Ahhh, the agony and the ecstasy of buying a home. Well, the ecstasy has largely been supplanted by anxiety and nervousness, but I’d like to think there’s still a little taste of excitement and suspense (the good kind) inherent in making this lifestyle transformation.
Nevertheless, I see buyers in my own practice overindexing on the agony piece, for reasons they can control. One of those agony sources is rigid expectations, or being unwilling to compromise.
As a case study, let’s look at a couple I recently worked with. They are moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in preparation for retirement, coming from more than 40 years of owning sumptuous, luxurious spreads on acreage in various other regions of the country.
For what they want to spend in our area, though, they’re looking at 1,000 square feet of condo. Which could really work for them — there are lots of new condo buildings in our area, with restaurants and espresso bars on the ground floor. Very urban, chic, sophisticated and grown-up: all the things these clients profess to be, or to want to be, in their retirement years.
The problem is not the inventory, it’s their expectations. Coming from a town where there’s nothing but new construction in sprawling suburbs as far as the eye can see, moving to a town that was mostly built-out 60 years ago presents a change of scene that is tough to get used to.
They find great condos in areas that "look too old" or "are depressing" for their lack of shopping malls, large expanses of grass and big-box shopping. (Funny enough, these are the same downtown spots all the "under-40" buyers are desperately trying to get into.)
Or we see condos they find grungy and dated in neighborhoods they find charming and lovely. Or we see cute condos in cute neighborhoods, where the condos are tiny and the neighborhoods are waaaaay off the beaten path — so much so that they wouldn’t be able to commute to their last few years of work without major drama and expense. That’s not the lifestyle they envision, either.
They worry that wherever they end up, they’ll struggle to give driving directions to their friends so that they’ll never have to see a homeless person or old, grungy neighborhood. Every place we see is close but has some fatal flaw — and the definition of fatal seems to be evolving and expanding over time.
When the place works and the neighborhood works but the driving directions are objectionable — that’s when I have to cry foul and put it to them straight: These options represent the cream of the crop in your price range. Decide what’s most important to you, then choose a house. Or rent.
And it’s not just them. Entry-level house hunters can find the right home in the right ‘hood, but those two elements are almost unheard of with the elusive second (or third) bathroom, or large-enough closets or bedrooms. Or they can’t seem to find a dining room large enough for their Restoration Hardware table set. (Note to buyers: Buy the furniture to suit the house, not vice versa. Thanks. Moving on.)
Clients who can spend twice as much can find the perfect house just fine, but not with the requisite view, or deck square footage, or mix of walkability and country feel. …CONTINUED
What some buyers struggle to wrap their heads around is that no matter how many millions of dollars they had at their disposal to spend on their home, there would still be compromises they would need to make. It’s kind of like being — and staying — married. No one person can fulfill every single social, emotional, psychological, financial and logistical need of another person.
That’s why you have kids, parents, cousins, friends, mentors, pets, therapists and yoga instructors. Same with real estate: Buyers of multimillion-dollar Manhattan penthouses still need a summer pad in the Hamptons because they know one place cannot be all things to all people.
If you can’t afford to have multiple homes (which most of us can’t), all that is within your power is to manage and control your expectations. This is not to say you should settle for a home that won’t work for you. Rather, there’s a fine balance you have to find between reality-based expectations for your pricing and your authentic, nonfrivolous wants and needs for your home.
You can do this by viewing a lot of homes in your price range, educating yourself about what’s out there for the money you have to spend, and by getting very real with yourself about what is a want, what is a need and what is a total hallucination. We all have fantasies, but you can literally miss the market conditions that are favorable to you by persisting in thinking you can materialize your fantasy home for 40 percent of what that sort of home normally goes for in your desired neighborhood.
Younger buyers should realize that their first home is unlikely to be the only home they ever own, so it’s wise to save some wants and needs for the next one (or two, or three).
But perhaps the best reality-checking strategy is to listen to your broker or agent. If they’ve worked patiently with you for months, and then sit you down to say you’re not likely to find "X" rare and elusive specimen of a home, listen. If you don’t trust them, you’re with the wrong agent.
If you think the agent or broker is giving up on you or not listening to what you say you want, do this: Ask the agent or broker to show you the house that he or she thinks you’re looking for, no matter how much it costs.
I’ve offered to do that before, and when my Midwestern transplants realized that their old house "here" would cost three times what they wanted to spend, those facts managed their expectations for their impending purchase better than any tough conversation ever could.
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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