For most of us, looking for the “perfect” home can be an emotional roller coaster. Like hunting online for the perfect partner in life, it’s hard to know what you’re getting even after studying the dozens of photos in any particular listing and reading all the copy contained there. A person (or a house) can look and sound so incredibly appealing on the surface, but you know better than to let the seduction of a good-looking landscape or gorgeous fireplace make you want to tie the knot without a proper courtship.
Truth be told, very seldom does everything about your proposed mate match your wish list. Things you love at first may later get on your nerves, like the bad girl/bad boy who had such a great gift of gab at first but fell flat in other ways. The key here is getting a sense of your own tolerance levels. What’s most important to you in a home? And what are the deal-breakers? If you stick to those parameters and keep these terms clearly defined, the chances are good that you’ll make smart choices.
Like dating, house-hunting takes time, during which you’ll determine the differences between your critical must-haves, the not-so-important-but-I-kind-of-want-it feeling, and the no-way-not-going-to-happen-in-this-lifetime determination. This process (like dating) can be seriously draining. There are those painful first date drills (“So, where are you from?” ; “What do you do for a living?” ; “What do you like to do in your spare time?”), which is not so different from getting in your car dozens of times to look at open houses on weekends or driving around with a Realtor who may not have your entire wishlist in mind simply because you can’t seem to articulate it until you see it.
While we try not to judge a book by its cover, like posting our profiles on a dating site, the photos we use won’t reveal how we look in the morning before we press the button on the Nespresso machine. Even the descriptions can be misleading. An “efficient” kitchen may turn out to be apartment-sized, but the photo of it was taken using a fish-eye lens. And “close to restaurants, shops, and transportation” may mean light rail cars lumber by in front of the house. Convenient, yes. But can you live with it permanently? Oftentimes we get excited about the trappings: a beautifully renovated listing with a huge backyard seems like a dream come true — until we ask what all the open space is going to be used for behind the house and the Realtor tells us a Wal-Mart is going in there. Kind of like a guy who looks like a Ken doll but asks to go dutch at Starbucks on the first date.
Then there is that “all the good ones are taken” feeling. At first, you have hope that you can find the right house because you’ve salivated over what other people somehow found all those “sold” listings look better than anything out there right now.
A good exercise is to make a list of the things you like about your current home or perhaps the one you loved growing up in. There may be features of it that you know you have to have — things like the security of a gated entry, close to places you love to walk to, a fun night scene. Oh sure — the beginning of any new adventure is exciting — decorating and organizing a new place can give you butterflies and have you watching Fixer Upper ad nauseam. But if you’ve chosen a location that is too isolated, thinking you could live with the tradeoffs of commuting (and friends and family not visiting because you are so far away), that giddy feeling can fade fast.
The gist here is that finding a home, like finding the right partner, is not for the faint of heart. It takes some savvy detective work, dedication, and a bit of risk-taking. Unfortunately, in many of today’s real estate markets you won’t have the opportunity to tour a home over and over again, seeing it at different times of the day and determining whether the initial attraction is deepening or fading away.
In that case, you just have to trust your gut, try to live with a short courtship and put a ring on it — kind of like all those World War II couples who fell in love at first sight and got married on furlough but ended up spending decades together. Timing is indeed everything.