We think of real estate transactions as things that are executed by a doer — whether buyer or seller. But it’s actually a two-way street. The Sunday Do-It-Yourself Open House hunting; the vigilant tidying to be ever-ready for showings; the mental and verbal processing of all of those houses — all of these actions that go into real estate deals are not just impacted by, but have impacts on, the buyer or seller doing the deal.
As house hunts grow longer, I’ve noticed a trend of buyers-in-progress consciously and intentionally giving themselves a brief time-out from the process, usually taking off anywhere from a weekend to two weeks. One client flew to Barcelona, Spain, for some respite after a particularly frenzied series of bidding wars. Another took a week to mourn her recently departed father, and, in the process, had some insights about what he would want her to think and feel about the place she eventually bought. Several have just downshifted a bit for a few weeks, giving up their standing weekend appointments for weekday-evening single-house showings for a couple of weeks so they could actually visit relatives or take day trips they’d been putting off.
Some buyers are just looking for a break from the grind of seeing house after house, devoting all their spare time and energy to visiting other people’s houses and devotedly, repeatedly envisioning whether they could live there. Others perceive (or, perhaps, ahem, have been told by their agents) that their past strategy has been flawed, and they take a hiatus to assess and reformulate their plans for how they will proceed differently going forward.
In fact, I have seen a number of different motivations and uses for a house-hunting hiatus, and many buyers combine several or even all of the following in their reasons for taking a break:
1. Rest. This is the siesta-style hiatus, intended to recharge the mental and energetic batteries. House hunting is hard work, and emotionally draining as well — especially in a market where multiple offers and buyer competition mean that a buyer might write offers on many properties over many months before getting one. The emotional rollercoaster is obvious: You don’t want to get your hopes up until your offer is accepted, which could be weeks if you’re making offers on bank-owned or short-sale listings, but you don’t want to even write an offer on a place if you’re not excited about the prospect of owning and living in it.
This is exhausting, so some buyers just take some downtime for rest alone before they get back to it. A true hiatus of this type also involves self-enforced respite from the online house hunt, that always-on and (thus) potentially most draining element of the new-generation homebuying process. (But these buyers never totally shut off — they live with the hope in the back of their mind that their agent will e-mail or call to interrupt the hiatus with the jubilant news that they’ve located "the one." It happens — ask my Spanish siesta client.)
2. Review. Almost every break-taking homebuyer does this, instinctively. Many of my clients save every property flier and, during hiatus, go back over what they’ve seen, what they liked and what they didn’t like. Buyers struggling to wrap their heads around what they actually need to offer to be the successful buyer of a particular property in their particular area might ask their broker or agent to brief them on the final sale prices of properties they were outbid on, if sufficient time has passed for that data to be public record. …CONTINUED
3. Remember. In particular, buyers who have had troubles with strategy or clarity benefit from recalling their "whys": What were their motivations for buying a home in the first place? What was their vision for the purchase when they initiated it? How have they been undermining or self-defeating their original vision with their lowball offers, overly demanding must-have lists, or house hunting in too-high price ranges?
4. Reset. Here’s where buyers, usually after remembering their original vision and motivations, re-up their commitment to both. The rest provides the new energy that fuels the reset. Now they have a more realistic, if world-weary, conception of what they can get for their money, and what it takes in their area to get a home. And they also know what, strategically, has not been successful.
In addition to resetting their commitment to accomplish their homeownership aims, most buyers also tweak or reset their strategies, perhaps compromising to let go of some features that were formerly "musts" or "deal-killers," or searching in lower prices ranges so they can be more competitive in multiple-offer situations.
While buyers usually lead behavioral market trends, taking a hiatus is one trend buyers probably picked up from sellers. Since time immemorial, sellers — usually of overpriced or stagnant listings — have pulled their homes off the market and let them "rest" for awhile. This gives them a break, sure, but tends to be driven by a single primary motivation: to allow the market dynamics and the buyer pool to recover or turnover enough so that there’s a fresh pool of folks who don’t remember that house as the crazily overpriced one with the bizarre floor plan — or whatever the specifics might be.
In a rational-decision-optimizing world, though, break-taking sellers might take a cue from the buyers they inspired, and take the time during their homes’ hiatuses to not just rest and hope that the market and the universe of would-be buyers resets, but also to reset their own pricing strategy, staging approaches, and thinking on what their highest priority is. Is the fantasy of a potential $10,000 extra worth more than the certainty of a closed deal in a timely manner? What lessons can be learned from the feedback of the market, the listing agents and the buyers who have come through (or not come through) the property? What are the opportunity costs of keeping the place sitting on the market — for your family and your moving plans, as well as for your home’s market value?
The Webster.com definition of "hiatus" focuses on discontinuity. In homebuying or selling, though, the connotation of a well-planned, well-used break is potentially much more powerful than that. Think of it as being in the same vein as that overused 1980s phenomenon, the power nap. The little break of a house hunt or home-selling hiatus can power a smarter, more successful, and less stressful real estate transaction for everyone involved.
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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