Champagne Tastes on a First-Time Homebuyer's Budget

When I'm wearing my "buyer's agent" hat, I work with a lot of first-time homebuyers. I love my first-time homebuyers. They're open, eager to learn and very excited about the prospect of owning their own home. Every single one of them has been smart, reasonable and a lot of fun to work with.

It's other realtors' first-time homebuyers who are getting on my nerves lately. I'm hearing more and more about a trend among first time homebuyers making offers on listings. They can't afford a new house, or they want to live in a neighborhood where there are no new houses. So they make an offer on an older home, and then they expect the sellers to turn it into a new home.

It doesn't work that way.

Of course, most homebuyers -- unless they're buying a "fixer" house -- want their new home to be relatively free of major defects. That's what an inspection is supposed to reveal, and what the inspection notice is supposed to address. But I'm hearing more and more about buyers -- mostly young buyers -- who are contractually agreeing to purchase homes, and then during the inspection period they are asking for enormous concessions to replace perfectly good fixtures and systems simply because they aren't shiny and new.

Older homes, especially those not located in "hot" neighborhoods, are generally priced lower than newer homes for a reason. They're older. The upside to that is that they often have more "character" than their sometimes bland newer counterparts. But the downside is that the laws of nature dictate that everything disintigrates eventually, and an older home may be a little further down that road than a new home.

I don't know why this is happening. Maybe it's some kind of sociological condition brought about by the expectations of the current generation. If that's the case, it isn't universal, because I already told you that my young clients are all fabulous. Maybe these buyers have just been reading the newspaper for too long. (Or the internet -- twentysomethings don't read the newspaper, do they?) They read about the "buyer's market" and maybe they start to believe that all sellers are desperate.

Generally, they aren't. And exhorbitant, unreasonable inspection demands tend to make them very cranky and more apt to say "so long" than to continue negotiating.

Whatever the reason, it's not a good trend. Sellers lose weeks of exposure to potential buyers while their houses are "under contract," only to be faced with unreasonable and really impossible inspection demands that kill the sale. Buyers, aside from wasting the sellers' time, waste their own time, their realtors' time, the title company's time. I guess it's good for the inspectors, but I really don't see where anybody else benefits.

It's important to be reasonable in the inspection period. Sure you should to ask them to address the sagging roof or the furnace that's about to blow. But don't expect sellers to wave their magic wands and turn old houses into new.

Because what is old is not always new again.