean this in a bad way, if I know what’s good for me. She’s an interior designer, so her job is to walk around houses—without me, preferably—and tell people what’s wrong with them, and how they could be fixed. If the seller were around when my wife is looking through it, he’d probably offer to give it to us just to take it off his hands. Or he’d take it off the market and tear it down, so as not to put the burden of his house on anyone else. My wife is, at best, stoic, like she’s at a funeral. Whereas I wander about the house like it’s the first time I’ve seen indoor plumbing. The two of us looking at a house together confuse the heck out of real-estate agents.

So most of the time, I try to send my wife by herself, because (A) she knows a lot about houses, and (B) she can always say, “I have to ask my husband.” I figure that if she actually likes the house, she’ll send me to drool over it.

Sometimes, we look through a house together, and I have to say, some houses are really hard to make up compliments for in every room. It’s much easier when the house has fewer rooms. We should look at more of those.

Despite my annoying habit, I know that logically, it might actually be better not to compliment these houses at all—just to point out the flaws, so the person feels better about giving it up to move. I’m afraid that I’m going to compliment the house so much the guy’s going to decide against leaving.

“Yeah, it’s a great house. Right on the highway. What was I thinking?”

It also happens to be the worst time to be complimentary, especially if it’s a house that we want, because, as I understand it, an entire step of negotiation is to pretend you don’t even want what you’re negotiating for. And that’s kind of hard when I’ve complimented every room. The best I could do is, “Well, I like your house, but my wife obviously doesn’t.”

The seller doesn’t have that tactic. He can’t pretend that he doesn’t really want to sell it and that he just had an open house so people could traipse through his home, flush his toilets, and compliment his stuff.

So it might be a better idea to kick my instinct and keep my compliments to myself, even though some of these compliments are genuine, mostly because of what our current house lacks. I’m like, “Ooh, a coat closet!” and they’re thinking, “There’s no way he’s serious here. He’s just making up nice things to say.” And then (I hope) they don’t take the rest of my compliments seriously. So on second thought, maybe that’s actually a great strategy. I don’t know what to do if they have no coat closet, though. Maybe I can compliment them for not having a furnace in the playroom.

So to answer everyone’s questions: We are looking for a house, but we haven’t found anything yet. It’s like looking for a job. You don’t know when you’ve looked at the one before the one you’re going to get; you only know when you’ve found the one.

To my parents: Nothing has changed. But thanks to your teaching me to be so complimentary all the time, we’ve almost bought, by my last count, 17 houses.

To the people selling all the houses we’ve looked at: You have a lovely home. But we don’t want it—although we are willing to stalk it, and come to an open house separately, and then together.

To the other real-estate agents in town: No offense. We’ve been living in town for nine years now. If you’re frum and sell real estate, we know you. But we’re only looking for one house, and honestly, we don’t care who shows it to us. We’re not going to buy a house we don’t like just so we won’t hurt your feelings.

Well, my wife won’t. I might. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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Posted by on July 10, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.