By Joseph Keil
Recently, I read an excellent book called "Essentialism" by Greg McKeown (which I highly recommend). The premise of the book is that we can accomplish more and better things by focusing our efforts on the "essential few" things that propel us toward our goals, and ignore the "trivial many" things that pull us in a million different directions. In the book, McKeown quotes Abraham Lincoln as saying "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." I instantly ask myself, how does this idea of careful preparation to maximize efficacy apply to what I do? And I recognize that an area where we already apply this is in our buyer process.
Dustin and I have a process for working with homebuyers that (in an ideal world) starts with a sit down meeting. We do this for three reasons:
1) We want to get to know the people we will be working with and establish rapport.
2) We want to make sure they understand the home buying process.
3) We want to get clear on what it is they are looking for in a home, and why.
Now, this is not a hard and fast policy, because we recognize that in the current market, homes sell within hours of coming on the market, so sometimes we have to skip this step if our clients are convinced that they've found the one - we'll do our best to show them the property without delay. BUT, ideally, we would much prefer to have our sit down meeting, because the best way to ensure a smooth home finding process is to start with a clear goal.
Remember video rental stores? If you've ever gone to a video rental store already knowing what movie you want to watch, you just go in, grab it, check out, and shortly thereafter, you're home, stuffing your face with slightly burnt microwave popcorn getting lost in Ryan Gosling's eyes. But, if you go in with no clear selection in mind, chances are, you're going to be overwhelmed by the options, wandering aimlessly in a fluorescent haze, and in a moment of panic, hastily selecting a teenage vampire drama.
While our time is precious and should never be spent on the Twilight series, how much more important is it to get a clear definition of what you want and need in the largest purchase you'll make in your life (your home)?
There are many people who believe they need to look at several homes of all kinds until they find the one that just "feels right". Now, I don't discount the very important role that "feel" plays in the decision making process, but I've seen people sacrifice features and locations that were very important to them because of a feeling, which given some time, can wear off. If you are not clear on what your priorities are in a real estate purchase, you are not ready to start looking.
When we sit down with our clients, we help them get clear on what they're looking for by asking questions and trying to understand what is important to them. We like to start by establishing hard boundaries based on needs. Within those boundaries, we try to find places that match the wants of our clients. Price is usually the first boundary you'll set (if you don't know how much you can afford, a lender can help you set that parameter). From there, figure out what your priorities are - is there a specific school district you want your children to be in? Do you need a short commute to work? How many bedrooms do you need? Is this going to be an investment or a home to live in, or both? While you are defining what you need and want, also understand that in a seller's market what you want may not be within your price range. You'll need to consider not just what you want, but what you can do without. You may not have the luxury of being too choosy on cosmetics like paint color.
By "sharpening" at the beginning - taking time to define and prioritize needs - you can spend less time and effort "chopping" - touring countless homes until exhaustion sets in and bad decisions are made. Also, by knowing what you're looking for, you don't have to hesitate when you find a great property that fits your needs, because in this market, hesitation can cause you to miss out on the right house.