Home Buying 101 -- Buyers are Liars

There’s a saying in the real estate world that “buyers are liars.” It’s not that buyers walk in and deliberately tell lies to their real estate agents. It’s more that what buyers think they want in a house and what they actually wind up wanting are often two very different things.

Case in point: my brother, whom I love very much and who is definitely not a liar. He wanted to buy a house. A house, as in “detached property with a yard.” He was very adamant about this point, because he has a very sweet yellow lab named Jake who needs space to run around and survey his empire and do his occasional duty. So we traipsed around town looking at lots of houses with lots of big yards.

And then I get a call. That very same brother is very excited. He’s spent the entire morning with a sales rep over at Riverfront. They have a great place that he really loves, and . . .

“Riverfront? Those are condos. What about Jake and the yard and surveying his empire and all that?”

“I think I can teach him to pee in a box on the balcony.”

That’s what we mean when we say that buyers are liars.

The point is that, when you’re all pre-approved and it’s time to go out looking at houses, you need to keep a dialogue going with your agent about what you need, what you want and what you don’t want. Those needs and wants may change over time, once you’ve seen a couple of houses and get a clearer picture of what’s available. That’s okay. Just keep the conversation going.

Most buyers have a pretty clear idea of what they want. Some have ideas that are too clear. (“It has to be made of stucco, sit on a corner, and have a kitchen with a window over the sink that faces to the south and looks over a peony garden that’s four feet wide by eight feet deep with a tree in the middle.”) Others aren’t clear enough. (“I don’t care what the house is like or what part of town it’s in, as long as it’s a good deal.”)

The first time you meet with your agent, be clear about what you know you want – area, size, number of bedrooms, age and condition of the house, etc. He or she will ask you a lot of questions, so you don’t have to come in with a list all prepared or anything. Just talk to him or her about what you think you want, and why.

You may prefer a newer house. But would an older house that’s been nicely remodeled be an option for you as well? You may say you need four bedrooms, but is that because you need four bedrooms, or do you need three bedrooms and a home office? If it’s the latter, then a three bedroom home with a study might work for you as well.

People sometimes ask me “How many houses do buyers generally look at before finding the one they want?” That depends completely on the buyer and the circumstances. I had one buyer who decided he wanted the first home we looked at. (Well, the first one we looked at after he realized he wanted a house in Park Hill instead of a condo in the Highlands.) I had another who claims we looked at 70 houses before finding the right one for her. I stopped counting, but I don’t think we hit 70.

It’s okay to fall in love with the first house you look at. It’s okay to say “Look no more, this is it!” It’s also okay to walk into a house and say “No, this isn’t it” and walk right back out without seeing the rest of the house. You won’t offend your agent. He didn’t build the house, after all. It’s okay to say “this isn’t it” before you even walk in. You don’t even have to get out of the car if you’re certain you don’t like the house, or the area, or whatever.

Remember that you probably aren’t going to find perfect. But you will find “right” for you. I’m a big fan of giving buyers the time and space they need to find the best house for their needs. It may happen on the first outing. It may not. Some buyers are in a bigger hurry than others, and thus have to choose more quickly. However it works, you should never, ever be pressured by a realtor or anybody else to buy a particular home when you’re not comfortable with the decision.

The way I see it, the transaction will be over soon enough. But the buyers are going to live in that house for a long, long time. I don’t want them to wake up every morning cursing me because I talked them into buying something they didn’t really want.

Talk to your agent. Listen to your agent. He or she will probably have suggestions and ideas about your various options, about resale values and a host of other issues related to your search. Take all of that into account. And then remember that, in the end, the decision is yours, and yours alone.

Well, yours, and the sellers who accept or reject your offer, and the lender who will tell you whether or not you can have the money to buy it . . .