Last week, we drew inspiration from the late Stephen R. Covey’s pivotal work, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," drawing parallels about highly effective homebuyers and the habits, traits and perspectives buyers should adopt to find and buy a home that is both functional for their families and sustainable for their finances over the long term.

This week, let’s return to Covey’s framework and explore the last three habits of highly effective homebuyers:

Habit No. 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The sheer size and import, length and complexity of a homebuying transaction can make it easy to fixate on "me, me, me!" before, during and after the transaction. We want everyone from the mortgage company to the agents to the sellers and the inspectors to pay attention to us, understand our priorities and limitations, and behave in a way that furthers our interests.

The far better practice is to follow Covey’s charge and seek to understand the moving parts and priorities and guidelines involved in the exercise of buying a home before we seek to make others understand our side of things. Understand the current mortgage lending climate, lending guidelines and the reasoning behind them before you get outraged because you think the lender is placing overly tight limits on your mortgage approval.

Get educated about the market, in detail, and what you can realistically expect to get for the money, before you go out trying to convince sellers to slash big chunks of cash off their price for you.

Seek to understand the approaches and strengths of the various agents you’re considering working with, via referrals and their online presence, before you try to force one to do things your way.

Seek to understand as much as you can about the seller’s constraints, timeline, motivations and priorities, before you try to get them onto your page.

When you seek to first to understand, you empower yourself to do things that ultimately further your own interests, like paying down debt to boost your mortgage approval amount, or pulling the comparables to justify your offer price to the seller.

Habit No. 6: Synergize. Synergy is an ideal that takes the aim of a win-win negotiation to the next level, requiring that you shift the way you see the other people and parties involved in your transaction. It recommends an outlook that says some or all of the other people involved — the seller, inspectors, lenders, agents, etc. — are potentially your collaborators and not necessarily your opponents. This is about looking for the win-win, but also about enlisting everyone else to look for it and work toward it with you.

Habit No. 7: Sharpen the saw. In Covey’s system, sharpening the saw is a mandate to keep our skills sharp, in the realm of the physical, social, mental and spiritual. The parallel for effective homeowners requires a continued commitment to:

  • stay educated as the hyperlocal dynamics of your neighborhood market evolve;
  • diligently read all your documents, all the way through, no matter how many offers you submit or escrows fall apart, including the inspection reports and homeowners association (HOA) disclosures (which I know can be very laborious to wade through);
  • consistently and persistently ask the follow-up questions you have, to any and everything, until you understand; and to
  • constantly revisit the issue of whether your decisions are moving you closer to or further from the holistic "after" lifestyle you had in mind when you decided to buy, avoiding overextending your finances, no matter how much you love a given home.

This is less about skill-building and more about recognizing the reality that the experience of buying a home can take many months, even years on today’s market. Sharpening the saw, as an effective homebuyer, involves staying sharp and focused in your evaluation of information and your decision-making for as long as it takes.

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