What is your real estate Hot Button?
Buying a house is an emotion driven investment, one in which the heart all
too often gets in the way of the sane, straightforward, rational investor each
of us knows ourselves to be.
Sometimes buyers (and renters) are very aware of the hot buttons that drive
their home search decisions; other times these triggers are
buried so deep that they screw up purchase after purchase until the buyer finally
realizes that what he thinks he wants isn't really what he does want.
For instance: an elderly woman who needed to downsize from a huge house and
yard into a more easily maintained situation looked on and off for three years
before suddenly grabbing a condo in a high rise at a premium price. It was a
lovely condo but twice the size she required and in need of serious rehabilitation.
Only months later, after driving a contractor and two of her children nuts,
did she confess to why she had to have the unit.
She was an avid ceramics painter and had painted for herself, family, and friends,
dozens of "Christmas Village" houses, trees, shops, churches, train
stations, carolers, and so forth. The minute she walked into the condo, unsuitable
for her in almost every way, she saw the huge fireplace hearth and on it the
perfect place to display her Christmas village...one month a year.
Another for instance: a real estate guru, a trainer of other
agents, could not figure out why she had, on a whim, purchased a studio apartment
after showing it to a customer. She, her husband and three kids were comfortably
housed in an urban condo several blocks away, she certainly could not occupy
the space and it was a pretty lousy rental investment. She did finally manage,
over four years, to purchase the apartments on either side of the studio and
turn all three into a lovely apartment that she lives in to this day, but she
could never understand why she had started such a crazy and expensive chain
of events. That is, until five years to the day after her initial visit to the
condo, when she walked into her living room and a shock rolled through her body.
It was the light that streamed through the windows that morning and on the morning
five years earlier which had made the apartment irresistible.
One is supposed to love one's home, but buying on a hot button impulse
can be more costly in terms of time, money, and emotions than it is ultimately
It took a long time to identify what was driving a successful dentist with
a beautiful young family. He was clear from the start that they only wanted
a brand new home. This was right after 9/11, the family was visibly Muslim,
and the wife had twice been physically threatened, so they also craved a secure
and private situation. Yet only one home elicited a positive response. The house
was poorly laid out and the builder, while a good one, had sacrificed a number
of commonsense features in favor of glitz and these customers were not glitzy
Assad fixated on the house. Eman, his wife hated it. It was on a busy street
in one of the least attractive parts of town. The yard afforded no privacy,
the first floor powder room was in a rather public location (sort of a dumb
one too) that she found absolutely unacceptable. Assad wanted his wife to be
happy, but he also wanted that house.
What followed nearly drove the builder and both real estate agents mad. Assad
brought in two landscape architects to design privacy barriers
for the front and back of the house. The back was easy, the front virtually
impossible. Next came two interior designers to find a place to relocate the
powder room and overcome the bonehead mistakes the builder had made in placing
the deck and accessing the back yard. Every change that resolved issues was
impractically expensive. The home was off the market for several months while
the builder screamed and yelled at both agents, and Eman spent most of her time
in tears. When asked why this house, Assad would say he loved it and would not
hear the argument that, no, in fact he did not. I continued to show him every
new home that came on line; the builder offered to custom build on another lot
he owned. Nothing but this house, which would not suffice, would suffice.
Then a house that had been under agreement for months suddenly came back on
the market. It had a wonderfully private backyard; a first floor lavatory located
in a private and reasonable location, and was only eight houses away from the
original house - eight houses that took it off of the busy street and
into a private and friendly neighborhood. Assad and Eman bought it on the spot.
It was the location and only the location that had prompted Assad to behave
in the way he had. His wife didn't realize it, neither agent spotted it,
and Assad probably was unaware as well that both houses were in the only town
he wanted to live in but that a 15 minute traffic jam stood between his office
and any other available home in town. And he wanted that 30 minutes a day with
his wife and family. He was willing to do nearly anything to own that time,
even spend a small fortune making the wrong house right to satisfy his hot button.
If any of us had recognized the real issue it would have saved several months,
a lot of aggravation and substantial amounts of money.
What is your hot button? If you have chosen a few living situations
in the past it may be easy to figure out. What did they have in common? It could
be something pretty obvious - a view or a view of something in particular such
as water or a sunset; exceptionally high ceilings; hardwood floors;
a corner lot; - or it could be more subtle - the light patterns in
a certain room, the distance from your parking space to the front door, a level
lot, a terraced lot; outdoor living space (even if just a tiny balcony.) Your
house picks may have shared several common features but did any of your homes
lack one? If so, how comfortable were you living there and how long did you
stay? How would you feel if you lived in a space that was missing any of those
things that seem to draw you? Can you envision living in a house that is 15
feet from a neighbor's home or that has no greenery visible from the kitchen
If you are venturing out to buy a home or rent for the first time, keep a mental
checklist of the places you see and try to identify the common threads that
beckon to you. Do you find that a dubious neighborhood is OK as long as there
is a safe place to run or bike nearby or enough counter space to display all
of your kitchen gadgets? Does closet space mean more to you than air conditioning?
Once you identify your hot buttons you can either try to indulge them or sublimate
them. If the former, then tell your agent that no house or apartment will work
unless it has enough bookcases to accommodate your desire to own every book
written by or about Mary Higgins Clark or a location within walking distance
of a major racetrack.
However, once you know what factors are motivating your housing decisions,
you may be able to make peace with them. Millions of people have probably lived
out their lives with a gnawing desire for a house overlooking the ocean or yearning
for a truly sybaritic bathroom or an indoor lap pool. Is it possible within
your community or your budget to indulge your desire? If not, then it is time
to be a grown up, to tell yourself that someday you will wake up to the crashing
surf or shower in piped in Perrier, but in the meantime you must let other more
rational needs and desires drive your housing search. Such
mature decision making is only possible when you can identify why that little
voice keeps saying that this place isn't quite right.
Oh, yeah, full disclosure. After owning 11 houses and renting three apartments,
I am unable to move into a residence that does not either have or have the potential
for a wood stove. This is an almost sensible fetish for a New Englander which
I was for three decades, but not overly smart in coastal South Georgia.
Now excuse me, I have to haul in more firewood.