The fine art of making decisions

#175 in a series of true experiences in real estate
December 1996, Hills Newspapers

There are shoppers and there are shoppers. I have a friend who can instantly buy almost anything. Once, in less than an hour, she bought a parrot because it occurred to her that she’d like one.

It took her a little longer to buy a dog. She talked to dog people, visited kennels, looked at litters – spent a couple of weeks – before choosing a puppy to take home.

I’ve known her to glide, care-free, through purchases of high heels, carpeting, a pellet stove for her bedroom, books, toads for her garden, and all kinds of foodstuffs. Interestingly, her ability to select is so keen that she seldom has a regret.

We work with shoppers everyday, people who ant to buy houses. Some, like my friend, know when the fit is right and are therefore able to believe in what they are doing. Others have more trouble. They want to be sure. They want to know that they are doing the right thing. But even as they go forward, they wonder a thousand times.

I’m not saying that everyone should or could possess my friend’s shopping style. For all I know, she was born that way. It’s just interesting to me that different people shop differently.

What kind of shopper are you? Do you select easily? Probably it depends in part on what you’re buying. Take a leather jacket for instance. You might say to yourself as you try one on, “This is a nice jacket. I look cool in this jacket. It’s a lot of money but I think it’s worth it.”

So, unafraid, you buy it, and go happily on your way.

But wait. Maybe, once having decided, indecision sets in, and wonder, a need to be more sure. Now you say to yourself, “I haven’t looked at Nordstrom’s. Chamois-colored might be better than forest green.” You hang the jack up, and move on.

Try a smaller trial now, the purchase of a box of chocolates. You’ve looked over the choices at See’s, thought for a few minutes, and now you order the dark chocolate covered nut-and-chew assortment.

But wait. “I could get the dark and milk chocolate mixed,” you think. “And I might want some creams, too. Or even peanut brittle.”

Maybe you’re overly careful, a worrier; maybe you’re thoughtful, creative. Let’s try houses.

My friend buys houses fast. Both times that she’s bought a house, she walked in, wandered through, then said definitely, “Yes, I want this one.”

The last time she wasn’t even intending to buy a house. She’d made no plans and she’d looked at only that one house.

She had to go through the same process to make that house hers that everyone else does. She had to apply for a loan, understand the contract, be there when the house was inspected, get her money together, sign her papers at the title company.

Was it easier for her than for many other people? I think it was, mostly because her heart and head were happy. She had determined where she was headed, and once that was true, there remained only the matter of getting there.

We’ve worked with a couple of buyers who were so worried that, once they found a house they wanted, they became paralyzed and couldn’t go on. “What if my mother doesn’t like it?” one asked. “What if I lose my job?” said another. Not too unreasonable, I think, as concerns go.

But these buyers were voicing only a small portion of what was going on. They were so afraid of believing in their choice, they couldn’t make one.

Just to give you an idea of what a middle-of-the-road worrier/shopper goes through, I’ll give you a made-up example. These are the probable thoughts of someone going through (fairly smoothly) the purchase of a house:

Ah, a house, a big purchase. But it’s time for me to buy a house. No more moving.

This is a pretty house and big enough for me. I can set up my office in the back room, invite friends for dinner, build a trellis over the deck.

My commute would be bearable. I won’t have to do any painting right away. There’s plenty of storage. Yes, I want this house.

But wait. How’s the roof? It’s going to cost me a lot to live here. Will I have money to pay the property taxes when they’re due? What if the furnace dies?

My life might change. I could take a job on the East Coast or remarry or have three kids.

What if the neighbors are mean or the hill slides or I’m lonely here?

It’ll be all right. I can have fires in my fireplace, warm and glowy. There’s room for my friend to stay with me. I can increase my tax deductions. That will be nice.

Maybe next year I’ll have the floors refinished. Put up new drapes – dark, rich velvet drapes.

Wait. Do I really want to take this on? Once it’s mine, it’ll be my baby. When things so wrong, I’ll have to figure out how to fix them.

House buying isn’t exactly snappy either. I can’t say, “Sure this one, wrap it up.” No, it takes so much time and weighing of things I’ve never thought of before.

What price shall I offer? Will the seller agree? Can I get the washer and dryer too?

This is hard. I need to think and plan. It would be good if I could feel confident about this all the way through. The loan people want bank statements and pay stubs. I need to explain why my Visa payment was late.

The inspector says the chimney is cracked, the water pressure low, the sump pump broken. Should I worry? Can these be fixed? I like long, strong showers. I know nothing about pumps. This part isn’t fun.

I can borrow against my retirement plan but forms must be filled out today. I’ll need a cashier’s check. I can go on my lunch hour.

The seller needs an extra week. I can reschedule my move but I need to talk to my landlord. When?

Here are all my books from college. More boxes, lots more boxes. Call PG&E. When is garbage day? I should buy a ladder.

Now that I’ve come this far, I feel good. My soon-to-be house is not perfection, but I like it. Buying has felt like going through a compressed graduate course. But all in all, this feels like the right thing. In fact, I’m feeling quite jolly.

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