"If you plan on driving your car up to the mountains any time soon, you're going to need new tires," John, my Lexus rep., explained. "These only have a few months left on them."
"How much?" I asked.
"With taxes and installation, you're looking at just under a grand."
It's not that I can't afford new Michelins on my car, but as the lease is up in March, and as I don't plan to keep my current ride, I'd much rather get rid of the car than absorb the expense for someone else's benefit. And when I found out that the "Extra Mileage & Scratch Protection Program" I'd purchased when I agreed to the lease three years ago, allowed me to surrender the car three months early without penalty, the decision was all but made - time to shop around. (I'm decidedly NOT a lease-kinda-gal anyway.)
I know global warming demands a hybrid (regrettably, an all-electric car is not going to work for me just yet), and I know I need a larger model than the small SUV I currently drive, and I know I want a bench seat in the back for our dog, Riley, but surprisingly, that doesn't leave me with a whole lot of choices. Given my criteria (and my budget), I'm down to the Toyota Hylander and the Acura MDX, and when you compare them online, the Hylander is the better vehicle in nearly every category.
I've test driven it; I've looked at all the options, and I've come close to writing a check, but the problem is, I just don't like the body style enough to pull the trigger.
"This is our best seller and you shouldn't miss out," Hared said. "I can get in another color if that's what's bothering you." (It's not.) "Everyone loves it." (No doubt.)
"What if I can get you a better price?" he insisted. "We've got great end-of-the-year rebates going on and if you buy the 2020 model instead of the 2021, it's even better . . ." (I believe you, but it's not going to save you.*)
"I'm going to think on it," I said, handing him back the keys and walking off the lot.
Being on the fence is unusual for me. In truth, I've decided on major home purchases in far less time and with much less information. Moreover, I don't have much vanity around cars. I need them to work, to be dependable, and to carry bags of potting mix, wet dogs, and building materials. I don't need them to suggest I'm successful, cool, affluent, youthful, adored, or spoiled by any means (if I need a car to define me, I should probably be seeing a therapist). So what exactly is my GOLD-PLATED problem?
It's that I'm struggling with what I want (A Land Cruiser) vs. what I need (A Toyota Highlander).
I've got Buyers like this as well. They want cool, sexy, new, but what they can afford is more practical, and what makes sense, may be entirely different altogether. They'll often say things like "If I pay X, it's got to be perfect!"
Let me assure you that in 17 years of trading real estate, I've yet to sell the "perfect" home, regardless of the price tag. "Perfect" doesn't exist, so wipe that expectation from your mind entirely. Even the $6 million Buyers are going to find fault with the homes I show them, and that's as it should be. If there's nothing there to "fix," it's hard to make it your own.
But whether you are buying your starter home, or your retirement dream, it's important to understand that you don't have to love it (although it helps a great deal if you like it). You should, however, appreciate the location, the bones, the space, the promise, and the potential. If you don't love the finishes; if the paint isn't the right color, or if the carpet needs replacing, those objections are all manageable and fairly easy to resolve.
As my husband is fond of saying, "Don't let the perfect, be the enemy of the good." In other words, look at the BIG picture. How many years are you going to live in the property? What's up ahead in terms of growing your family, or conversely, shrinking it? What does the home need to provide for you and yours?
On the other hand, if you can't get to "like," don't force the fit. If there are too many stairs to the front door; if there's freeway noise inside the house; if it's hanging off the side of a cliff, or if there's a problem with the noisy neighbor, those are much harder obstacles to overcome. (Listen to your gut.) Additionally, if you are going to outgrow the house as soon as you move in; if the neighborhood has blight; if the costs of repairs are going to be prohibitive, or if the house doesn't align with your basic needs, you should definitely pass. There will be other homes to consider. I guarantee it.
Listen, we all know decisions are easy when we "love it." Decisions are much harder when we "like it," when there's ambiguity, and when we're not 100% certain, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we shouldn't move forward (unless we're talking about marriage; in which case you need 100% certainty). Whatever the decision, struggle is universal. Struggle is part of the process, and struggle is where we find growth. So, embrace the struggle! (It's there for a reason.)
In the end, you'll do your research. You'll consider what you can afford; you'll refine the hunt; you'll define what your are willing to compromise on, and more importantly, what you are not. You'll assess your objections (and hopefully overcome them); you'll pay attention to your intuition; you'll make an informed choice, and then, you will come to the right conclusion: win, lose or draw. if your intentions are pure, that's the best we can hope for.
Recognizing that we're in a position to "struggle" at all with what kind of car we prefer, what college our kids should attend, whether to book a vacation, or what kind of house we should buy puts us in a rare category indeed. And as we've experienced these past nine months, there are FAR WORSE problems to have. Friends, neighbors, family,, community members, and our brethren - many who are struggling with real-time life-and-death issues - remind us to put our own seemingly insignificant struggles into their proper perspectives. (Thank you to everyone on the front lines.)
Stay safe, stay well, stay smart, and don't let your guard down now that there's hope on the horizon. Homes and cars will come and go, and frankly, can wait for the moment, but family and health are finite conditions. Take care, take heed, and take time if that's what you need. We'll still be here after the holidays.
How can we help you?
(*Trivia time - a hand-delivered box of Little John's toffee to anyone who recognizes the line, the actor, and the movie I stole the quote from in today's piece.)
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.