04/13/2011 11:16 am ET Updated Jun 13, 2011

Giving It All Away

I was chatting with a man who declared that he was withdrawing his home from the real estate market. Why? "I'm absolutely not giving my house away!"

I questioned the audacity of any buyer that expected him to bestow a house for free, but he didn't realize that I was being flip. Animatedly, he detailed the declining prices in his neighborhood, starting with the house that sold across the street (in 2005) for north of $700,000. During his roll-call of a falling market, I heard about neighbors who were "idiots" for accepting offers in the mid-$600,000 range before he wound up condemning the "jackass down the block" who closed a week ago with "money-grubbing thieves who stole a house just like mine for $550,000."

Already chin-deep in a conversation I should never have encouraged, I asked, "Why do you think your neighbor was robbed? If he accepted an offer based on the current market, I'd say he made a fair deal." In response, I got an earful about how people like me (I first thought he meant lawyers, but found out he meant "media believers") were responsible for destroying any advantage home sellers used to enjoy in making a "pretty profit" on their houses.

Warming to his rant, this ex-seller reiterated that the bombardment of bad news about plummeting home values fueled buyers' beliefs that homeowners were desperate to take any offer. But not him, he reminded me. "I would never give my house away!"

Ignoring my inner business compass, I plunged forward and asserted, "A buyer in this market, if you're fortunate enough to find one, isn't taking anything from you. After considering the condition of your home and your neighborhood, as well as the overall market's movements, they are giving you funds in exchange for ownership. In my vocabulary, that's not a gift -- it's a sale!"

I could see that my companion was thoroughly vexed, so I quickly apologized, explaining how much it irked me to hear homeowners grouse about "giving a house away." Why is the buyer accused of taking, when it's really more a matter of not getting as much as desired (or required)?

He half-heard me, nodding and agreeing. "Correct -- my loss would be some buyer's gain!" Still deluding myself into thinking I could change his adamant attitude, I asked, "Did you buy your house only to make a profit, and out of curiosity, was that profit guaranteed to you in writing when you bought it?"

His curt comeback was that I didn't comprehend how stressful it is to watch one's house value barrel over a cliff. Yet nothing could be further from the truth; I understand and sympathize, as a fellow house owner. I just don't share the belief that sellers lucky enough to find buyers on their doorsteps, with checkbooks in hand, are handing over their keys for free!