How many “first dates” have you been on with homes you hoped to buy that ended up falling flat? The photos online looked good. On paper, the property had everything you need. But in person, you realize: No way. And at that price? Forget it.
Welcome to the depressing reality of home shopping today. Low inventory, high housing costs, and soaring mortgage rates mean that you have to either buy a house you don’t really like or put your home search on hold.
But there is another way: Try changing your perspective. Even just a few tweaks and adjustments to your home-shopping priorities might help. (This doesn’t mean that you’ll have to drastically lower your standards and settle.)
In short, it’s high time to learn the art of buying the perfectly imperfect house. Read on for insights from real-life buyers and real estate agents for guidance on how you can improve your chances of finally finding the home that spells the welcome end to your interminable home-shopping odyssey.
Can’t change the housing market? Change your criteria
In 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Derek Coleman thought he knew exactly what type of house he wanted to buy.
“We were set on a three-bedroom, two-bathroom with a pool,” says the Florida-based real estate investor and founder of Kurby.ai. “Preferably on a canal so we could buy a boat and really live the Florida lifestyle.”
Coleman worked with three real estate agents and looked at dozens of homes over the course of a year. And during that time, prices just kept going up.
“Ultimately, we accepted the fact that home prices had risen too much for us to get the home of our dreams,” Coleman says. “On the spur of the moment, we completely changed our plans and settled on a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo in Miami.”
The take-home lesson? Looking for a house today requires more flexibility than usual. You might even have to scrap your plans completely, as Coleman did, and come up with a Plan B “dream.”
“Be open to adjusting your expectations or considering different neighborhoods to find a suitable home within your budget,” Coleman advises. “We were originally looking at just one to two neighborhoods and wouldn’t accept anything else.”
And today? “We couldn’t be happier with our decision,” Coleman says.
Put your priorities on paper
You might also want to put pen to paper (or keyboard to spreadsheet).
“As an agent, I always encourage clients to start the house search by making a list of deal-makers and deal breakers,” says Rinal Patel, founder of We Buy Any Philly Home. “This is to make it easier to make decisions faster.”
And the list should also have a tab for “wishes” that aren’t “needs.” It’s important to distinguish between the two, and writing them down can help keep your mind from getting muddled.
“I tell them to make a new list for every house we see,” Patel says. “In that case, we would make notes of what could have been made in a particular house by The One, and if there were realistic ways to achieve those goals within their budget.”
In most cases, seeing it all on paper helps clarify which property stands out as having the edge.
Be realistic about your financial means
Money is another perpetual sticking point for would-be buyers who never seem to actually make a purchase. If you have Champagne tastes and a beer budget, it’s time to get real. Ask yourself: Are you overreaching financially, or expecting to lowball the seller?
“Stop dreaming of scoring a discounted deal,” says Glenn Phillips, the Birmingham-based CEO of Lake Homes Realty. “Understand what your financial means are, trust your agent, and shop within your true means.”
Get on the same page as your partner
If you’re shopping with a partner, it’s essential to make sure you’re in lockstep to avoid sabotaging your chances of finding the perfect home.
“Effective communication is key,” says Chinmay Dasgupta, a recent homebuyer in the New York City area. “We found that understanding what each person was willing to compromise on helped us avoid a lot of the misunderstandings we were having. Feeling like we were on the same team made the experience smoother and more enjoyable.”
Consider the potential
A great house with a hideous bathroom shouldn’t be nixed—especially in this market.
“There is rarely a perfect house for anyone,” Patel says. “However, there are ways to make a perfect house, if you can learn to see what a house can become, not just what it is at that moment.”
A good agent, Patel says, can help you price out a range of potential remodeling projects and determine how long they will take to pull off.
Sometimes buyers need to tune out the opinions of friends and family.
“There can sometimes be too many decision-makers,” says Stephen McGee, director of National Property Buyers. “For example, parents contributing to the deposit also want to be involved in the process, which can complicate things.”
If you have a parent or other person making a significant financial contribution to your home purchase, their influence can be tough to resist—but it can help point out that they won’t be living there and should leave the final decision to you. If they can’t, then you might have to really question whether taking their financial help is truly in your interests.
Consider what dragging your feet today may cost you tomorrow
In the end, you don’t want to spend your (and your agent’s) time touring dozens of homes with nothing but wasted weekends to show for it.
“It’s no secret that the current real estate market has presented some challenges for homebuyers,” says Loren Howard, founder of Prime Plus Mortgages in Scottsdale, AZ. “But it’s important to remember that buying a home is an investment in your future. Even if a home doesn’t check all the boxes right now, it can still be a smart financial decision in the long run.”
With historically low inventory, waiting for the perfect home might mean missing out on the opportunity to build equity and save money down the line, Howard notes.
In the end, Howard says that buying a home that doesn’t check all the boxes “may be a wise move to avoid paying high rents or even higher interest rates in the future.”