The home buyer was an engineer from Philadelphia making a corporate transfer to Orange County.
Although he was a motivated buyer, he'd given little thought to what he truly wanted. And, because of the unfocused nature of his search, he found it tough to recall the properties his real estate agent had shown him.
"After three houses, he told me, 'Man, this is overwhelming; we're going too fast,' " recalled Fred Libardoni, a broker associate for the Re/Max Realty Centre in Yorba Linda.
Realizing that his client was suffering from "buyer blur," Libardoni temporarily halted the house tour, which was expected to cover 12 properties that day. He put his car in park and had a brief talk with the engineer, helping him gain a clearer focus. During the talk, the buyer (whose family included a wife and two teenagers) answered several key questions that helped the client pinpoint his search.
In response to Libardoni's queries, for instance, the engineer made it clear his family wanted to live on a quiet, wooded street, --not a main avenue. He also said a three-car garage was a must.
With that information alone, Libardoni was able to eliminate five houses from that day's itinerary. He was also able to tear up a couple of listings of homes the engineer had already seen.
Some clients don't know what home features they're seeking--unless they're asked. And an unfocused tour involving many houses can leave them totally befuddled, said Libardoni, an agent for 21 years.
"If you look at too many houses in one day, it wipes you out," said John Rygiol, owner of the independent realty firm Buyer's Broker, based in Seal Beach. Here are six suggestions for making your home search more efficient and effective.
No. 1: Set your criteria in advance.
Some buyers, like the engineer, have trouble articulating their wants and needs before they start looking at possibilities. Even then, they have to be asked direct questions to discover their preferences.
But given a little time to think things over, many other buyers can develop their own checklists of criteria.
An athletic buyer, for instance, might be able to readily acknowledge that he must have a pool. Meanwhile, a buyer with small children might make it mandatory to have no pool.
No. 2: Use the "drive-by" method to eliminate unlikely possibilities.
Your agent may well be able to generate a list of 50 addresses that seem to meet your criteria. But from experience, Rygiol knows the typical buyer will probably like the exterior of only about 5% of the homes he sees from the road.
And Rygiol also knows it's a rare buyer who will ever purchase a home he finds distasteful on the outside.
So Rygiol is convinced that buyers should drive by possibilities before asking the agent to set up appointments to see the interiors of the best prospects.
With a good map that pinpoints the locations of the homes on your list (or with your agent as your chauffeur), you can see 15 to 20 exteriors in an hour, he said. On the other hand, you can see only about three to five interiors in an hour.
Are you hurried and want to start seeing interiors on the first day of your search? Then go with your agent on a tour of exteriors in the morning and then take a lunch break while your agent sets up appointments to see the interiors of homes on your short list that afternoon, Rygiol suggested.
No. 3: Take careful notes on your reactions to the homes you visit.
These days, most listing agents leave fliers on a property that's up for sale. Anyone visiting can take a copy. Obviously, you'll want one if the home interests you.
Then, after you've walked through the place, you should use the back of the flier to jot down notes on your reactions, said Peter G. Miller, author of "Buy Your First Home Now" (HarperCollins, 1996).
Taking notes while your reactions are still fresh will help you recall those thoughts later on. It will also help you distinguish one property from another, lessening the chance of buyer blur.
No. 4: Consider using a camera or camcorder or asking your agent to do so.
Many a listing flier includes an exterior photo of the property. But that's not enough to jog the memories of many buyers, especially if they're seeing a number of properties within a short span of time, said Rygiol, the Seal Beach-based broker who is affiliated with the National Assn. of Exclusive Buyer Agents.
Rygiol suggests that you--or your agent--bring a camera or camcorder to take interior images of a property and its surroundings. These are especially helpful for those from out of town who are involved in a whirlwind tour of homes.
With so many quick-development photo shops now available, your agent may be able to get your still pictures printed during your lunch break. Or you can take your photos or videotape home with you to help narrow your list of possible choices.
However, before you shoot interior images of someone else's home, it's only right and proper that you gain the homeowner's permission, said Miller, the author. Your agent can make this request when he sets up your appointments.
"There is a privacy issue here," Miller pointed out.
No. 5: Try to see beyond the superficial in a home's interior.
Unfortunately, too many buyers automatically reject a house that happens to be messy--even though it may have the perfect floor plan for them, said Libardoni of Re/Max.
Even more prevalent is the habit of many to judge a home by its furniture, just as some judge books by their covers. This is in spite of the fact that the furniture rarely comes with the house.
"Half the people buy on the basis of the furniture they see," Libardoni estimated.
Again, your short list of serious possibilities should be made in light of the criteria on your checklist, not out of some impressionistic view of the home's surface appearance.
No. 6: Limit the day's search to five or six properties, when feasible.
Realtors know from experience that most clients can't remember more than half a dozen houses seen in one day. Even if you have only two days to look, it's usually better to see no more than half a dozen homes in a series unless you take time to refocus before your next outing, Libardoni said.
"The more houses the buyers see at one time, the cloudier is their recollection," he said.
Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.