I walked into Target thinking I needed laundry detergent and dog food (yeah, right.). Three-hundred and eighty-eight dollars later, I came out with not only the two items I had intended to buy, but granola bars, paper towels, new shoes, white kitchenware, shorts and shirts for the boys, and a list of other items I hadn't really intended to purchase, but couldn't pass up.
AS it turns out, there's a big divide between what I need and what I want (and a price difference as well). I'm fairly certain that's what retailers are counting on from their customers. In fact, there's an entire science behind it. What we think we want and what we really want are often two very different stories altogether.
In some respect, Buyers operate the same way. We'll begin with a long list of what they DO and DO NOT want in their next home, but until they step inside, they often don't really know.
"We want a big back yard with easy 'walk-to' accessibility and a gigantic garage."
"I really need all-level living and room for an in-law or au pair."
"Don't show me anything that isn't 'turnkey' with a luxurious master bathroom and kitchen."
Cut to: an excited phone call from your buyer at a house waaay up the hill with decks and NO backyard to speak of, OR inside a very vertical modern on four levels, OR on their way to a fixer in need of major overhauling . . . and you have an inkling as to what the average day of a Realtor looks like. (It happens more often than you think.) It's not that "all Buyers are liars" as the saying goes, it's that most Buyers really don't know what they want and with so many choices a simple click away, it may be harder to narrow the field, not easier.
As helpful as the Internet is, it can also be overwhelming. Until we physically get into a home, we can't really understand its strengths and weaknesses - or have that "ah-ha" moment. After refusing to even look at my last house because the street did little for me, I finally wound my way down the steep driveway (out of sheer frustration at the lack of available inventory) only to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with the gazebo and the setting. The 1950's house itself, I was less than ecstatic about, but was certain I could fix - and so I did. (Cliff had some input too, of course.) Such is the nature of the home search. In many respects, it defies sensible explanation. Largely, because it's more emotional than pragmatic.
Add to that a market that doesn't offer up as many listings as one would hope for, and panic can set in. Thus it's imperative that you keep an open mind and see as many opportunities as possible while in the hunt. This is where the Sunday Opens come in, allowing one to see a lot of houses in a short amount of time. In practice, finding a new home is almost a full-time job.
Once inside, remember that you're essentially auditioning for the role of future owner so any criticisms you have about the house are best kept between you and your REALTOR. When you have the disclosures in hand, you can drill down on any perceived shortcomings and the potential repairs that lie ahead. Remember, when you are competing against others, the listing agent wants to hear how committed you are - not how critical you can be. So mental note - when in front of other agents, give a property nothing but praise.
But we are spending a lot of money on the house and we want it to be perfect!"
Of course you do. Would it help to know that no house is perfect and I truly mean NONE of them, regardless of how high the price point? (It's true.) Every property has flaws, whether it's a starter home or the GRAND estate. I've yet to sell a house to anyone (even to those for whom price has little baring) who didn't raise an objection or two.
In fact, it's part of the natural process. Every Buyer has to overcome objections in order to buy. The tolerance for these inconveniences is really as individual as the properties themselves and your willingness to take them on - or live with them as is. (That's actually an option too.) As with your mate, once you actually fall in love, you'll very likely overlook many of these insignificant hurdles.
Some defects are inherent, meaning they will remain ever thus, such as the BART station outside the front door or winding streets, and require careful consideration, while others, such as old kitchens and bathrooms, are easily resolved by cosmetic improvements. (Okay, maybe not exactly "easily," but you get my point.) Putting in a closet is a whole lot easier than changing traffic patterns.
Serial renovators such as myself, love these kinds of challenges, but I'm in the minority and for very good reason. Renovations are costly and messy affairs at the very least, and they very often DON'T pencil out. In short, you gotta love not only the concept of renovation, but the actual day-to-day inconvenience to take one on, but that's another column for another day. (Check out my Blog renovationriptide.com)
Whatever home you ultimately decide on, the journey is much the same: select an agent, define the perimeters, narrow the hunt, hone in on a community and architectural style, lock a loan, thoroughly read and sign off on the disclosures, conduct inspections and research, write an aggressive offer, get into escrow, transfer the good-faith deposit, order inspections, put homeowners insurance into place, order title insurance, remove contingencies, sign closing papers, transfer the funds, transfer title, record the transfer of sale, close escrow, pick up the keys, and pack and move! Congratulations, you're a new homeowner.
If only it were that easy!
Because it isn't, let's make sure you truly, madly, deeply fall in love and then you'll be ready to battle. In a market that's quickly escalating and offers too little inventory for far too many Buyers, the victory goes to the fearless and to those who are emotionally committed to the process. If you aren't, it's not your house. (Trust me on this one.)
Don't worry, we'll find it. It just takes a little faith and a LOT of ground work (but it also expedites the process if you can reconcile what you want and what you need.) If price allows, you can have both!
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.