Pen And Paper On Choosing A House

Last summer we moved into our new house in Kentucky. We looked at a lot of houses. It’s hard enough to find a new place in a region that is familiar, but in a new state it’s even more challenging.

I kept bringing a notebook thinking the notes would be helpful in making a good decision. I was wrong – the notes I kept didn’t help at all, but I later realized what I should have done and hope my experience can help someone else.

This is a simple tip for those house hunting in a new area, or perhaps making a similar choice:

When you write notes on each home focus on what you don’t like. Specifically the deal breaker items.

Yes, that sounds backward, but here’s the explanation:

We started with a list of “musts” – must be close to school. Must be walkable to stores, or at least a park so the kids have some autonomy and wouldn’t drive us nuts needing rides everywhere. Must have all kid bedrooms on the same floor. Must have room to park the truck in the garage. Space for a shop. Nice yard. And on and on and on.

The problem is that the perfect house doesn’t exist, and in the end the choice involves compromise. But it’s not clear what compromises have to be made until after you’ve seen a bunch of places and learn what is available.

As we gave up on some items we remembered that there were homes we liked but for those items. The trick is to find those houses to reconsider them. It’s impossible to do this when all that’s been recorded for each house is what we liked.

If I had kept a simple list of address, and reasons why we didn’t like it our search would have been easier.

Ever have buyer’s remorse?

Buyer’s remorse. There is no worse feeling than buying something that you thought you really wanted, only to look at it in the days afterward and realize I’ve wasted my money. If I’m lucky, I can take it back. If not, well, I guess that is education. It still sucks.

I’ve bought lots of things I’ve regretted afterward. It took a long time for me to learn not to do this. What changed?

I started an “I want to buy” list. I keep it inside the back cover of my journal.

It started during a time when we were especially short of extra cash, and I simply couldn’t buy what I wanted – even small items had to be planned. So I wrote things down when I got the urge to buy them, planning for the day when I’d have the cash. I found that this made it easier to save – scarcity made for better management. I hoarded my play money and bided my time. When I really felt the need to buy something – anything – I would consult the list and get something I saw there that I still wanted. I rarely regretted the choice. What I bought might not be exciting, but it wasn’t disappointing.

It stuck. I still occasionally slip up but it’s only with much smaller items. Now if something costs more than $20 or so I put it on the list and wait a few days. An especially good sale might get me to buy sooner, but I’ve learned that waiting actually makes it better, for several reasons.

First, I’m better prepared to make use of it. Because I’ve been thinking of it I know what i”m going to do. There’s a place to put it. This is especially important for large things, or things that require assembly.

Second, I have the money ready for it and can afford to miss it.

Third, I know it’s going to be a good purchase and that provides some satisfaction as well. In the rare circumstance where it wasn’t, I know I did my best to make sure it was.

That’s the way things should be. We should buy them because we’ve mindfully considered them, decided we need them, and they will contribute to our lives.

As an interesting side benefit, the want-to-buy list makes for interesting reading. I can see some items that get mentioned more than once. More than a few ‘fad’ items – things I got a very sudden and strong interest in – that definitely fall into the “I am so glad I didn’t buy that!” category. I can remember the enthusiasm I had a the time – and it sometimes reminds me of how I feel about something else now, which reinforces the need to use the list.

Over time I’ve learned that there are some categories of things where I can’t go too far wrong, and choices are pretty safe. Clothing is one. Shoes (might seem strange for some) are another, unless I get the fit wrong.

Expensive things that are rarely used are a danger zone. Expensive things for a new hobby I’ve suddenly gotten interested in are in the exreme-danger-don’t-go-here-without-an-adult danger zone.

Do you find yourself making some bad buying decisions? Give the I Want To Buy list a try!