Don’t Buy on Impulse When House Hunting


Realty people have seen the phenomenon time and again: A young buyer opens the door of the first house he’s shown, takes a whirl through the place and then, smiling broadly, announces he’s ready to buy.

A decisive, hardheaded buyer? No, more likely a foolhardy individual who lacks the experience to know what he’s looking for in a property.

“Don’t be swept off your feet the first time you go visit a home,” advised Karl Breckenridge, the Nevada-based author of several books on real estate. “What looks good at first sight tonight may not look so good tomorrow morning.”


Too often, first-timers are so relieved at the notion of getting away from an apartment to a home of their own that they fail to be discriminating in what they purchase, Breckenridge said.

That, plus a lack of perspective on alternatives, could cause them to act impulsively.

“People are so motivated by a freedom from irritations of their prior lifestyle that they don’t think seriously about what they’re buying,” Breckenridge said.

“The first house can look good simply because it looks bigger than the apartment, has a clean carpet and a place to park the car. Any place looks good after you’ve been walking up two flights of stairs with your groceries.”

There are good reasons not to buy too quickly.

A hasty buyer, especially a novice, can overlook factors that should well influence his decision. What’s the neighborhood like? What’s planned for the beautiful open space bordering the property? How close is the home to the noise and fumes of a busy highway? What would the commute be like? How good are the neighborhood schools?

“There are many perfectly beautiful homes in bad locations,” Breckenridge said.

Because they know about the propensity of the inexperienced buyer to act too quickly, a scrupulous agent will not sell to one who has toured only a single home, Breckenridge said. He knows that the buyer could be committing a serious error.

The agent’s self-interest is also operating here. An inexperienced buyer who makes a very quick purchase is a prime candidate for “buyer’s remorse,” that morning-after sensation that a terrible mistake has been made.


Agents know all too well that a percentage of remorseful buyers will try to back out of a deal even after a sales contract is signed, said Sue Zitzer, a sales manager with the Century 21 chain.

This is not to say that the first house is necessarily the wrong house. Rather, an inexperienced home buyer does not have enough information about his own likes and dislikes to judge whether the first home is the right one.

“I would not recommend that someone buy the first house they go into until they have looked at five to 10 other homes,” Zitzer said. “That way they can reaffirm to themselves that the first house is indeed the house they’re comfortable with.”

A good agent should be able to set up a tour of the other homes immediately.

“It’s OK to like the first house you see but come back later to buy it,” said Paul Duncan, president of American Properties, a residential real estate company.

Just as some inexperienced buyers rush to buy, others go to the opposite extreme--worrying, wondering and obsessing about the purchase--caught in a quagmire of details. Given their anxiety about making a mistake, they often string out the buying process, Zitzer said.

Such anxious first-time buyers are not only a source of exasperation for the agents who work with them, but in their indecision, they can sabotage their own prospects. Even in a buyer’s market, competition can be keen for the best properties. And an indecisive buyer can easily lose out to a rival.


To strike a happy medium between buying too slow and too fast, realty specialists offer these pointers:

* Make a checklist of the 10 most important things you want in a house before you go shopping and then rank them. This way, you will not be swayed by subjective factors that could cause you to make the wrong decision, Zitzer said.

For married couples (or other joint buyers) the exercise also helps reach agreement. In this case, each co-buyer should come up with his or her top criteria and then the two lists should be combined.

In assembling your list, include both neighborhood features (such as commuting time, school system, neighborhood standards) and features of the property itself (such as number of bedrooms and yard size).

* Be sure there’s enough space to accommodate your lifestyle. Many a young buyer fails to think about where he will place large furnishings (such as a big brass bed or Persian carpet) or forgets that he will need den space to pursue a hobby, Breckenridge said.

* Don’t make the mistake of being too short-term in your thinking.

Many first-time buyers picture their needs in terms only of their current manner of living. Gaining more space than they had in their old, rented quarters seems like such liberation that these buyers forget the future.


Yet many who imagine themselves living in a home for just a couple of years wind up staying much longer. The birth of a first or second child can make unexpected demands on their space. Even single people and those unencumbered by children can have growing space needs as they make material acquisitions or take on a roommate.

* Work with an agent you like--but don’t give the agent blind trust.

A smart buyer will garner information from sources beyond the agent. He will look to books, articles, seminars, government offices and informal sources to decide where and what he wants to buy.

Often it is the government, and not the agent, who can tell the buyer about plans for road construction in a community under consideration. By the same token, neighbors in the community can offer a storehouse of information.

Though few people do it, a few hours spent going door-to-door in an area where you’re thinking of buying can be very informative, Zitzer said.

While most real estate agents have honorable intentions, not all have the knowledge or motivation to find the right property for you. No matter how many properties you see or how long you spend in the process, the housing decision is ultimately yours, says Duncan of American Properties.

“Some people just dump their lives in your hands and that’s a mistake,” he said.

Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service