I would never claim to understand how all buyers think because there are many times I don’t even understand how my own brain works, but after twenty five years in this business I’ve gained a little insight into what buyers are likely to be thinking when they look at homes.
Some people might say “Who cares what they think? They either want to make an offer or they don’t.” True, but for now please indulge me because it can be helpful to know what buyers are thinking.
Why? Well, if you’re selling, you’ll probably spend plenty of time and money preparing your home for market. Knowing what buyers think will help guide you to spend that time and money most effectively and to understand what’s happening when your home’s on the market. And if you’re buying, knowing what other buyers tend to look for, in general, and how they react to certain things will help prepare you for what to expect so you’ll be in a better position to buy the best home possible. Convinced? Good. Let’s continue.
Would you agree with the basic proposition that, with very few exceptions, everyone wants to be happy? This includes buyers. They just want to be happy. And if they’re looking for a new home in Toronto, chances are they’re doing that because they feel a new home will make them happier in some respect.
Happiness means different things to different people, which is why different buyers look for different things. Generally speaking, though, most buyers start by making a list of the things for which they’re looking in their new home. Some write these things down and call it their Wish List. Every list is different, but they all have one thing in common – they all describe the conditions under which the buyers will be happier.
For some buyers, happiness is all about lifestyle – it could be more space for the kids to play so they’re not underfoot all the time or a home office so the buyers don’t have to drive into work in heavy traffic as often and can spend more time at home with the family. For others, it could be about triggering happy memories. A home might remind them of a home they used to live in as a child or it might contain a stained glass window that reminds them of the one that used to be in their grandparents’ home or the one they saw in a church in a small town in France on their honeymoon. Certain buyers, myself included, might be looking for a feeling of space because they love being outdoors. I’ve only bought three homes in my life and each time I made my decision to buy when I saw the view out back. For some buyers, the most important thing is price. They don’t care so much about the house itself. What makes them happy is feeling they got a good deal.
Now that we’ve established that most buyers’ Wish Lists translate into happiness and that buying a home is largely an emotional decision, let’s look at what happens when buyers look at homes.
It’s not at all unusual for buyers to decide they like a home when they first see its front facade or within a couple minutes of stepping inside. In fact, it’s fairly common. I’ve even had clients who looked inside after we opened the front door and said “This is it!”. They’ve been living there happily for 20+ years. How does this happen so quickly? Because the buyers’ happiness button has been pressed, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously. They may not draw the link between the home at which they’re looking and Grandma’s farm, but their subconscious remembers.
Very few people are ready to make such an important and expensive decision based solely on emotions, which is why buyers and their Realtors then proceed to look at the actual home. They compare the features of the home to the things on their Wish List to confirm the home will satisfy their needs. There IS a place for logic in the home buying process, after all. Sometimes the home satisfies their needs as well as makes them happy and they come to this conclusion right after seeing the entire home or after thinking it over for a while. (We still always suggest to our clients that we go back to see it a second time after sleeping on it to make sure they don’t act in haste). And sometimes the home doesn’t satisfy their needs and just makes them happy. This is where we have to step in and say to our clients “We agree this is a beautiful home and we can see how happy it makes you, but it doesn’t have any of the things on your Wish List and has the same features as the home you’re living in now. If it makes you happy enough to buy it then we’ll help you do that, but we don’t want you to wake up one day and wonder what you were thinking when you bought it. We’d rather find you another home that makes you equally happy AND matches your Wish List.”
What happens when a home doesn’t make the buyers happy or doesn’t’ satisfy their needs? Some buyers are quick to move on and forget about it. Other buyers spend hours trying to figure out how they can make the home work. Take it from me: this is almost always a waste of time. If a home doesn’t make you happy, forget about it. And if you can’t quickly figure out how to change it so it’ll satisfy your needs, chances are it can’t be done so you need to decide if you want to buy a home that makes you happy, but doesn’t satisfy your needs OR keep looking for a home that will make you happy AND satisfy your needs.
If you’re thinking of selling, you’ll have noticed how quickly buyers make their decisions. First impressions are everything! Take the time to do things right when you’re preparing your home for market. Try to fix as many little things as possible so buyers don’t wonder “They didn’t fix that crack in the ceiling. I wonder what other things they didn’t fix that I can’t see.” Buyers don’t like unpleasant surprises. And please, please, please make sure you choose the right list price.
Set the tone so buyers will be comfortable in your home when they come to see it. They’re unlikely to get that happy feeling if they’re feeling stressed or put off. I love it when buyers stay in my clients’ homes for a long time. If this happens, it’s mostly likely because the buyers are happy and want to picture themselves living there – they’re using logic to confirm their emotions. I prefer private appointments to open houses because I’ve found that buyers are more likely to be happy and relaxed when they’re alone in a home and not surrounded by other buyers and neighbours.
And when you get buyer feedback and hear that a buyer didn’t like your home because the bathroom is too old or it’s too far from Starbucks, take these comments with a grain of salt. They usually just mean the buyers didn’t get that happy feeling and had to come up with some reason as to why not because their Realtor asked them and saying “The bathroom is too old” is easier to justify and than saying “It doesn’t make me happy.”
If you’re buying, try to get yourself in a position where you can feel what your gut’s telling you. It’s usually right. Leave the stresses of the day behind when you’re looking at homes. Ask yourself how you feel when you’re in a home. Don’t worry if you don’t get that happy feeling immediately. Sometimes it comes quickly and sometimes it needs to percolate a little before rising to the top. Don’t get caught up in the nuts and bolts of trying to make a home work. You can’t fit a round peg into a square hole. It’s a process. With each home you see, you’ll learn more about yourself and what’s going to make you happy. I remember showing a client three homes that all had absolutely everything on his Wish List, but he didn’t like any of them. A few days later he called to tell me it was really important for him to buy a home with a fireplace, even though it wasn’t on his initial Wish List, because he used to love sitting in front of the fire when he was a kid. Wish Lists aren’t carved in stone. It’s alright when they change.
I hope this helps you understand a little about how the process works from the buyers’ point of view and makes things go more smoothly for you whether you’re buying or selling. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write something about how sellers think next time.
As always, I’d be happy to talk to you about your options if you’re thinking of buying or selling in the near future. Also, if you know anyone who is interested in learning how the market works and would like to receive the kind of help that involves honest answers, straightforward advice, no pressure and being treated like family, please let me know the best way for me to connect with them because I’d like to offer them this kind of help. And as always, don’t be shy if you have any questions or comments about this post! Thanks for reading.