Home & Garden Columns

About the House: Should I Buy This House?

By Matt Cantor
Thursday May 29, 2008 - 10:16:00 AM

Marriage is a mixed bag and no matter what anyone tells you, you will never find the perfect man or woman (assuming those two cover your range of preferences) to spend the rest of your life cooking vegan casseroles beside. Everyone has a truckload of unnerving habits, indefensible opinions and inexcusable friends. Everyone. That gorgeous guy or gal you see at the water cooler each day. Them too. Once you get closer enough to anyone, you soon find out that they pick their teeth, that they have some troubling disease or that they’ve never actually read a book. So how do we choose mates? We figure out what’s most important to us and try our best to ignore the rest, in the knowledge that around the corner the grass is actually brown and dying. This is the truth. Therefore, it’s important to decide what you really care about the most. What issues are strongest for you. What attracts you most and what you can bear. Buying houses is no different (you knew I’d get around to this, right?) 

I met a lovely young couple yesterday. Flush with the thrill of their wedding plans and breathless at the thought of acquiring a new house. After spending some tremendous time looking at the house, we ended up in their backyard drinking fizzy water when the question came up. It’s the question. Should I buy this house? We get it constantly. 

Of course, I can never answer the question any more than the psychologist (interestingly these young folks were both psychologists) can tell you whether you should marry the person you’re dating. It’s very personal. 

I had a few issues with this house and, after some time in the conversation we arrived at the point that nearly any house will have a range of issues. Not that those lists won’t vary in length and dollar size but most houses will have a list of some dimension.  

Also, I’ve noted that most people don’t tend to range that far in the overall list size while individuals tend to seek either shorter lists or longer ones. I think part of this is related to their risk aversion index. Some consistently seek out houses that are neat as a pin and well maintained while others are looking for a bargain; A great big house for a lot less than everything else around. This does vary and it’s not consistent but it is an interesting behavior that tends to emerge with some consistency. If I work for the same client three times in a row, the houses will tend to be similar in overall quality. I have watched many friends over the years as they tended to date the same kind of person over and over again. I think these are similar expressions of the same subtextual thinking. 

As I found certain things to criticize about the building (in response to their questions), this young woman nearly blurted out “but I just love this house.” I smiled and responded that that was probably the best reason of all to buy the house and that I thought it should be a major part of their decision whether to buy (or not) and a major element in how they would negotiate and think about the purchase. My reason, and I said it right out loud, was that every house was going to have its plusses and minuses.  

It’s rotten table manners and it’s messy college buddies but that the fact that there was something that she (and hopefully he) was just nutty about would help to offset the inevitable downsides of home ownership. 

Over the life of a house, many, if not most of the jobs that have to be done will financially wash out in the overall equation of home ownership. In truth, most of us will pay three or four times the actual sale price of the house in the form of mortgage interest, brokerage fees, closing costs and other fixed expenses. You can buy a lot of foundations for that, so there is no good reason to not buy a house simply because it has some necessary repairs. Buying because you love the house is actually a damned good and logical position because it will see you through and justify all of the expenses and problems that are inevitable. Further, I would say that when people love their houses and admire their own choices, they will tend to follow through with good maintenance and timely upgrades that will further improve the overall equation. 

Conversely, when someone buys for financial reason alone or buys the house that they think they SHOULD buy, the honeymoon ends all the sooner and may be coupled with a badly timed resale, another round of closing costs and disruption of the flow of life (buying and selling houses, for all the excitement is not something you want to do any more often that absolutely necessary). Again, the analogies with dating and marriage should be self evident; marrying the person your parents think you should marry, marrying for money and so forth. 

That said, I’ll finish by turning this all on it’s head. Love grows and the capacity to love will manifest anywhere the lover goes. Some people will always find fault and never settle down. Some people fall in love everywhere they go. I’ve seen buyers buy the first house they looked at and never look back and I’ve seen those who looked for year and year and are still renting. If I’m asked, I favor a balanced approach.  

Take your time, look around to see what’s out there, date a few bungalows and, perhaps, have a fling with a Victorian. Spend some time with a good sturdy 1950s model and then, when you see something that really turns your head, you’ll be able to make a smart decision knowing your heart and your head are both involved. 

So don’t get me wrong. I do believe that physical conditions matter in choosing a house. Taking a good look makes a lot of sense and including these elements in your thinking is prudent. That said, I often feel as though my process is akin to the tarot reader turning the cards. It’s an activity that houses the revelation of the inner intuition. It LOOKS like we’re analyzing wiring and bolts, but often, what we’re really doing is finding out if it’s really love.