Advice on what to do and how to do it is everywhere these days. Whether you want to know what to eat, how much money to save or how to learn a new language, it seems that the answers are a mere Google away.
And that has created its own set of problems, chief among them the issue of information overload. Sorting through the overwhelming inundation of information about how to proceed with any major life endeavor — including real estate matters like buying, selling or refinancing a home — has become a sort of pre-action step.
Often, the most helpful action-sorting, order-creating, overwhelm-abolishing advice turns out not to be advice about what to do, but advice about what not to do. To that end, here are my top three real estate don’ts:
1. Buy too soon. As I see it, the drive to buy a home before your finances, your family and even your personal development are truly ready (and the complicity of lenders who were all too happy to make loans to borrowers, prematurely) is to blame for much of the real estate mayhem we saw in the recent real estate recession.
If you have no money to put down, no cash cushion, poor spending, saving and debting habits, or uncertainty about how stable you and your household will be in the next five or so years, geographically and otherwise, buying a home is a move that is highly likely to end in a tale of woe.
As strongly as I believe in the power of homeownership, I have seen time and time again that it is better deferred until you are truly ready than rushed into and regretted.
2. Take it personally. Whatever it is. Buyers who get overly attached to a property, emotionally speaking, put themselves behind the eight ball when it comes to negotiations, and are also likely to panic and make bad decisions when it comes to responding to inspection reports and borrowing mortgage money.
Know that there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of prospective homes in your area that might fit your needs, so beware of allowing any single one to get you too worked up, before you have it in contract, have your inspection reports in hand, and have made it through appraisal and underwriting phases.
For sellers, the potential to take things personally is exponentially greater, given that your home is both your largest asset and the place that has been good enough for you and your family to live in for, perhaps, years. It’s very easy to get offended by everything from the real estate agent’s estimation of what your home is worth, staging and property preparation advice (which can feel like your taste and lifestyle are under attack), lowball offers, appraisals — you name it.
The very best practice is to find and work with professionals you trust, six months or even a year in advance of when you want to make your move, then be open and attentive to their advice, even if it hurts. Do not allow your emotional attachment to your home to get in the way of the financial and personal progress you seek from trying to sell it.
3. Avoid discomfort. As a general rule, many of the best things in life require us to go through some discomfort or small, recurring pain to get them. To get fit, you have to get up and exercise when you might feel like curling up and snoozing. To get ahead in your career, you have to exercise discipline in your work habits, putting in hours and ideas even when the going gets tough.
It is no different with real estate; in fact, the nature of the real estate game is so foreign to what most of us consider our zones of comfort and competence that making a series of informed, smart real estate decisions can actually require a series of uncomfortable commitments, several months or even years of agreement to endure little pains to reach your goal.
Whether your personal discomfort zone is triggered by one or all of the following:
- staunching your spending hemorrhage.
- saving money when you’d rather take a trip.
- working through your financial maths repeatedly.
- asking hard questions (and continuing to ask them until you are satisfied).
- thoroughly reading literally hundreds of pages of disclosure, inspection, and homeowners association (HOA) and loan documents.
My last "don’t" is this: Don’t avoid any of these uncomfortable processes, practices and moments. They are each an essential element of the process of buying or selling or mortgaging a home with wisdom and long-term sustainability.