house buyers buying a house

Are Buyers Really Liars?

In my nearly 30 years as a real estate broker, I became very familiar with an adage from the industry that “buyers are liars.” Now, of course, this isn’t true in the literal sense. Buyers are never outright liars. What is true is that they’re always acting in congruence with their deeply held beliefs or money scripts, and they often don’t know what those beliefs are. It’s common for house-hunters to come into a broker’s office with a list of what they want and need in a house. It’s also common for them to end up buying a home that fails to match their list.

This is because some 80% or more of financial decisions, including major ones like buying a house, are made emotionally, not logically. A buyer may intend to choose a house based on logical criteria like its age, size, and location. Yet they may actually make the decision based on a money script—which they are not aware they hold—such as “The emotional connection to a house is the most important feature of a home.”

Any real estate agent could tell you that, if buyers have some flexibility in what they can afford, most of them will make home buying decisions emotionally rather than practically or financially. This isn’t necessarily wrong or bad. Most major decisions like buying a house require an emotional component in order to meet our needs. 

As an example, let me tell you how my wife and I bought our current home. We had a nice older home in the central part of town that was too small for our growing family, so we started looking for something bigger. Marcia would look first, find possibilities that she liked, and then I would look at them. I wanted something that was somewhat formal but had some warmth and intimacy, with a lot of wood and smaller rooms. She wanted something away from the center of town, in the pines with a view. Many of those homes were newer, less formal ones with open floor plans. So I would walk into one of these and it just didn’t fit.

After we had been looking for a while, one day Marcia said, “You have to come see this house!” There, at the top of a hill, was a doublewide mobile home—with a stunning, 360-degree view. And in that moment, I got it. What was important to me was the house. And what was important to Marcia was the view. 

Eventually, we found a house away from the center of town that had a somewhat more formal layout. I walked in and said, “Yeah, I think this one would do.” Meanwhile, she was out on the deck admiring the beautiful view. We’ve now lived in that house for more than 20 years. 

My point is that it’s important, when we’re making major buying decisions, that we try to get down to the bedrock of what really resonates with us emotionally. Yes, our lists of wants and needs matter. Yet sometimes those are “should” and “oughts.” We should be close to schools or have a big garage or three bathrooms or a formal dining room or whatever. Those shoulds and oughts can come from a number of different places. And it’s just fascinating that, when we meet our emotional needs, the shoulds and oughts can go right out the window. Like, well, I guess I could live in a mobile home because the view is so phenomenal.

What did a view mean to Marcia? What did a more formal and intimate feel mean to me? What parts of ourselves did those things appeal to? At times that emotional resonance may be due to wounded parts trying to get their needs met—to feel safe, perhaps, or to feel nurtured by a beautiful view of nature. At times it can be just preferences that make a house feel like home to us.

Realtors routinely ask, “What are you looking for in a home?” And a common answer is, “Well, I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.” The intangible element matters, in house-buying and many other decisions. What feelings do I want to have with what I’m purchasing? What needs am I trying to meet around those feelings? 

These are all things to really ponder when we’re making any type of major purchase. What does this mean to me? If we tend to stay with the “shoulds” on our list because they make sense, and ignore the important emotional factors, we are not likely to be happy with a purchase. When our buying decisions are prompted by unconscious money scripts and unfinished emotional business, there’s a huge chance that they may not serve us well.

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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