Every week, we ask a real estate professional for their Short List, a collection of tips and recommendations on an essential topic in real estate. This week, we talked with John Bigelow and Bruce Irving, Realtors with Hammond Real Estate LLC, about buyers not being able to get what they want.
The real estate market is a confusing place of many variables, qualities, and choices. Buyers are often depressed to find that they can’t get exactly what they want. We find that framing the search with a simple foursome of factors helps clarify things: price (from “easily afforded” to “a real stretch,” location (from “super convenient to everything that matters in my life” to “Siberia”), condition (from “shiny out of the box” to “someone call This Old House”), and size (from “no freaking way” to “more than I need”). Every property represents some combination of these characteristics, each in its own degree.
Especially in a competitive market, it quickly becomes apparent that one can’t fully have all four of one’s preferences at once. Every choice involves compromise, meaning you can’t get all that you want. Put bluntly by my business partner John Bigelow, “Something’s gotta give.”
Since no one likes to compromise, here are some thoughts about how, while not getting all that they want, buyers can get what they need.
Price: Perhaps the trickiest of the variables, since money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s also the one that has the most easily determined limit. The best a buyer can do is get very clear and up-to-date with his or her lender, finding out what price is truly within range and keeping in mind ancillary costs like closing, moving, storage, new furniture, and (considering the condition point) needed repairs or improvements. Another important factor to take into account: whatever price premiums the market is showing. No use in stretching for a $600,000 condo when similar properties are closing, for example, at 106% of the last asking price. Perhaps a worthwhile conversation to have with a buyer goes something like this: “What if we slide your whole price range a bit lower, so you’re less likely to find yourself falling in love with a place you can’t, or shouldn’t, afford?”
Location: A subjective point, but one that may have more flexibility than a buyer realizes. Convenience can be enhanced by a nearby bike-sharing stand or a car-sharing parking spot, which are proliferating across the urban landscape (check with places like Hubway and Zipcar for upcoming new locations). Uber and Lyft have shrunk the world for many people, reducing their reliance on their own cars (and finding parking). If quiet is one of the buyer’s goals, acoustics change from property to property. There’s no substitute for standing in the space, no matter what its proximity to a noise source–a well-built, well-insulated building may be far quieter than its location on the boulevard would suggest.
Condition: “Needs work”–here’s a direction that only the battle-hardened or fully informed buyer should go in. While “shiny out of the box” represents its own compromises (a developer’s idea of what’s in good taste), fixing up a place involves much more bandwidth than many buyers realize. Cosmetic upgrades—a new coat of paint, floor refinishing, new appliances, even electrical work—are one thing, and they can be traded against price. A new kitchen, new baths, a reconfigured layout, an addition—these are quite another. Beyond cost (always more than you figure), there’s a job-management time toll that some have compared to holding down a second job. It’s dangerous over the costs when contemplating a trip down this path, but for the willing, aware, and able, it can open up ways towards getting more in terms of price, size, and location.
Size: Some buyers are convinced that they need X square feet, but we’ve all seen how square footage can feel larger or smaller based on floorplan, light, ceiling height, surfaces and paint color, and other less tangible factors. For this reason alone, discourage your buyers from putting minimum square footages in their search criteria. Further, available living area can be increased through the miracle of decluttering/de-accessioning and the availability of (preferably on-site) storage. Also worth a shot: searching for properties with one fewer bedrooms than the buyer needs—sometimes one man’s study (or dining room, or living room) can be another’s sleeping chamber.