Editor’s note: This is the third column in a four-part series.
If you know me, you know one of my favorite self-help reads is the Louise Hay classic, "You Can Heal Your Life." ("Woo-woo" alert issued now.) The book is known as one of the first bestsellers to truly acknowledge and explore the mind-body connection.
In fact, Hay even has a chart at the end of the book listing various medical symptoms or illness, the mental or psychological issue that frequently underlies it, and an affirmation that can help change that mental pattern and, as a result, cure the symptom.
In Hay’s diagnostic system, chronic throat issues can indicate that the sufferer has a pattern of stifling back their opinions, thoughts or even needs. The prescription? This affirmation (among other things): I speak up for myself freely and easily.
In this, the third of four articles on the fundamental elements of being a successful real estate consumer, I submit that speaking up for oneself freely and easily is one of these fundamentals.
What does that even mean, in a real estate context?
It means, as we first discussed in the context of the first "fundamental," to be honest and forthright not just with the folks on the other side of the bargaining table, but also with yourself about what your real estate goals are, what resources you have, and what your limitations are — some of which will require you to execute on the second "fundamental," which is to do the math on everything and read everything before you sign.
But here’s the thing: none of that honesty with yourself, doing the math, or reading stuff means a thing if you don’t speak up for yourself when you need to! This can mean in negotiations with a seller or a listing agent, sure. I don’t see many people struggling to speak up in this context, though.
It seems like the shift from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market during and after the 2006-07 meltdown has emboldened many buyers to get aggressive in negotiations, sometimes to the extreme. And sellers struggling to net at least what they owe on their homes have become similarly bold about negotiating commissions.
"Speaking up for yourself" is, on some levels, shorthand for effectively communicating with all parties and vendors involved in your transactions. This is particularly challenging when it comes to the negotiation of non-price terms (which can be much less clear than dollars and cents).
I also see this challenge frequently faced by consumers who are struggling to find/be shown properties that suit them, prospective borrowers who are floundering in a sea of bizarre underwriting restrictions, buyers and sellers of distressed properties who are trying to wrap their heads around sometimes unusual contracts and mortgage obligations, and first-time buyers who are just trying to wrap their heads around it all.
Speaking up for yourself requires that (a) you be clear on what you want or need, and (b) that you be willing and able to clearly state your concern that this want or need is not being met. The latter of these requires the ability to manage two key emotions: fear-based panic, and intimidation.
The panic arises from three things: 1) not understanding what’s going on, 2) a fear that you won’t get your "dream house," and 3) urgency — usually, the urgency created by contract timelines and deadlines.
Minimize this tongue-tying panic by extensively educating yourself before you buy, sell or refi; managing your expectations and staying in the reality that the home is not yours until your loan has funded; and asking your broker or agent to help you prepare an escrow calendar as soon as you get into contract, asking questions and stating concerns as soon as they arise.
The intimidation that causes real estate consumers to stay silent when they should be speaking up, in my experience, usually results from number overwhelm — a sheer fear of dealings with larger amounts of money. If you suffer from this affliction, it’s best to bring in a very trusted relative or adviser to help you go through all the numbers and get your concerns met, because a mortgage mistake is a big, bad mistake to let happen just because you couldn’t focus on the numbers.
Sometimes, though, this intimidation arises from the fact that the person struggling to speak up is generally very smart and savvy in life, and is not feeling that way in the context of this transaction. Most people will only ever buy a couple of homes in their lifetimes — if ever.
Further, given the import and size of the transaction and the fact that it is riddled with casual mentions of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and all sorts of arcane jargon many people will never use again, it’s easy for normally savvy consumers to feel out of sorts and decidedly unsavvy in contrast to the brokers and agents they are working with, who do these deals every day.
The cure for this intimidation can be a patient broker or agent who is happy to constantly explain and educate. I assure you, these pros exist. But it can also simply be to force yourself to push through your nerves and simply say what you need.
If you read a contract clause four or five times and simply don’t understand it, speak up. Ask your agent or attorney to explain it, and keep asking until you understand the ramifications of that provision on your rights and obligations.
If you can’t stand to see another condo when you’ve specifically said you’re only interested in detached single family homes, speak up — you might learn that there’s nothing on the market that meets your needs in your price range, which will empower you to shift your budget or your expectations, one. (You might also learn that you’re working with the wrong agent, which will empower you to find the right one!)
While speaking up for yourself might be difficult at first, the more you practice it, the more easily and freely your self-advocacy will flow, to steal a phrase from Hay, the esteemed author.
Take a page from her self-help advice and help yourself become a fundamentally more successful real estate consumer when you conquer panic and intimidation: Pipe up when you have questions or concerns, and keep being the squeaky wheel until you get the grease of understanding and being comfortable, and until the circumstances change to align with your wants and needs.