(This article was first published in 1997)
Ah, if life or real estate really were only as simple as a Budweiser beer commercial. In sixty short seconds, we could discern the hidden meaning of existence by staring deeply into the third eye of Spuds McKenzie. Or we could routinely coax ourselves into a profound meditative trance by breathing in sync with the esoteric rhythms of those magic Clydesdale hooves as they trotted proudly down the middle of Main Street America.
But no, unfortunately, that Bud’s not for you or for any of the rest of us in the real, real estate world.
There are always more questions than answers when it comes to buying a home. Or when going through any of the other major life transitions that are lying out there in wait for us. So tell me this, intrepid fellow traveler on this remarkable journey we all car-pool in together…Are we ever going to get all our questions answered?
Nope. Forget it. Not a snowball’s chance in the proverbial big down under.
But how about this as a consolation prize? Can we get a lot of our questions answered? You bet! And if you think that constitutes “just settling”, think again, because last I checked, some is almost always better than none.
Fate, providence, kismet, divine intervention, synchronicity. karma, luck – whatever name you use for “it” in the lexicon of the daily universe you happen to stroll around in – “it” always reserves the last choice for itself. The ultimate say. The final word.The proxy vote. The consummate contingency.
The more I endeavor to understand this fascinating form of soul work known as real estate, the more convinced I am that the overriding caveat to buying a home is that no matter how many questions you have, no matter how many answers you get, there is still going to be that last little leap of faith that you have to take all by your very lonesome.
A small but oh-so-significant leap over what may feel like a giant chasm opening up under your chair at the escrow sign-off table or an infinite abyss welling up in your own gut when the moment finally arrives when, with trembling hand, you have to write the one of the biggest gut checks you’ve ever have to write in your life.
Some people are better at doing “the leap of faith” than others. Some seem to be able to draw from a deep, mysterious, hidden well of courage when the moment of truth inevitably rolls around. Others turn to jello at the first hint of full commitment. Some sink into a fast free fall or start sounding a high emotional pitch when the going gets just a little tough.
With assistance, Buyers can put themselves through a kind of mental and emotional boot camp to prepare themselves to recognize the big moment before it actually arrives. Training that teaches them some of the rudimentary tools of proper prior planning and helps them get over the hump before the hump morphs into an insurmountable mountain.
One simple piece of advice is this: In the beginning of your home search start by paying attention to all those little things you actually can control in the real estate process – recognizing that there is so much that is going to be beyond your control as you get further down the road. If you go step by step in premeditated fashion and cross a bunch of nagging requisites off the list up front, you’ll be surprised at how much energy and brainspace you can free up for the future. The idea is to save and garner and hold enough synaptic juice in reserve so it is available when you finally enter the steel cage for the wrestling match with all the tougher, more unanswerable, more uncontrollable questions that are inevitably going to arise to challenge you.
You might as well acknowledge right from the start that you aren’t going to make it through your home buying experience without experiencing plenty of existential doubts, second, third and fourth guesses, sweaty palms in the middle of the night, sudden onslaughts of decision deficit disorder and heavy bouts of fear and loathing caused by pre-buyer’s and post-buyer’s remorse. Expect more than a few visits from the dreaded what-if monster – sliding out from under your bed or rattling loudly from inside your closet in the wee hours. The what-ifs will always shake your sleep with a host of their favorite old refrains: What if I lose my job? What if the economy goes to hell? What if the roof starts to leak? What if I stretch myself too far? What if I become a slave to my mortgage?
Change is hard. But you’ve got to buck up if you are going to make it through in one piece with a modicum of grace and good humor. Customizing and reciting your own version of the serenity prayer is also good medicine.
There’s something else you can do for yourself while you are at it. Don’t jump into the car on the first day of your house hunting process, convinced that you are under some biological imperative to identify the perfect home right away. Instead, try easing slowly into the car and head out on the town without any preconceived pressure or sales hype hanging over your head. Simply decide that what you are going to do is conduct “research”. Go on a mindful exploration and an interesting informational scavenger hunt. Simply take a ride and see what you see.
Since the “market” is a hard to perceive phenomena based on an invisible matrix of how every home compares to every other home in your area, viewing a lot of places over time helps you develop a gut sense for what the market is, where it stands and how it operates and evolves cyclically through the ongoing machinations of the great Invisible Hand” that Adam Smith so clearly saw.
Re-framing your house hunting as research takes the onus off the hurry up and go buy-buy consumer addiction that our culture insufferably promotes at every turn. The research mode smoothes things out and creates a more comfortable atmosphere to ask questions and pursue answers in.
No house you look at is ever a waste of time. Banish that silly notion. The houses you look at when you are house hunting don’t all have to be perfect. In fact none of them are going to be perfect. You often gain as much from seeing and talking about what you don’t like in a house as you do from seeing lots of features and amenities that you do like.
House hunting takes place over a period of time that is different for different people. One size, one house, one style does not fit all. To own a home, first you have to be willing to own your own process. Yours – no one elses. Not your agent’s. Not your parents. Not your cubicle mate’s at work. And one of the most important things to remember is that there are no stupid questions. Never apologize to your agent, your lender, your escrow officer for asking anything.
True, some of the questions that pop into your head and jump out of your mouth may sound more like zen koans rather than the rational precepts of a more staid and linear Newtonian universe – but go ahead and ask them anyway. Honor whatever comes up for you. Check it out. Don’t leave any of those stones un-turned. They can create disturbing ripples if they get tossed away before they get checked out. The learning is in the asking and in thinking it through just as much as it is in the answers themselves.
The real estate control consortium – Central Command in Sacramento – seems to have its own trouble discerning what is important and what isn’t important when it comes to turning out well-rounded, worldly-wise Realtors who can act as worthy ombudsmen for clients going through major life transitions.
When I took my real estate first licensing test, the folks at the State Department of Real Estate (in their infinite wisdom) seemed quite concerned that I know exactly how many square feet were in an acre of land as well as the intricacies of the original Spanish Land Grant system along with the exact definition of alluvial accretion.
Now that I’ve been in the business for way more than a hundred dog years I realize how irrelevant most of those details are and how little use they are when trying to put together the jigsaw of the big picture for real people.
What follows is a sample of the kind of questions that seem much more important to me when it comes to my client’s best interests in their journey through the mysterious underbelly of a real, real estate transaction.
Some of these questions may sound odd at first, but there’s a method to my madness. In real estate, fact is always stranger than fiction and when the going gets strange, you have to be able to embrace its complexities.
Why is there truly no such thing as a good market or a bad market.?
Why do so many Agents/Brokers claim to be #1 in real estate at the same time?
Why do the number of lawsuits in real estate increase in direct proportion to the enactment of consumer protection laws?
Why does more real estate paperwork make it less likely that clients will read the most important things you share with them?
Why is earthquake insurance really just life insurance for your house?
Why do most appraisals come in at exactly the agreed upon purchase price of a home?
Why are some termite companies known as buyer’s termite companies while others are known as seller’s termite companies?
Why isn’t location, location, location the most important thing in real estate?
Why is the fourth dimension the most important and least acknowledged dimension of real estate?
Why doesn’t a Seller have to accept a full price offer?
Why is almost everything you read about real estate already old news?
Why is there always a catch to an as-is offer?
Why ask why? Not just because you like to blast down the brewskies. But because you are about to buy a home that holds a unique place in your life. It is a foundation for shelter, privacy, comfort and safety and the center of balance for almost everything else you do. Home is four special walls, a roof and a handful of rich dark earth that nourishes your soul at the same time it is probably the biggest single financial asset that you’ll ever own.