Serious shoppers are justified in long home search

SMART MOVES

January 17, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Real estate agents used to speak contemptuously of them as "tire kickers" or "window shoppers." But in an era when buyers' markets are the norm, a prospect who holds out for exactly the right property is finding new respect.

"With a glut of homes on the market, the buyer today is like gold in the agent's hands," says Kay Deitz, who sells real estate for the Harford County office of Coldwell Banker in Bel Air.

Holdout buyers should feel no shame in asking an agent to conduct a protracted home search on their behalf -- presuming their search is focused and they are serious about buying, says ** David Meacham, a partner with ERA-Image Realty in Columbia.

"In the last few years, the economy has forced people in all professions to work harder and certainly the real estate agent is no exception," Mr. Meacham observes.

While a typical buyer of the '80s might look at a dozen homes, a buyer in the '90s may well walk through three or four dozen properties before making a selection, he says.

With future real estate values being a more iffy proposition than they used to be, the holdout buyer is more justified than ever in waiting for just the right home, real estate experts say. Chances are that most who buy today will have to stay in their new property for a minimum of five years before breaking even or collecting a small profit on that home.

"You've got to buy what you love and want to keep. That way, if it doesn't appreciate and you sell it without making any money, you can at least say you enjoyed living there," Ms. Deitz says.

Many holdout buyers have well-reasoned explanations for wanting to wait for a particular property, Ms. Deitz says. For example, she mentions a young Harford County couple who has targeted the Box Hill community in Abingdon. The couple, a pair of accountants, likes the planned development for its design, bike trails and neighborhood schools. But they do not want just any Box Hill home. They prefer to keep up the search until they find an immaculate property at just the right price.

For some holdout buyers, there is a psychological danger in a protracted home search. After such a buyer has seen and rejected a number of homes, he may start to feel guilty about taking so much of the agent's time. As a result, he may lower his standards to wrap up the search quickly.

But if you truly know what you're looking for and can afford it, there's no need to feel sheepish about keeping your agent on the house trail month after month. A professional agent should have the patience to endure a lengthy home search -- so long as the search is no wild goose chase.

"Realtors are naturally persistent. And if the customer is genuinely interested in buying a home, they'll show them as many homes as necessary," Mr. Meacham says.

While a longer home search doesn't necessarily correlate to a happier outcome, no one should be coerced into a housing decision by an agent eager to close a deal.

"There's no place for pushing in real estate," Ms. Deitz stresses.

*

For buyers who choose to hold out, realty experts offer these suggestions:

* Make sure your home search is realistic.

Does the duration of your search relate to the fact that you're searching for features that you cannot, in all candor, afford? Are you seeking a place with a double-garage or fourth bedroom, even though you have ample evidence that you can't afford a home with such extras in your target community.

"Sometimes people want too much house for the dollar," Ms. Deitz says to explain why some prolonged house searches prove futile.

* Be completely candid about your reactions to the property you see.

Remember the old expression; "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" For buyers raised on such advice, it can prove difficult to convey negative reactions on properties to one's agent.

But candor between a buyer and his agent is essential if the agent is to gain the information needed to continue showing the buyer the kind of properties he might like. Withhold from your agent that you didn't like the last home because of its proximity to a noisy highway, for instance, and you may find yourself wasting time visiting other homes in noisy locations.

"If the customer can be expected to do anything, it is to be completely honest," Mr. Meacham says.

* Realize that taking months to locate the right upper-end home is considered customary.

Are you looking for a property in the upper 20 percent of the local price range? Are you trading up to a home with gourmet appliances in the kitchen, walk-in closets in every bedroom and skylights throughout? Are you looking for a large amount of square footage of living space and a three-car garage?

Then relax and take your time without worrying that the slow and careful selection of your property would prove an imposition on your agent. It's not unusual for upper-end buyers to take as long as a year to find the home of their choice, Ms. Deitz says.

"Go ahead and luxuriate in the process until you find exactly what you want," she advises.

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