Many of my fellow real estate brokers and I have clients who have been house hunting, it seems, since time eternal. OK — well, since last summer. These hardy homebuyers have experienced competing with 30 other offers over the summer months, maybe got into and out of a contract or so when an inspection or appraisal went south during the fall, and have had their eye on the emaciated inventory throughout the holiday season.
Sellers have experienced the same exact thing, from the other side. While the best-priced, best-dressed homes in the best neighborhoods (and super-cheap homes everywhere) are now flying off the market, the middle of the market seems much more stagnant — especially if you happen to be a home seller whose home has been on the market for more than a couple of months.
So, here we are. Stuck, it seems. All flailing about for ways we can bring these house hunts to a close, for the sake of what remains of both our sanity and our (or our home’s prospective buyers’) eligibility for the homebuyer’s credit. Taking a deep breath and powering through it — which is a tried-and-true strategy for getting unstuck in so many other areas of our lives — just doesn’t work for homebuying.
There are just too many other people involved who are entirely out of your control — not the least of which are the seller, listing agent, appraiser, underwriter and even other competing bidder/buyers.
The things we can’t control are so many that it brings to mind the first line of the serenity prayer: "… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." And there’s the rub: So many of the strategies resulting from our brainstorming on buying are subject to unilateral veto from someone we don’t know that it can be very frustrating to do anything but resign ourselves to repeat the cycle of frustration and rely on luck.
But, besides praying to your deity of choice (not an ineffective strategy, in my experience), what else can you do to give a jump-restart to your stalled-out house hunt, while maintaining a Zen sense of calm (or at least not strangling anyone)?
Inspired by Charlotte Kasl’s "If the Buddha Got Stuck," one of my favorite books for getting unstuck from anything, whether it be a column or a lifelong endeavor, here are my five tips for unsticking your home purchase or sale:
1. Extract the lessons from past glitches, snags and failures. I call this tuition — time or money you’ve already spent to learn a lesson. Don’t let all the tuition you’ve already paid be in vain. It will be, unless you scrape the bad experiences you’ve had in the past to get all the lessons out of the corners, and apply them in the form of a revised strategy going forward. …CONTINUED
To be frank, what you’ve been doing isn’t working. If you’re trying to buy a home, you may need to change your house hunt (and online listings search-engine criteria) to a lower price range, so you can afford to be more competitive with your offer prices. If you’ve been offering less than your max, you might need to offer more — saving money on the purchase is meaningless if you never get a house you like!
Sellers might need to drop their list price (and please don’t shoot your agent/the messenger, for delivering this news), do more intensive property primping or staging, or even offer some incentives to get buyers to bite.
2. Revisit your "whys" — your Vision of Home. In my practice, my clients and I work a lot with their Vision of Home — a written document they prepare, in my absence, that vividly illustrates the "after" picture of the life they want to lead after they buy, sell, move up or whatever.
For it to be a useful tool, the Vision of Home must be detailed, vivid and, most importantly, holistic: It needs to cover everything from what they envision themselves doing in their spare time, to who they will live with, what they will live near, how they will get to and from their work and family visits, etc. You can see how this, then, fuels the more drilled-down specifics of how many bedrooms, bathrooms and square feet they need.
If your house hunt or home sale is stuck, consider drafting your own Vision of Home document. You might need to get excited about homebuying or moving again — your passion for the after, when reignited, will literally energize your efforts and direct your decision-making as you go forward.
3. Detach and let go. Vision is critical — it creates the excitement and commitment to targeted action needed to fuel your not-always-fun journey. But detachment from that vision is just as critical to staying sane throughout the journey. Remember — you’re not in control, and you know what they say about the best-laid plans.
So let go of the idea that your envisioned outcome is the only one that will ever work. Be flexible where you can with your house-hunting or home-selling criteria — limit your deal-breakers as much as you can. Stay open to suggestions for alternative ways you can achieve an approximation of your desired outcome.
4. Take a hiatus. Take a short break from viewing properties or showing your house. But set up your time frame in advance and be especially careful about taking a break if you’re trying to get the tax credit (you must be in contract by April 30, 2010). Even a weekend or two can allow you the mental battery recharge and detachment from getting outbid, for example, that allows you to re-up your efforts with a positive outlook.
5. Adopt a ‘beginner’s mind’ when you restart. When you get back in the saddle, let go of the list of "must-haves" and "deal-breakers" you’ve been working with. Hold on to the basic lessons you’ve learned, but let go of the prejudices and preconceptions of your jaded perspective. Start afresh, and you might see and be open to properties and offers you would never even have considered before your break.
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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