I recently watched the 2008 documentary "Man on Wire," a literally breathtaking retelling of Philippe Petit’s illegal 1974 tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. At 110 stories — a quarter-mile above the streets of New York City — Petit walked back and forth about eight times over 45 minutes, only stopping after the Port Authority threatened to pluck him off the wire via helicopter.

With inhuman agility, Petit lay down on the rope, he danced on the rope, and he glided back and forth on the rope as though he relished every second of his time up there (which, it seems, he did).

Even at nearly 60 when the documentary was filmed, Petit simply glided across his backyard practice rope, taking each next step as though there was simply no other thing to be doing.

By contrast, it is with very human, halting fear and trepidation that today’s real estate consumers take their next steps in the tightrope-esque balancing act of decision-making contexts presented by today’s real estate market.

No frolicking on the ropes for them, buyers and sellers alike are constantly faced with resolving matters of which value, priority, threat or danger is weightier before taking whatever next step is necessary to move their transaction forward.

The New York Times just ran an article illustrating one such dilemma faced by condo buyers nationwide. Is it wiser to buy a unit before the building even goes up, with the prospect of saving thousands and thousands of dollars, but risk problems if the building has construction defects or the other units don’t sell well (in which case buyers might not be able to obtain financing and risk forfeiting thousands in deposit money)?

Or is it wiser to wait until after the building is done, limiting your choice of unit and risk having to throw money at the developer to buy one of the last few units?

Is it wiser to extend yourself to buy as much house as possible right now, while prices are good, rates are low and loans are still accessible to get? Or buy conservatively now, knowing that your move-up might be much more difficult and costly?

Buy with an FHA loan, saving your cash cushion but risking not having your offer accepted by sellers who frown on FHA-financed offers, or buy with a conventional loan, sinking all your cash into a home you know might have some depreciating left to do?

It’s no simpler for sellers. Sell now to get the move-up home on the cheap and collect the move-up tax credit, but also get less than "peak pricing" for your current home? Or sell later when prices for both your current home and your next one might be higher?

Determining your offer price is a tightrope act, walking the line between appraisable fair market value, avoiding "overpaying" and being sufficiently aggressive to best other offers. Same with setting your list price: Sellers crave to lure buyers in with the prospect of a good value without selling their home short or setting the stage for lowball offers. …CONTINUED

So often, buyers and sellers cast desperately about to find the "right" answer to these dilemmas of balancing various factors before taking their next real estate step. However, when it comes to their perspectives and mental approaches to walking these real estate market tightropes, often there is no one answer that is "right" for every buyer, seller, building or situation.

Rather, there are simply right approaches — many of which can be learned from Petit’s approach to his crazily gorgeous tightrope walk between the twin towers, which will never be duplicated by another human being.

Buyers and sellers must be mentally nimble and agile — they must be able to move easily and gracefully to take account for the rapidly changing scenery of facts about their intended home, their transaction, their mortgage and the market. This takes flexibility: the ability to wrap their heads and their decisions around new information.

But it also takes certainty — to be bold, agile and flexible decision-makers in this rapidly changing market, buyers and sellers must have a clear vision of the outcome they want, the "after" picture they are trying to create of their lives once they’ve made their real estate move.

Interestingly enough, Petit’s seemingly insane tower walk was actually planned with meticulous precision and the involvement of numerous expert advisers over a six-year period of time — starting before the towers were even constructed.

And that sound preparation freed him to relax and enjoy the precious moments of the walk itself, knowing he was prepared for every humanly imaginable contingency that might arise.

The clear parallels for homebuyers and sellers abound — who should also plan their house hunts and home sales with precision and thoughts toward course correction around predictable obstacles, with the advice of their own expert advisers.

Of course, the unexpected dangers of Petit’s walk are also instructive for real estate consumers. You just can’t plan for everything. The most dangerous portion of his escapade was when the police threw him down the stairs after he came down. As Petit himself might say in his native tongue, "c’est la vie" (French for "such is life") when it comes to walking tightropes — both literally and those of the real estate variety.

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.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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