A 59-year-old lawyer owned an impressive Victorian house in a close-in suburb of Washington, D.C. Her exquisitely furnished place was widely admired by family and friends. But the woman yearned for something different.
“She dreamed of a big place where she could raise baby chicks, have an apple orchard and ride a giant tractor,” says Stacy Berman, the veteran real estate agent who helped the lawyer fulfill her dream lifestyle.
Berman found the lawyer a 10-acre place in a semi-rural area well beyond the Capital Beltway, the 64-mile roadway that encircles Washington. There, the attorney is thriving, hosting wedding receptions and apple-picking parties for family and friends.
“She’s in heaven in her renovated antique farmhouse built in the 1850s,” Berman says.
Buyers are increasingly eclectic in their preferences. The pandemic has encouraged a greater range of housing choices. One reason is that more time at home has emboldened buyers to personalize their lifestyles. Another is that telework -- a major factor for the lawyer -- is now more widely accepted.
Faced with rising mortgage rates and a limited supply of available properties, more wannabe owners are now squeezed out of the market entirely, making musings about their ideal lifestyle a strictly academic exercise.
“The Russia-Ukraine war and escalating fuel prices have contributed to further housing unaffordability for buyers,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor).
Still, an increasing number of dogged buyers are persevering in their quest for ownership by expanding their search criteria to encompass more distant locales -- what analysts call “cross-market home shopping.”
Joel Berner, a senior economic analyst at Realtor.com, the home listing service, has researched this growing trend through the analysis of web traffic and other statistical measures.
“As nationwide listing prices continue to rise and remote work policies are made permanent by many employers and preferred by many workers, homebuyers are seeking out listings in more affordable areas where they may not have had the flexibility to live before,” Berner says.
One minor but increasingly important factor related to the pandemic is that more would-be owners are now seeking larger out-of-town properties to accommodate their pets.
A new survey from Zillow, the national real estate marketplace, shows that pets are increasingly influencing home-buying decisions among those living in rental units.
“We saw pandemic pet ownership soar among renters, which has impacted their home preferences,” says Amanda Pendleton, Zillow’s home trends expert. She says many renters with dogs are looking for a place with sufficient space for a fenced backyard and doghouse.
Where you choose to live has countless implications, says Doro Kiley, a certified life coach who’s helped numerous clients navigate real estate transitions. She urges clients to make a community selection within the context of their overall life plans.
“Always begin by thinking about the end product -- what you’d really like as opposed to what you would settle for,” Kiley says.
Here are a few pointers for buyers:
-- Compose wording to describe your ideal lifestyle.
Kiley recommends that couples planning a home purchase first write down their respective visions of a dream house -- including both location and home features. They should then share their visions, combining the key elements of both into a single statement.
Written statements help people clarify their thinking and refine the details of their plans as they move through successive drafts. They’re also a way to help reconcile differing views, she says.
Merrill Ottwein, a Coldwell Banker broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (naeba.org), suggests that home-buying couples try to resolve their differences by distinguishing between “wants” and “needs.”
-- Factor in the implications of a lengthy commute.
One of the most wrenching trade-offs many families face is between a larger, newer house with a longer commute and a smaller, older place that’s closer to a city center.
Buyers who consider an outer-tier suburb are often driven by the desire for a larger property or what they perceive to be better schools.
“Unfortunately, good schools often correlate with newer suburbs rather than older areas that are close in,” Ottwein says.
But before you opt for a distant suburb, he strongly recommends you do morning and afternoon rush hour test drives. This way, you’ll know more precisely what sort of traffic to expect if you buy there, he says.
-- Take into account the demands of a large yard.
Many people with young children hang on tightly to the hope that their kids will have a large backyard where they can frolic. This aspiration can influence them to pick an outlying suburb at the expense of their convenience and commuting time.
But are the trade-offs necessary to acquire a large piece of land always worth it? Not necessarily, says Ottwein, noting that today’s children often spend much more time in organized athletic and recreational activities than did their parents.
-- Avoid rushing into the selection of a property.
Nowadays, those seeking a home in many a popular neighborhood still face fierce competition from other bidders. They feel pressured to act quickly, lest they lose out to a rival. In the process, Ottwein says, some buyers are now taking regrettable shortcuts -- rushing into a purchase without analyzing whether the property they buy truly matches both their primary wants and needs.
“Don’t let your competitive instincts trick you into the wrong choice,” he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)