Q: I find that many would-be buyers would rather continue to rent for the rest of their lives instead of giving up the big-screen TV and BlackBerrys for the family. Ladies don’t want to give up having their nails and hair done often. What do you say to that? –Pam, real estate agent
A: I have been in this business long enough to know what is causing you to be exasperated with the type of homebuyer you describe. I’ve worked with many of these buyers over the years. This is the type of buyer who presents as a real estate agent’s dream client: They know exactly what they want, exactly what they can spend, and exactly what homes will and won’t work for them. But they may house-hunt for a year or even longer, on today’s market, making offers occasionally and getting outbid.
In the end, they get very frustrated when they can’t find what they want in the price range they can "afford."
Nevertheless, they show up with a fresh blowout and a fresh "mani/pedi" every time you see them, even though they seem to insist on paying pennies for a very nice home in a very nice neighborhood.
These are often buyers who have gotten proactive, as I so often recommend, and decided what they can afford — not based on what the mortgage broker or bank has told them, but based on their own analysis of their budget and determination of the max amount they can spend on their mortgage is.
These are often savvier, wannabe buyers who are attempting to be conservative in their financial planning, avoid overextending themselves, and really avoid being "house poor" — that state in which you have a house, but can barely afford any other necessities or niceties because so much of what you make goes into your house.
I applaud these buyers on their efforts to be intentional and conservative in their financial planning, but to your point, these folks are often unrealistic in terms of the size, location or type of home they can buy with their scaled-back concept of what they can afford, mortgage-wise.
And often, their idea of not being "house poor" is actually, as you point out, a pretext for wanting to have their cake, and their mani/pedis, and BlackBerrys, etc., and eat it, too — preferably in a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house in a great part of town. And absolutely at a bargain price. And we all know how that works.
Buyers need to balance a number of factors when deciding what they can afford to spend monthly or overall, on their homes, mortgage payment and non-mortgage housing obligations like insurance, HOA dues and the like. It’s important that they work through their own personal household spending plan and get a good sense for their current expenditures and what room there is left for the expenses of homeownership, but it may also be necessary to make tradeoffs and sacrifices in order to actually bring their vision of owning a home to fruition.
And, in the interest of avoiding house poverty and making a mortgage commitment that will be sustainable over time, these buyers might need to save more for their downpayment, pay off their credit cards, improve their credit score to qualify for a lower interest rate, or eliminate other, less important line items from their monthly budget.
That means they may need to decide that owning a home is more important than having their nails done every week, and that they can live with doing their nails themselves — in my neck of the woods, that priority choice would add about $160 back into their budget that they could now spend on housing — not a small amount.
These buyers might have to scale back on fancy phones, or ditch the DSL service at home if they decide to keep a smart phone and the data plan that goes with it. They should eighty-six the dinners out in favor of a home in which they can cook and entertain their pals.
The tradeoffs buyers make should be driven by what is most important to them. As I once heard a comedian say, "If you have a Land Rover and a landlord, your priorities might be out of whack." Let that mentally marinate.
If these buyers really feel a need to own a home and keep all the rest of their accoutrements, and they’re unable, after lots of looking and negotiating, to find the place that works for them, get real. That may be an indicator that the home they’re looking for doesn’t exist at the price they’ve decided they’re willing to spend for a home.
And that’s an indicator that they need to revisit their monthly spending plan and decide whether all those line items are truly still worth it.