The Paradox of Choice in Real Estate


Typically, when I am working with buyer clients we begin by looking at a home or two or three. While walking through the properties I will ask them what they think of them and what they like or don’t like about them. I’m trying to get an idea of what they actually like. Not what they say they like or think they will like, but what they do like. The spaces they enjoy being in, the styles that appeal to them, the features of a property that make their eyes widen and causes them to talk a little faster because they are excited. After seeing just one or a few properties I will begin sending them properties to consider and they will send me properties they want to see. And typically my clients end up choosing the home they want to buy within 7-14 days from our initial meeting. This usually consists of seeing 5-15 properties. Sometimes people need to see a few more and sometimes they buy the first home they look at (as I have done myself more than once).

But once in a while the client will get caught up in comparing features of different properties and wanting to find the best features of every property into one, creating the “perfect” property for them. And so they cannot choose because they want it all and think that if they just keep looking, they will find that perfect property. Usually I tell them that they can, indeed, find that perfect property But they’ll need to go up in price or build it custom. Because there is very rarely a “perfect” property or “Unicorn” as I call them. Most people are limited by their finances and cannot afford to just buy whatever they want. For almost all buyers, they can’t take the kitchen of property A and the yard and land of property B and the open floor plan of property C and the game room and theatre room of property D and the master suite of property E and combine them all into one property, unless they go up into a different price range (that they usually cannot afford.)

It can be difficult to explain to some people that because it goes against their thinking, but it is completely true that looking at too many homes actually hurts them. There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. In his book, “The Paradox of Choice” Barry Schwartz discusses how excessive choice can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis, unhappiness and even clinical depression. And this theory applies directly to real estate buyers.

A home is not a soulmate

I can be happy living in probably hundreds of different properties in the Salt Lake City area where I live. I currently live in a home that I truly love living in. It’s my favorite of all the neighborhoods I have lived in, I love our neighbors- most of them are very friendly and we have neighborhood barbecues and gatherings, the location is ideal, I love the swimming pool and the yard, I love the open floor plan with few walls and I enjoy the large master suite and the quality of finishes throughout. It’s a great property and it’s really great for us. But it doesn’t have everything I want. How could it? What I want changes all the time and some of the things I want can’t be combined. At least not in a price I can afford. I would love a view of the ocean and I’d love a view of a big, cool city like San Francisco. I’d love to have a big piece of land and privacy, but I’d also like to not have the upkeep of a big property and I like the idea of being close enough to shopping and restaurants that I can walk or bike to them like I did when I lived in Newport Beach. I love the beach house look and feel, with bright colors and white trim, but I also really love darker, warmer color schemes that feel cozy and masculine. I like dark hardwood floors but I don’t like trying to keep them clean (which is impossible with our puppy).

There is not one perfect property out there for everyone. You aren’t looking for a soulmate. The reality is that you would most likely be happy living in several different homes. And if you don’t end up liking the house you are in, you can move. But sometimes people get so caught up in finding the “right” home that they suffer from numbness and the homes all start to run together and they cannot choose one to buy because they are determined for something to jump out and grab them and be so different or so much better that it’s the obvious choice. And this causes people to be unhappy and unfulfilled. They can’t find what they want because they want everything.

Conversely, when clients don’t have as much choice because they are limited by the market (low inventory or homes are selling very fast) or by geography (wanting to live close to family or work or in a school boundaries) or other things, they are usually much more satisfied with the home buying process. They prioritize what they want, go out and look at everything available and they pick the best one. And they are happy because they know they got the one they liked the most and because they made a good investment (I make sure of that).

9 out of 10 times I meet a new home buyer they tell me they “aren’t in a hurry”, “have a lot of time to look” or “don’t want to rush it”. Or something along those lines. Almost everybody. They probably say that because they don’t want me to push them or rush them into a decision and I totally get that. I don’t like to be pushed.

I don’t push, I pull

There is a difference between pushing someone and pulling them. I’m simply giving them the permission to make a decision quickly. I let them know it’s okay to like (and buy) the first house they see. Or the tenth home they see or the twentieth home. I tell them, “when we find a home in your price range that you love, you should buy it. Even if you think there may be another property out there that you would also love.” I’ve had many times when a client skips on a home because they want to keep looking and by the time they decide it was the best one, it’s gone. Sold to someone who made the decision quicker. I just had this happen to me last week. I showed a couple a beautiful townhome that I had listed. I let them know when I met them at the property that we were expecting an offer to come over later that evening so if they liked it they may want to make a decision quickly. Before even entering the property (as I was getting the key out of the keybox) the husband told me that he would definitely not be making any decisions that quickly. I asked if they even wanted to see the property after knowing an offer was coming in and they said yes they still wanted to see it. So we walk through it and they both loved it. Later that day I let them know that we did receive an offer, just so they knew. No response. The offer ended up being full price (typical in the current market). We accepted the offer and are now under contract. But the day after we accepted the offer the husband called me saying they decided that was their favorite property they saw and they wanted to make an offer. Too late… and since then I have taken them out and shown them about a dozen more properties but they keep comparing everything to my listing and they had emotionally moved into my listing so now they can’t find another one. Not because other properties aren’t as good, but because other properties aren’t my listing. Like if you fall in love with someone who is in love with someone else. Your heart is set so nobody else compares.

When looking for a home give yourself permission to buy when you find what you want. Give yourself permission to decide and then be content with your decision, knowing full well that there are other properties out there. And that’s okay. Give yourself permission to be happy knowing that you found a great property and a great investment. And make  start making memories that will make it your home.

1 thought on “The Paradox of Choice in Real Estate

  1. Pingback: Groovy baby! Austin Powers-style Chicago condo untouched since the 1970s hits the market for just $158,000 | The Krause Basler Team

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