You really, really want to buy a house. But, after six months of looking, you
have found nothing to move you beyond just looking. Your agent is getting impatient
and you are sick of the process. Still, you haven’t even made an offer.
If you have an underlying fear of commitment or are employing passive-aggressive
behavior toward your spouse, then you might need a good therapist. But you may
just be suffering from “Buyer’s Block.”
Buyer’s Block is the result of fear, uncertainty, a lack of specific
knowledge, and most of all, the ability to focus constructively. A mild case
can stall home buying plans; a severe case will wreck havoc, leaving a buyer
a looker and a renter for years to come.
This is no exaggeration. I know real estate agents who have worked with the
same buyers for up to eight years, with no end in sight. Some customers made
successful offers and then pulled out before signing a contract, some never
found a house that suited them, others apparently settled on house hunting as
their weekend hobby. I am not sure what this says about the emotional health
of the agent, who is, of course, an enabler, but that is a subject for another
Are you (or is a customer) a blocked buyer? There are several variations, but
most common is the buyer who is seeking perfection.
Everyone wants the perfect house, but a rational person realizes that there
is no such thing. A blocked buyer, however, is not particularly rational and
convinced that if he just looks long and hard enough, the perfect house will
Week after week his debriefing with agent and/or spouse will sound like this:
“Well it had a decent kitchen, but the yard isn’t very level for
the kid’s games and there is no separate shower in the master bath.”
“The bedrooms were certainly nicer than in the place over on Oak Street,
but the house next door has a terrible yard.”
Even with all the money in the world, you can’t buy the perfect home.
Some goals are simply unattainable. There are communities that don’t have
any Victorian homes. They just don’t. You can’t buy one, and if
you build one, it would look terribly out of place.
There is a very desirable New England town which began to sprout two-car garages
only in the 1950s. For one thing, who needed them? And, most of the older lots
were too narrow for even a one car attached. But many 1990’s buyers had
to have a lovely, gracious 1930’s colonial with a two car garage. No amount
of argument could convince them (and there were dozens of such buyers) that
such a creature hardly existed. They just continued to look.
There will always be trade-offs. Less money = more compromises, just like life.
Not a hard concept, but one that a blocked buyer is unable to accept.
You must prioritize (or work with your spouse or customer to do so). Make a
list of what the house absolutely must have: three bedrooms, formal dining room
or a quiet street? Each of these carries a stiff price tag, so what will you
give up? Can you live with 1-1/2 baths for a few years – a half bath does,
after all, contain the real essentials. How often will you use a formal dining
room? How about dragging out a cleverly designed convertible table for Thanksgiving
and Passover? With your true priorities laid out, you must then accept that
every other amenity is a bonus. You will get a few of the other things you wanted
and you should be grateful for them. Now give this list to your real estate
agent; tell her you don’t want to look at anything without the must haves
but see everything with. She was probably so confused by your earlier behavior
that she will be thrilled with concrete direction.
This sounds really harsh. Reality is harsh. But remember two things.
1. Homebuyers remain in their first homes for an average of five years. Is
it be better to spend the next five years in a less than perfect home you own
- or an imperfect apartment you rent?
2. Not all flaws are permanent. A terrible kitchen, 1950’s bathroom,
or scraggly yard can be redeemed, maybe not tomorrow, but as money and energy
permit. Even a busy street or lousy view can be less obvious with creative landscaping.
But some things can’t be changed, you can’t grow a too small lot;
adding a fireplace to the living room may be highly impractical; and the gas
station across the street isn’t going away any time soon. Remember also
that the price you paid for the property probably took the less pleasant realities
into account, and most thoughtful improvements will create “sweat equity,”
allowing you to continue that march toward perfection even more quickly.