Finance Magazine

The Emotional Roller Coaster of House Hunting

By Kathleen O'Malley @frugalportland

The emotional roller coaster of house hunting -- Frugal Portland

We were ready to sign. The pen was in our hands. All we wanted was what was represented in the sales documents: a functional, 15-year old ready-to-move-in house. We knew the place wasn’t perfect. Yeah, we’d have to finish a third bedroom. Maybe the kitchen was a bit outdated, and the configuration was a little odd. But that location! That neighborhood! We were willing to pay listing price, despite the flaws of the house. We were elated. Once we got to the negotiation phase, though, the deal simply fell to pieces and we had to walk away.

We had come a long way into the process. When we first saw the house, we were blown away by the prime location of the home. I mean, this place was smack dab in the middle of one of the most explosive development corridors in all of Portland, a little outdated cabinetry was not going to be the thing that separated us from this place. We put in an offer almost immediately after seeing it. The seller accepted our bid and away we went.

The inspection showed more problems with the home that we had ever imagined, but we figured the sellers honestly just didn’t know. It was, after all, a rental unit, so they didn’t see the problems evolve over time. “Now that they know there are some real issues, let’s hope they agree to fix them and things will be fine,” I said to Kathleen.

Now Kathleen and I share common goals and dreams, but our personalities and outlooks on life are quite different. Kathleen is an optimistic sort and quite trusting. I am very pessimistic and cynical of others’ motivations. In aggregate, we tend to balance each other out, but each of us needs to manage the other’s expectations in very different ways.

In the early part of the deal, Kathleen was picking up my spirits about the snags we were hitting. None of them were particularly bad (the seller took more than three extra days to accept our offer; we were going to have to spend a significant amount of money on projects to improve the house), but it was enough to give me sleepless nights.

Post-inspection, the onus of managing expectations switched to me. It was pretty clear from the inspection that the place was more of a fixer-upper than the sellers had led us to believe. The range was not in working order. The deck was unsafe for people to stand on. There was unremediated mold in the attic due to bad ventilation and the inspector detected high moisture readings in the master bathroom. Who knew what problems were growing underneath the tiles? I began to doubt the sincerity of the seller.

As the process continued, the seller denied that a 15-year old house could need such dramatic fixes, and wouldn’t budge on the price. I was worried about deeper issues, the ones we couldn’t see. It was clear that we were going to have to walk away.

The decision hit Kathleen pretty hard. She had already mentally moved into our new house, had geared up for some DIY projects to improve the place. My heart broke while I listened to her dejected voice over the phone. She acquiesced in a near whisper, “Okay.” I could tell she was choking back a tear.

She bounced back a few hours later and slept off all the residual disappointment the next day.

Portland is a seller’s market right now. Houses in our neighborhood in Southeast Portland rarely last more than a few days. There is intense pressure to make an offer on a house after only a few moments of consideration. It is not an ideal circumstance for people making life-changing decisions that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, Kathleen and I are in an advantageous buyers’ position. We have a place to live today. While we’d like to change our living situation, our situation is by no means unbearable. We can afford to bide our time and wait for that best-case scenario.

It’s strange how emotional the home-buying process is, even for a couple that knows they can wait. The house we walked away from was flawed in a zillion ways, but we still got caught up in the emotion, the dreaming, the highs and lows. It’s also instructive, though, to be aware of how emotional you can get over something. There is no bigger decision you can make than buying a home, the worst thing you can do is make a snap judgment based on emotion. Take some time and think it through, even if you’re afraid you’ll miss out.

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