I asked my Mom the other day how many houses her and my Dad looked at in 1965 (I was 4 years old) when we moved from Adak Alaska to San Diego, CA. Her answer stunned me. “One”. They looked at only one house! “You didn’t think you needed to compare it to others?” I asked. “to make sure that one was a good deal? “No”, she said. “That one seemed like it would work for us and had everything we needed.”
I remember moving with my family from that same house in San Diego to Corpus Christi in 1982 when I was 19 years old. My Dad and I drove out to Texas ahead of my Mom and brother to rent a house. My Dad wanted something near the Naval Air Station to which he had been transferred. We drove around a little, called an ad in the newspaper, and met the owner to look at a house, walked through, and my Dad said “we’ll take it”. When my mom and brother arrived with the moving van, they moved into a house my Mom had never seen.
There was of course no internet back then, no mapping software with aerial views to check out the neighborhood, no school stats online, no online forums to ask locals 100 questions about the neighborhoods. The only thing my Dad wanted was a house that was close to where he would be working. Since the first house we saw was good enough, my Dad just took it without looking at any others.
Do people pick houses to buy and rent like this anymore? Occasionally. I’ve rented a few sight unseen over the years, and even sold some sight unseen (to investors), but many buyers nowadays overwhelm themselves with the process of finding the “perfect house”. After all, with all the listings online and so much information available, should one not be able to find the perfect home? Not necessarily.
Having too many choices and options results in less happiness with the ultimate choice, and can result in “buyer’s remorse”. Austin provides too many home purchase choices for people who expect to make the perfect choice. For buyers who have basic needs and are happy with a home that’s “good enough“, buying a home in Austin is easy pickings.
In a nut shell, the more you can limit your search as a buyer, the better chance you have of being happy with what you find. The longer you spend looking, and the more homes and areas you look at, the more floor plans you consider, the more people you talk to and information you receive, the more school stats studied, etc., the more you increase the probability that you will have diminished happiness and satisfaction with the home you ultimately choose.
This is because some part of you, the perfection seeker, knows deep inside that there must have been a better house or neighborhood that you simply never found because you didn’t look long enough or hard enough or see enough houses. Or you know that the home you eventually did pick doesn’t have all of the features you saw in the many other homes you passed up, and you now wish you had some of those features. That thought, if you’re the perfection seeker, will nag at you and cause you to feel less than full happiness about the home you did pick.
It sounds backwards – the idea that limiting the home search parameters can result in a happier home search outcome – but we see it in fact play out in the real life real estate market. I know from experience that if a buyer sees more than 12 to 15 homes with me, or spends more than 30 days looking, the chance that that buyer will ultimately purchase a home declines with each additional home shown, and with each additional week that passes. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s true more often than not.
Contrast that with less picky buyers, or relocation buyers (or investors) who fly into Austin on a Thursday afternoon, go out looking 4 to 6 hours on a Friday, and sometimes Saturday too, pick a home, make an offer, and are done with the search process by Saturday evening. Then on Saturday night, they head out for a night of fun and live music on 6th Street to celebrate finding a new home.
The buyer who wants to “see everything” and “consider all options”, on the other hand, doesn’t head out and have fun and celebrate their new home on Saturday night, but instead stays in the hotel room, sifting though dozens of flyers and MLS printouts. They can’t decide, and they’re stuck on the internet looking at even more listings, emailing me, as some have in the past, “what about Smithville?” and “should we be looking in Georgetown?” and “how far is Wimberley?”, after we’ve already, long ago, decided on the area of Austin that will best fit their stated needs and price range.
I call this the “manic” buyer. This buyer darts from thought to thought and idea to idea so fast that there is never the opportunity for a decision to settle in and feel right. They drive themselves, and me, crazy. If I’m not able to help that buyer focus on the 2 or 3 most important attributes being sought, and narrow down the search to a geographic area and price range, I won’t be able to help them find the “perfect” home because it will never exist.
In short, too much choice will paralyze some buyers. They fly home Sunday, tired and frustrated at having not found the perfect home. Then they start planning the return trip to try again, possibly with the intention of checking out some new areas and different neighborhoods the next time. These are not the buyers of my Mom and Dad’s era.
Fear Controls Everything
Fear of picking the wrong house or neighborhood causes many buyers to in fact pick no house. This is why so many people rent for a year or two to “get to know the town”, because of the fear of making the wrong decision.
Many who do pick a house after excruciating analysis and comparisons may forever after have nagging worry that they didn’t fully consider every single area of Austin, or that they didn’t spend just one more day looking at other homes. They are afraid that they didn’t make the best or most perfect choice.
Meanwhile, the people who do moderate or adequate homework and stop searching upon finding the first home that meets their primary needs, seem, in my experience, happier and more resolved about their purchase decision than those who’s selection resulted from a more thorough and lengthy scouring of homes in Austin. Again, it’s counterintuitive, but it’s true based on what I’ve personally experienced in working with a lot of buyers.
My advise for buyers is to do the homework for sure, but to then find an area that meets and satisfies the most important of your requirements, whether it be quality schools, location, age and style of homes in the neighborhood, or whatever. Then go find the best house in that area or neighborhood and buy it. Once you’ve bought the home you like, don’t ruminate or think about the ones you didn’t pick, or the various better or different features you may have passed up in favor of location, or a bigger yard.
Where would you rather be on the third night of your house hunting trip to Austin … out on the town celebrating?… or holed up in your hotel room with listings, flyers and pizza spread all over your bed while you search the internet for more listings to consider?