I Shopped Around for a House That Was Perfect for My Dogs. Yes, Really

published Apr 21, 2020
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Everyone tells you to find a real estate broker you get along with—but what if you need to find someone who understands not only you, but also your dogs? 

There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads “I work hard so my dogs can have a better life.” As funny as it may sound, my partner and I pretty much structure our life around the needs of our dogs, and that included our home-buying process. Not all real estate brokers are created equally, and finding a dog-friendly team took interviewing several before finding a broker who could help us pinpoint our dream house.

 “What do you mean your dog needs a house without stairs?” one asked.

My partner and I were sitting in our tiny Brooklyn dining room. Around us were packed boxes and sleeping dogs at our feet. We were hosting a consultation, and this real estate broker was laughing awkwardly. He sounded confused, almost as though he was being pranked for a reality TV show. If someone couldn’t seriously discuss the kind of house we needed for our dogs, then they simply weren’t the right real estate broker for us. 

Listen, I’m the first to admit that I’m dog-obsessed. My dogs are my life: I’m a Certified Trick Dog Instructor and make a living writing about dog training and behavior for newspapers and magazines. Through my training books like “Tricks In The City” and “Chew This Journal“, I show people how to teach their dogs new skills. My dogs are Champion Trick Dogs (yes, dog trick competitions are a thing) and can do everything from play basketball to dance around me backwards.

Over the last decade, my partner and I have purchased two houses to meet the changing needs of our canine kids. The first was a house in outer Brooklyn, which we bought after our co-op suddenly adopted new polices that weren’t dog-friendly. The second was our place in Portland, Oregon, which we set out to find with a long list of features for our dogs with special needs.

Our youngest dog, Sirius, had torn ligaments in both of her knees and needed major reconstructive surgery. Our Brooklyn townhouse had steep flights of stairs—stairs that would be impossible for Sirius to climb while recovering from the procedure. She’s a giant Newfoundland and weighs over 100 pounds. Plus, those same stairs could cause her to reinjure herself in the future. We were already sleeping on an air mattress downstairs to be with her and minimize the number of stairs she had to climb. That’s when we realized we couldn’t keep living in that house.

Credit: rzoze19/Getty Images

At the same time, our middle dog’s medication-resistant thunder phobias increased so significantly that she couldn’t be left alone because of how prevalent thunderstorms are in the Northeast. It may sound crazy, but our vet suggested we move to an area of the country with fewer storms, if possible. With the dogs’ health at the forefront of our mind, we started making plans.

Within three weeks we had put our house on the market, hired movers, and said goodbye to life in NYC. We started driving west to Oregon with two people, three dogs, and three cats loaded into our SUV. Thankfully our house in Brooklyn sold quickly, and we found a brokerage in Portland that measured up to our dog-loving standards. When we interviewed them and mentioned our pups, they immediately texted us pictures of their own dogs.

According to a 2018 Realtor.com survey, 79 percent of home-buying millennials with pets said they would bypass an otherwise perfect house if it didn’t meet the needs of their pets. This was absolutely the case for us. Our needs, in a nutshell, were:

  • A large yard or double lot, so our dogs could have plenty of space
  • Either no stairs or carpeted stairs that weren’t steep
  • An extra room to store my dog competition trick props and accessories, plus space for practicing said tricks

“Do you think the dogs would like this yard? Our new broker asked at one house. “These steps won’t work for your dogs,” he accurately remarked at another.

If our new brokers thought we were being impossible or too eccentric, they never let on. Our team of brokers at (W)here Inc. went above and beyond to make sure we (and the dogs) got our dream house. It was a partial new build with an open-concept layout and plenty of room for the dogs. It sat on a fenced-in double lot with lots of grass, and everything was on one floor, except for an upstairs office that would give my partner a separate (and quiet) space for working. The house even had a spare room—perfect to use as a dog training and grooming room. It felt too good to be true, as though someone had taken our list of criteria and built the place to our specifications.

At the end of the day, when you buy a house, it’s for you and your family. Not everyone has to understand your priorities, but folks like your broker do need to respect them—and help you actualize them.

The day that we closed on the house and got our keys, our broker showed up with a big “welcome home” gift box. Inside were goodies and treats for us, but it was mostly filled with locally made toys and treats for the dogs.