The world is a fast-moving, ever-changing place these days, except perhaps for the Catholic Church and its time-honored practices. While I'm not Catholic, I have to admit to being completely fascinated by the "conclave" and the sacred decision making process that enveloped the Dioscese as the visiting Cardinals sought to elect the next Pontiff - a system that has endured for more than 2,000 years.
On Wednesday morning, black smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel, signaling once again that no consensus had yet been reached by the 115 Cardinal Electors who had traveled far and wide in order to cast a ballot for the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church; a religion that counts more than 1.2 BILLION (!) faithful among its followers . . . (Wow!)
But by Wednesday evening, a shy and humble Jesuit from Argentina had finally been chosen. A well-educated and simple man by all accounts (Jesuits take a vow of poverty after all) the church's first Latino Pope signals a brave new direction in many respects for the Roman Catholic Church. Forget rock stars, the POPE has an audience like no other, which is, I suppose, the reason for such an arduous selection process.
Unfortunately, buying a home these days is rather arduous as well. Like most popularity contests, Buyers tend to congregate around the same few, coveted properties, while overlooking others that might not exactly make the grade - which makes finding the home much easier than actually securing it. Had you been in the market a few years ago, you would have very likely been the only bidder at the table (perhaps you were but didn't take the plunge). Now, I am preparing my Buyers to write over and over again (timing is everything). If you have been shut out by the heavy competition and find yourself coming up short, it may be the time to look farther afield . . .
That may mean expanding your geographical parameters considerably to include neighborhoods and communities that weren't previously on your radar. Try giving some attention to overlooked "pocket neighborhoods" that offer better buys and less competition (the first of many reasons to work with a local REALTOR). OR, it may mean taking on a less-than-perfect property with the mind set of customizing or remodeling the home later on to better meet your specific needs.
It may mean moving up to the next price point if you can afford to do so. (Why not take take advantage of historically low interest rates that actually offer greater affordability?) Remember, it's not about the price to purchase, as much as it is about the cost to own!
It may mean beating the bushes, networking with other Agents to unearth "off-market" opportunities (there are actually more of these than you might think) or starting a letter-writing campaign to prospective Sellers in an area you have identified as desirable. OR it may mean going back to last year's unrealized sales to see if any of those homeowners are still interested in selling in this year's more dynamic marketplace.
In short, when the field gets very narrow, getting creative becomes more important than ever. To no one's surprise, the more rigid you are with your needs, wants, and wish list, the fewer choices you will actually have. (Just between us, I'm thinking the church should open the priesthood to women - then you'd have some truly amazing choices.)
Finally, be bold! Buying a home - especially in a tight marketplace - requires not only good timing and opportunity, it requires decisiveness and a steady hand. If you are worrying about the fear of "overpaying," in this very heated marketplace, let me politely suggest that you are in the wrong game. (Respectfully, this may not be your time.)
Home purchases are long-term investments and what's more, "market value" is driven not only by "Supply and Demand," but in large part, by emotions, which have a tendency to send prices soaring with little tangible reason. No matter! As my colleague, succinctly and wisely states: "Homes are shelter. Whether you pay a little more to get it now, will be largely irrelevant ten years down the road." (He's absolutely right.)
So have faith in the marketplace. Historically, home values have alway gone up over time. With good diligence, creative thinking, clear intentions, and a bit of of luck, the solution may just be in the road less traveled. (Case in point: A Pontiff from this side of the pond - who knew?)
Even so, buying a home is a process that seems to be quite a bit more transparent than choosing the head of the church, and one in which you have much more control than you might believe.
In the case of the Pope, the Catholics throughout the world could do nothing but wait for the white smoke! You can get out there and bid!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.