The NYTimes recently reported that real estate buyers and sellers are having a very hard time committing to real estate purchases. Both buyers and sellers have been getting cold feet, backing out of transactions at the last minute. The plethora of inventory is contributing to the climate of indecision; studies have shown that people make better decisions when they have fewer choices.
The current state of affairs reminds me very much of dating. You always wonder, is there somebody better out there? I guess that explains why I have always been very decisive about real estate purchases; I got married when I was 25, easily 5-10 years before any of my friends got married. I am subject to misgivings like everyone else, but I know when I see something truly good, and I don’t let it get away. I thoroughly research my options, make a decision, and then don’t look back.
I think that most people, me included, fall into what I call the “upgrade trap.” Basically, you take what you have and think, wouldn’t it be great if I could have exactly this setup, only with upgrades? In the case of my husband, I would love to for him to have great table manners and to excel at small talk at cocktail parties. But it’s not like I can go out to the husband mart and select the same guy, with those upgrades. He is what he is, and if I chose to go find someone else, I might very well find someone with great table manners and conversation skills, only to discover that person is lacking in an area where my hubby is very capable.
There is no such thing as the 100% perfect situation. For the overwhelming majority of the population, the name of the game is compromise. You have to pick your poison rather than waste your time searching for that impossibly perfect solution.
I have heard so many people extoll the virtues of the suburbs as life’s panacea. Listening to them, it sounds like if I moved to Bergen County, I would have a perfect life with plenty of space, no neighbor hassles or noise issues, no worries about property taxes or schools. But life isn’t that simple. Houses are not soundproof. That means that you can hear your kids stampeding overhead when they are supposed to be asleep, and you can hear garbage trucks in the middle of the night, the roar of gas-powered leaf blowers, and the neighbors fighting. Property line disputes, yardwork, soaring property taxes that in many cases are double the level of Hoboken taxes, and bullied kids smoking pot in the high school parking lot. Not to mention long commutes, a car-based culture, and intense racial segregation.
My life in SW Hoboken isn’t perfect, but it is more or less what I expected when I bought my four-bedroom. I already knew the neighborhood since I lived here for five years before then, and we fulfilled my primary criteria (as much indoor space as possible in a healthy building very near a train station). I am worried like everyone else about the school and city budgets, as well as the unfathomable and incredibly corrupt political scene. But I believe Hoboken is headed in the right direction and that we have everything here that we need to take care of our family in the long-term. The worst case scenario is that we have to spend money on private school, and that can happen anywhere. I recently met a family in Church Square Park that lives in Montclair and has their kids commute to the Hudson School in Hoboken. That struck me as ironic in the extreme since so many Hoboken families move out to Montclair for the school system there and pay exorbitant property taxes for it. I cannot imagine for one instant that family planned for things to work out that way.
When I was dating, I countered my misgivings with the dealbreaker approach. Basically, if I was dating someone really special, did that person have characteristics that were absolute dealbreakers? It could be religious beliefs, personality traits, or spending habits, but every guy I dated before I met my husband had identifiable dealbreakers. And even my husband had some traits that almost made me term them dealbreakers, and vice versa (I am certainly not perfect).
But at the end of the day, I chose to be with my husband because I knew I could be happy and fulfilled with him long-term, and that I could deal with his shortcomings. The same applies to my real estate purchases. At a certain point, you can either make a decision, or you can wait things out only to discover life has passed you by. Fencing has taught me never to hesitate, because once an opportunity has passed, you can never recapture it. I believe in getting in early, while you have the pick of the market, rather than waiting until the market is picked over. Sure, you can get a bargain that way, but the selection isn’t that great and you might not wind up saving much more than with an early-bird discount.