When I first started selling real estate, I would sell for $600,000 homes that the owners had purchased 25 years earlier for $15,000, sigh and think, "I was born too late for real estate." In fact, one such client once told me that, at the time he bought his home, he paid more for his "Cadillac car" than he had for his home.
Of course, that failed to take into consideration that 30 years prior, women could barely even secure mortgage loans on their own without a permission letter from their husbands.
Career women needed a "pill" letter from their doctors, confirming that they were on birth control (i.e., so they wouldn’t be getting knocked up and have to stop working).
And, in any event, 30 years prior it would have been much less statistically probable that I would have had the education and career that empower me to afford a home now. But I didn’t think about all that while I was reminiscing about the affordable days of yore.
Now, on the long, slow curve upward (fingers crossed) from the real estate market troughs of the last few years, I still hear a lot of this same sentiment from would-be buyers: "Oh, if only I had bought when loans were so much easier to get." This conveniently forgets the reality that houses cost twice as much back then (circa 2006).
I hear sellers wistfully whine about not having sold when they "should have," at the top of the market. This ignores the reality that they would more than likely have also been buying their next home at the top of the market in that event.
All this woulda/coulda/shoulda-ing about years past brings to mind a passage from Frances Meyers’ now-classic "Under the Tuscan Sun," in which she retells a Tuscan gathering of American expats, several of whom bemoan the lifestyle of modern Rome as it compares to their memories of Rome in the 1950s, and of Meyers’ own reaction to the exchange:
"They all agree, Italy is not what it used to be. What is? All my adult life I’ve heard how Silicon Valley used to be all orchards, how Atlanta used to be genteel, how publishing used to be run by gentlemen, how houses used to cost what a car costs now. All true, but what can you do but live now?"
Indeed. What can you do but live now? What so many have been doing is to fantasize about what might have been (i.e., live in the past), while their ability to change their reality (and the state of their realty in their reality) dissipates along with the present.
Ask any self-help guru: the point of power, your only ability to change anything with which you’re dissatisfied, is in the now. Yesterday’s gone, and tomorrow ain’t here yet, people.
So, let’s talk about today.
Today’s homes are much more affordable for a much larger percentage of buyers than they have been in many moons. This is a boon to buyers of all sorts, from first-timers to those moving up.
Sellers have the ability to be more proactive and involved in their home’s marketing than ever before. All real estate consumers — renters included — are able to educate and inform themselves and their decisions, largely online, than any previous generation has had the resources to do.
Yes, loans are hard to get — really hard, for some folks. But this generation of home loans, with their downpayment requirements, tight debt-to-income ratios, and requirement that you actually pay toward the principal every month, may actually create a generation of sustainable homeowners — people who, get this, can actually afford their homes, over the long run.
And that’s a good thing not just for the individual homeowner (who may feel overly restricted by the loan guidelines, and forced to buy less home than they think they can afford), but for everyone.
Staying present and living in the reality of today, not of when your granny bought her house, is a prerequisite to making smart decisions — based on the facts of today’s interest rates, mortgage markets, employment market, your career — as it is today — etc.
It frees you from the paralyzing crystal ball-style twin fears that if you lock your rate now, rates will fall tomorrow; but if you don’t lock it now, they could go up!
In my studies of yoga, the more old-school teachers emphasize community: every student’s duty to her neighbor. This goes beyond just the obvious good-neighbor yoga manners, like silencing your cell phone in the studio.
It includes focusing and staying present to the best of your ability, which helps your balance. Why does your neighbor care about your balance? Because falling off-balance is contagious. One tree pose tumbles, and the yogini domino effect ensues.
Stay present, focus on the now and stay balanced. Good for yoga, good for the real estate market.