Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Conquering the Homebuying Jitters

A medical researcher married to a landscape designer long fantasized about moving from their cramped city townhouse to an exurban place with extra acreage.

A few days ago, when they finally found the perfect home, they put in an immediate offer. Their signed contract is now pending.

The couple has zero second thoughts about their property choice. Yet the husband is extremely nervous about how ownership of the home will play out in the future, given the economic challenges facing the country due to the virus outbreak. Indeed, he’s suffering so much insomnia that he now spends nights in the guest bedroom to avoid keeping his wife awake.

Both partners in this true story are confident their jobs are secure. Based on their income and good credit, they’ve been preapproved for a low-rate mortgage with a sizable down payment. Yet what’s giving the man restless nights are a series of worst-case scenarios. He especially fears an extended economic downturn that could cause the value of their property to plummet.

Fred Meyer doesn’t know the young couple in this true story. But the veteran real estate broker, who’s also a licensed appraiser, says it’s likely these buyers are making a sound investment, assuming they hold the property for several years or longer.

“Just as with the stock market, long-term is what matters,” says Meyer, who sells real estate around Harvard University, an area of strong appreciation.

Why is Meyer so bullish on the future of residential real estate in popular metro areas? Because property in such neighborhoods remains in short supply, and a surge of young adults is now moving into the household formation stage of their lives -- getting married and having children.

Of course, Meyer wouldn’t advise any potential buyers to move ahead with a property purchase this year if their personal finances are threatened.

“If your job is shaky or your credit is weak, this is not a good time to buy. Nor should you buy now if you intend to move again in just a year or two,” he says.

Fear of a decline in property values is just one worry now blocking many wannabe owners. Some fears are rational and can be addressed, while others are strictly emotional. Here are a few pointers for buyers on coping with their worries:

-- Write down your fears to examine them for validity.

Sheri Petersen, a life coach who advises numerous clients pursuing homebuying goals, says many people who are troubled by fears of moving forward are only vaguely aware of what’s stopping them.

“Write down every single thing that scares you and check each one out to see if it’s valid. You don’t want irrational doubts to stop you from a fulfilling life if you can address or adapt to these fears,” she says.

For instance, to address a worry that you might inadvertently buy into a crime-ridden neighborhood, drive to the community and talk to residents there to ask about their experiences with crime. Or go to the website of the local police department to review crime statistics.

To address a fear of buying a property with defects that could be costly to remedy, make sure you schedule a pre-closing home inspection with a company that does in-depth work. One way to find a local inspection firm with a solid background and training is through the website of the American Society of Home Inspectors: homeinspector.org.

Petersen learned techniques for dealing with anxieties in a seminar led by Rhonda Britten, who’s written several self-help books on how to attack worries proactively. She was especially influenced by Britten’s book “Fearless Living,” which she recommends to first-time homebuyers.

-- Use time-management tools to keep you from getting bogged down.

Pamela Dodd, a psychologist and co-author of “The 25 Best Time Management Tools & Techniques,” says buyers can take advantage of the same skills office administrators use to keep projects on track.

Your first step, she says, is to create the kind of “vision statement” athletes use to picture themselves scoring in a big game. Using the present tense, describe as closely as possible what your new life will look and feel like once you’ve reached your homeownership goal.

“Fill your vision statement with sensory images and enrich it with detail,” Dodd says. “You don’t need anything more complicated than pen and paper to develop and track your action plan,” she says.

Whatever method you use to develop your plan, the key to making it more practical and less daunting is to “chunk it down” into small, manageable pieces, according to Dodd.

For example, some small first steps for wannabe buyers could include contacting a real estate agent and phoning potential lenders.

-- Don’t allow family or friends to frighten you needlessly.

Dodd cautions those seeking to buy a first home against soliciting advice from too many sources and especially from people close to them who are likely less than objective about their situation.

“Given the current state of the economy, some friends and family might even try to talk you out of homebuying. Their intentions are good,” she says.

As Dodd points out, if you ask for lots of opinions “you’re always going to encounter naysayers.”

She suggests you restrict the number of people from whom you solicit or accept advice during your homebuying quest.

“Only ask for opinions from people you trust, whom you’ve chosen to advise you,” she says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)