Editor’s note: This is the first part of a four-part series on sensory homebuying. See Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Between my husband and my son, I’m outnumbered by boys at home. What that means in terms of my daily living experience is that often I’ll wake up, stumble to the espresso machine, and realize that every single kitchen cabinet, half the drawers and sometimes even the fridge and freezer doors are standing wide open — even though no one is in the kitchen! My family knows that about that time is when I yell, "What is this — the Sixth Sense?!"

(In the Bruce Willis film, the young Haley Joel Osment, who "sees dead people" sits down to breakfast and, in the seconds it takes his mom to leave and return to the kitchen, Haley Joel’s deceased cronies manage to leave every kitchen door gaping wide, prompting the boy’s mom to have an "a-ha" realization that perhaps things ain’t as they seem.)

In real estate, there’s also a sixth sense and, in most cases it has nothing to do with seeing dead people. We’ll get there, I promise, but that will be in a few weeks. Before we can truly go there, let’s talk about the first five senses and the role(s) they play in home buying and selling.

This year, to a much more significant degree than others, I’ve observed as my buyer clients harness all of their senses as they "view" properties. Our house hunts are transformed from property "showings" to much more detailed, sensory experiences — simply by the way they process input from the homes themselves.

I think this might be due to the fact that these buyers have overcome so much adversity and naysaying just to even opt into the concept of buying a home in this volatile market, and so they tend to be a slightly more intense flavor of person, and they seem to be taking the experience as a life passage rather than simply as a business transaction.

These "sensory homebuyers," in my experience, glean exponentially more information than the primarily visual buyer. To boot, after the first few homes, I don’t believe that the sensory homebuyer necessarily spends that much more time exploring properties than the buyer who simply "views" them. This is not about quantity of time, per se — it’s more about what they do with the time they spend in their prospective homes. It parallels the difference between wine tasting and frat-house guzzling, to paint a visual.

There’s wisdom inherent in the sensory homebuyer’s process. Some buyers are inclined, due to their personal sense of urgency or time constraints, to dash through houses and units on what I like to call a "cardio house hunt."

Sellers and listing agents can use this glimpse inside not only the thought processes, but also the part-psychological, part-chemical sensation experiences of homebuyers, to glean insights into how to prepare and market their homes for sale at top dollar. …CONTINUED

This week, boys and girls, let’s talk about the sense of sight. The problem with sight in real estate is that buyers and sellers tend to overemphasize it to the neglect of the other senses. Sellers wisely throw some Ralph Lauren colors on the walls, agents push some Pottery Barn furnishings in the place and, voila — what one of my clients used to call "the vortex of cuteness" is born.

This is certainly blameless and, even, advisable on the seller’s side — it’s a course of action designed to create the largest ROI (return on investment) per home preparation/staging dollar. Least money spent with largest buyer-attraction potential equals: ideal.

The reason my buyer called it the vortex of cuteness, however, is instructive: It has the power to suck you in! Buyers can behave irrationally once they get sucked into the vortex, compromising on points formerly known as deal-killers and throwing money at a place because the toasted-taupe-with-eggshell-white-trims color scheme is just what they envisioned being surrounded by in their wildest domestic dreams.

Smart sensory buyers can appreciate aesthetic beauty in a home without getting sucked into the vortex and making decisions contrary to their best interests on the basis of "cute."

Smart sensory buyers also know that cute is not always that expensive or onerous to create, and can see the value in doing so, especially when the home is in fundamentally good condition and/or has other ideal characteristics. Smart sensory buyers also look a lot deeper than the superficially cute. They open doors and drawers, look around the neighborhood sometimes at varying hours of day and days of the week, and look at elements like roofing and windows, not just for good paint colors and bamboo floors.

Being a sensory homebuyer can be a zen experience. It requires that the buyer — and the agent, to some extent — be very present in the moment of the property visit. This is a challenge for many homebuyers who tend to want to visualize the future the whole time they are in a place — where furniture will go, what holiday dinners will be like, and so forth.

Those are all very worthy and necessary analyses, but incomplete ones in the absence of a deeply sensory understanding of the property. Beyond being present, sensory homebuying also requires stillness. In stillness, you can see wall cracks and foundation fissures, but also the charm of classic built-ins, promise and potential, and beautiful, natural views where they are not obvious or touted as such. In stillness you can also experience sound on a number of dimensions, thoroughly deeper than those baroque CDs the listing agent put on before the open house. Next week, we’ll explore the various dimensions of sound perceived and processed by sensory homebuyers, some of which might surprise you. 

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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