Grass, Beagles and Real Estate

When I purchased my home, I discovered during the home inspection that there was not a timer on the sprinkler system. At the time, this didn’t seem like a particularly large problem as all I’d need to do was walk outside to turn on the sprinklers myself.

The flaw in the thinking was forgetting that I am, at heart, an idiot.

That first fall, I got ambitious and put down a winter lawn in the backyard. Until a couple of weeks ago, it was the only winter lawn that graces Casa Dalton for a number of reasons, none of which were relative this time around. And so it is that winter rye now covers about 75 percent of the back yard (in an arc that matches the distance the rotating sprayer reaches – and don’t ask about the sprinklers, thank you. They’re on the repair list.)

What never dawned on me is that between winter lawns we’ve adopted three beagles. Tobey as the oldest has seen the lawn while Morgan and Charlie have seen rough scragglings of grass here and there over the past few years. (Throw in the fact we have a southeast exposure and the back yard takes the brunt of the summer sun.)

In my own mind, I thought once I put down the grass there would be a beagle celebration with much running and jumping and rolling and, well, peeing and defecating. Except …

None of the dogs seem to know what to do with grass. It would seem to me there ought to be something instinctual which causes them to frolic in the soft green stuff rather than hiking through the remaining dirt patches, but that’s not really the case.

Apparently, the dogs are not nearly as adaptable as I first believed.

Neither, for that matter, are many home buyers. Most have come to believe that the all-but-dead market from 2006 through mid-2008 and the declines continuing since are what constitutes a “normal” real estate market, just as the dogs believe a backyard savannah is normal.

In both cases, they’re incorrect.

Markets change. Here in Phoenix, we’re seeing demand remain strong even into the fourth quarter, which generally doesn’t happen. Inventory remains ludicrously low. And for all the talk of phantom inventory, there were significantly fewer homes foreclosed upon this September than a year ago.

Especially under $125,000 or so, it’s less a question of how far below list price a buyer can go than whether list price will survive a multiple-offer situation and at what price a home might appraise. The only thing missing now from the similar 2005 strategy is waiving the appraisal contingency under the misguided belief that prices always will rise.

I’m not going to attempt to predict prices … it’s made more sense to ride the wave and mark the changes as they’ve happened rather than guess at where we’ll end up. (And let’s hope a passing container ship wanders by as in Castaway.) If you want a prediction, check out my good friend John Wake’s blog – he’s a braver man than I.

Maybe if these conditions continue on, more and more buyers will realize what is happening and rethink their idea of normal. And maybe, just maybe, if I give the beagles enough Pupperoni treats they’ll realize the grass really is supposed to be their friend.

Of course, if they can leave their gifts elsewhere, I wouldn’t mind much.

Jonathan Dalton

Jonathan Dalton is a 40-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at