Q: I just decided to start looking for a condo to buy. I met this real estate broker who I had heard really good things about, and I feel like she has really listened to what I said I wanted. The first place or two I saw were very much like what I envisioned myself living in. So, I started to make an offer — I even had her write it up.

But I kept thinking up things I wasn’t sure about, problems that might come up if I moved forward, and questions I wanted to know the answers to, especially about the homeowners association (HOA). My agent got some answers for me, and others she said we wouldn’t be able to find out until after we got into contract.

Q: I just decided to start looking for a condo to buy. I met this real estate broker who I had heard really good things about, and I feel like she has really listened to what I said I wanted. The first place or two I saw were very much like what I envisioned myself living in. So, I started to make an offer — I even had her write it up.

But I kept thinking up things I wasn’t sure about, problems that might come up if I moved forward, and questions I wanted to know the answers to, especially about the homeowners association (HOA). My agent got some answers for me, and others she said we wouldn’t be able to find out until after we got into contract.

After a few days, she told me that if I didn’t move forward, some other buyer would take it, but I kind of thought that was just a sales pitch. Then, it went pending. This has happened again on another two properties now: I see it, I like it, I have her write up the offer, then I second-guess myself and procrastinate and the place goes pending. What can I do to break this pattern?

A: I’m always amazed at how hard some people — and their agents — can be on themselves about this sort of thing. Really, you’d be a little nuts not to be a tad bit anxious about buying a home in a normal market, much less after all the real estate mayhem we’ve collectively witnessed for the last two or three years.

The objective is to honor your legitimate concerns and ensure that they are addressed with facts that render it sensible for you to move forward with a given transaction, while not allowing any unreasonable fears or panic to impair your decision-making.

Mindset Management

What you need are tools to help you manage your wannabe buyer’s remorse. I have found several things very effective for this. Their common denominator is that they help buyers get totally clear on their vision for the life they want to live in the property they are planning to buy, and then provide a medium for holding the buyer and the buyer’s representatives accountable to that vision.

For example, I ask my clients to start the buying process off by completing a journaling exercise I call "Vision of Home." It’s simple, but it’s not actually a list of features you’d like to see in your home. Rather, you literally sit down and make a bullet-point list of all the things you can think of that describe your ideal life after this home purchase:

  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • Whom do you live with?
  • How much do you work, for whom and where?
  • How do you get to the places you need to be, etc.?

Don’t hold back — this is a private document, for your eyes only. But once you’re done with it then you should complete some sort of homebuying wants-and-needs checklist. Your agent will likely have one you can use. In the no-pressure environment of your own living room or coffee shop, outside of a time-sensitive, property-specific context, you’re much more likely to successfully cultivate clarity.

Then, continue your house hunt. The next time you find a home that you feel like you’d be happy living in, go ahead and make the offer — don’t hesitate. It will cost you money and, as you’ve seen, may even cost you the property. But before you make the deal final by removing contingencies, if you are still having any sort of major freak-out experience, pull out your checklist and pull out your Vision of Home journal, and compare "your" property against this documentation of what you really want.

One more thing: Many consumers have an inherent distrust of agents. You said you found an agent who you liked a lot, and who is listening to you and showing you places that would really work for your life, ostensibly within your price range. Nevertheless, you were distrustful enough of her advice to move quickly (which was likely based on her experience of other buyers like you losing properties unnecessarily) to be willing to lose a property you liked over it.

Don’t kick yourself for this; if you didn’t get that one, it simply was not meant to be. But do learn from the experience, and take advantage of your broker’s experience and advice moving forward. …CONTINUED

Need-to-Knows

Timing is everything. You seem to be a bit confused about what decisions you need to make at which points in the transaction. Making an offer is truly just the point at which you make an effort to secure the home at a price and on terms that would work for you. If you are able to do this, the contingency or objection period that follows the seller’s acceptance of your contract is the appropriate time for you to do your due diligence, including inspections, reviewing disclosures and examining homeowners association documents.

Some sellers have a lot of information about their HOA available for pre-offer inspection, and some HOAs have personnel to answer basic pre-offer questions, including things that may impact your ability to finance the purchase of a unit, like the percentage of units that are owner-occupied and whether the association is involved in any litigation. However, many HOAs charge several hundred dollars for their full disclosure package, and the packages expire after 30 or 60 days. Accordingly, many sellers — especially bank or short-sale sellers — will simply wait to even order detailed HOA documents (e.g., board meeting minutes, past newsletters, insurance documents and financial statements) until after they have signed a purchase contract.

I’m not suggesting that you take the step of making an offer lightly. The seller would be pulling his or her home off the market in reliance on your word that you’re serious. Also, many listing agents tend to list homes in the same area/price range, so you’re very likely to run into them again. If you make offers and back out habitually, you’ll have problems getting your offers accepted in the future.

I just want you to understand that writing an offer is not the end of your decision-making process about a particular home — it’s really just the beginning of your opportunity to get your detailed questions answered before making the final decision to remove your contingencies.

If you discover deal-breaking information about the HOA or the property during your contingency period, you should be able to back out of the deal at no cost other than the costs of any inspections or appraisal you’ve already had.

Action Plan

1. Write out your Vision of Home and complete a checklist with the desired features of your property.

2. When you see a place you’re 85 percent or more certain about, proceed with making an offer.

3. Triple-check with your agent that you’ll have the right to back out based on any problems with the property before you sign your offer.

4. Before you remove contingencies, ensure that all your questions are answered and, if you’re still panicked or confused, revisit your Vision of Home and checklist to see how well the home matches your wish lists.

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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