Q: I have been house-hunting for months, making lots of offers and getting outbid by all-cash investors. Finally, I found a house I really liked, and the seller accepted my offer. Right before my inspections, the seller got sued by a former owner of the property, and it tied the house up in litigation.
About a month later, the matter was cleared up and my transaction was back on. During that time, I drove by the place once or twice, and a little side window had been broken, and someone had dumped some debris in the backyard (the house is vacant).
Now I’m very nervous about moving forward with the deal. I still like the house a lot, but I’m going to have to put $20,000 down on it, and that’s almost every cent I have. I’m very afraid of making a bad decision. What should I do?
A: My friend, your feelings are extremely normal, natural and even healthy, though they don’t feel so good to you right now. The reality is that you are making a very big financial decision: two of the most mature commitments most of us ever make (the commitments to your home and your mortgage), and a very momentous lifestyle change, all in one fell swoop.
In my experience working with homebuyers, freaking out at some point before the deal is finalized is so natural that I actually sit my brand-new clients down and walk them through my flowchart of the transaction, pointing out all the common freak-out points during our very first meeting.
In fact, every once in awhile I’ll have a client who sails through a purchase — with no second-guessing, no qualms, no nerves — and I almost wonder whether those folks are taking this thing as seriously as they should. It is a big deal, and so to feel like it is a big deal means that you recognize the significance of this decision as a life event. And that’s a mature recognition to have.
I say all the time to my clients, "You are not buying a pair of shoes here." What I mean is that (a) it’s OK to take some days or weeks, even, to make your final decision; (b) it’s going to cost you a lot of money to close the deal — but you’re going to get a home, in exchange, not a pair of shoes or a purse; and (c) the nerves you feel are par for the course.
In your situation, the anticlimax of the one-month lawsuit pause, during which you might have started to detach from the home emotionally, thinking you might not be able to buy it, only makes your wondering about whether or not you want the house more of a normal, expected emotion.
Understanding that your feelings are a natural, healthy manifestation, and that you are taking your homebuying decisions every bit as seriously as they need to be taken — now you can move to managing your freak-out so it doesn’t get in the way of wise and well-reasoned decisions.
Real estate freak-outs, when they are not dealt with properly, typically end up either being repressed until they burst out into uncontrollable panic and impulsive decision-making (e.g., backing out of the deal or removing contingencies without appropriate consideration of the facts) or end up slowly taking over all of your emotions and thoughts about the home, causing a slow drip or procrastination and paralysis. …CONTINUED
My advice is not to let your freak-out run wild. Rather, acknowledge it and then manage it aggressively so as to make a decision about this home that you will be comfortable with over the long term.
Vacant homes attract vandalism — in almost every neighborhood. This is why cities and states have had so much concern about the long-term vacancies created by foreclosures. Unless the vandalism is severe, I wouldn’t let that alone run you off from the property.
If you’re concerned about the crime rate and neighborhood issues, as every homebuyer should be, I’d encourage you to take a friend and go knock on some doors on the street to get the neighbors’ input on how things are in the area.
They’ll tell you whether that broken window reflects a pattern or an anomalous event. For more statistical data, without the flavor, call the local police precinct or look for a digital crime map online, which many city government Web sites offer.
There is a process I work through with buyers to manage their freak-outs.
First, you must identify all the items that give you pause about buying this home. Everything — write it all out on a sheet of paper.
Work to sort out the fears and nerves that are mostly in your head and are about the panic of making a commitment at all, versus the actual questions and concerns about the property and the mortgage.
Review with your real estate and mortgage professionals all the concerns that center around the home, the neighborhood and the mortgage. Some might be totally off base and easily resolved with the facts; others might be great questions they can help you understand; and still others might be valid issues that, if not resolved, should legitimately deter you from moving forward.
See how you feel after you have all the facts and all your questions are answered. Try to give yourself at least a few days’ time between collecting all the information you need and the end of your contingency or objection period, so that you can have a few days’ time and mental space to work through the mindset-based fears by meditating on your vision for your life, and talking with your trusted advisers, friends or family members.
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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