The Mystery Housebuyer

Part 3: Putting a price on it

Fans of HGTV’s House Hunters program have been forced to reconsider that series. Each House Hunters features a person or couple touring three homes before they select one. We watch them consider the high and low points of each house and its price, and then they make their decision based on some ridiculous thing such as the house costs $929,000 but they don’t want to pay for a new refrigerator.

Earlier this year, accusations were made that the subjects on House Hunters usually had already chosen their new homes before the TV taping began; what is shown is basically either a recreation or a simulation of their home search. More recently, a couple that had been on the TV show said that some of the homes they toured weren’t even for sale; they were the homes of friends that they pretended to tour. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, HGTV basically admitted the show wasn’t a reality show, in the sense that it wasn’t showing reality. HGTV defended House Hunters by saying, in effect, that it was close enough to reality to share “the vicarious and entertaining experience of choosing a home.”

Some critics have noted that the show nonetheless gives viewers fictional price tags for these secretly not-for-sale homes. That doesn’t matter to the actual homebuyers in the show, of course; they’ve already made their decision. But to the viewers, it can play a role in shaping their views of home values.

When we were looking to purchase a home, after many weeks of scrutinizing online listings and even making some open house visits, just for fun I decided to see what our budget would get us in the faraway city in which I was raised. We could afford a respectable home in San Francisco – and we haven’t been dissatisfied with that – but in my hometown, we could have afforded a classic stone mansion on a couple acres of land in the most desirable neighborhood. Throw in lower taxes and great public schools, and my hometown has more to offer.

But that is as unrealistic a comparison as watching a House Hunters couple purchase a home in Miami, Milwaukee or Vancouver. When we had to figure out what we wanted and what we could afford, we had to judge it in terms of San Francisco, this geographically restrained and very desirable city. That meant finding a home type (single family, condo, townhouse?) and a neighborhood that suited our tastes and budget.

Some people are price insensitive. They have enough money to allow them to avoid any sort of compromise, and God bless ‘em. But even among most high-income people, getting good value in a home purchase is important because they want to be able to recoup their investment and make a profit when they eventually sell. So the vast majority of homebuyers would do well not to lose focus when they set their house budget and look at what’s on the market.

Buying a home is a large transaction that demands that we stay as level-headed and calculating – and selfish – as possible when determining what we’re willing to pay. Unfortunately, too many people get caught up in the emotional aspects of buying property; they feel pressured to agree to higher prices than they want to pay, and they question their own analytical skills because of the sometimes-opaque complexities of the process. They end up making suboptimal decisions, having surrendered their brains to the “entertaining experience of choosing a home.”

The upper limit on your spending should be your upper limit, not the Realtor’s or the seller’s. Or the producers of House Hunters.

Anonymous is anonymous. You know as much as we do.
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