• Computers excel at answering yes-or-no questions, but they don't do so well at weighing the importance of those questions.
  • By helping clients cut through the noise and focus on a question that will help them make a decision, agents are providing an un-disruptable skill.

A purchase, even one as large as a home, can be boiled down to a series of yes-or-no questions that lead up to one big yes-or-no question:

Is this house worth what the buyer is willing to pay for it? (Or, conversely, how much should the buyer pay for the property?)

Computers read programs based on binary code — ones and zeros. They excel at yes/no thinking at a level far beyond what most humans can do, so theoretically, a computer program should have been able to replace the human components of a real estate transaction a long time ago.

So why haven’t they?

Not every question is created equal

Although every decision about a home purchase can be distilled to a yes-or-no question — which a computer could probably solve — not every yes-or-no question carries equal import.

My agent asked my husband and me a question earlier this week, and that question helped us make what will probably be our most significant decision of 2016.

As some of you might know, we’re shopping for a house. Inventory has been tight, and after considering every home in our price range (some of them twice), my husband and I had some big questions. None of them were simple, and most of them were unanswerable:

  • How long will this take?
  • How long should this take?
  • Should we lower our standards?
  • Should we seek more wiggle room in our price range?
  • When will we find “the one”?

Those were important questions to us, but they weren’t the question we should have been asking ourselves.

Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock

The question that matters

We started discussing one listing in particular with our agent — it was one we’d seen and liked, but we weren’t sure it was worth the asking price.

We mentioned the lack of a garage and brought up questions we had about the foundation, and those are certainly important factors to consider. Potential deal-breakers, even.

But they didn’t help us answer the big question — is this house worth what we’d pay to buy it?

Then our agent cut through the noise by posing one question to us — the question that, it turned out, was the one we should have been asking ourselves about this specific home.

The sellers had reduced their asking price twice. Our agent noted that this was perhaps the nicest house we’d looked at, and based on the structure itself, it should have already sold.

However, it’s located on a smaller, less private lot than most of those in the mountains. It’s “in town” — a town of maybe 20 people — but most buyers don’t move to the mountains to live in a town, however small it might be.

“Most people move up there because they want privacy,” he pointed out. “If this house had been built on any other lot you’ve seen, it would have sold after the first price reduction instead of remaining on the market after the second.

“So how much is your privacy worth to you? How much would you be willing to pay to live in a well-built, well-finished home on a less private lot?”

It was an epiphany moment. I realized that my questions about the garage and the foundation weren’t helping me reach a decision.

But this one would.

It framed our decision in a way that was easy to address. Instead of considering three or five or nine different factors, we only had one to weigh.

With that one question, our agent cut through the noise and gave us a road map to a choice.

What happened next?

My husband and I thought about this question. We talked about it.

We considered our reasons for moving, the reasons why we liked this house in particular.

We discussed what we’d be compromising and what we’d be gaining. We landed on a dollar amount that we felt would make us feel OK about the compromise.

And this morning, our offer was accepted. We’re under contract!

Email Amber Taufen.

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