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Lita Smith-Mines Headshot

The 'Probably' Purchasers

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The real estate buyer is morphing before my very eyes. The "no way, no how" attitude of the past two-three years has been transformed into an "I'm probably safe" mindset, spurring some buyers off the sidelines and into the game.

I talk to possible purchasers every day. A number of them are still calculating costs and weighing options -- sticking one toe in the water, so to speak. They've got less than a $10,000 down payment and shaky job longevity, or more money but even less confidence that they want to be tied down to one geographic area for the next few years. However, in the past two months, potential buyers are emerging who are actively looking for just the right deal so they can immerse themselves fully in the market.

When I ask these likely-to-be-buyers what's motivating them to take the plunge, I rarely hear the reasons that are spouted by most real estate professionals. The trifecta of low interest rates, tax incentives, and under-valued properties are just a given to these budding buyers. What's compelling almost every purchase now is much more personal: each client articulates an acceptance that they've survived the worst of times and "will probably be OK now."

I haven't heard it once, or twice, or even a handful of times. I've heard it from almost every buyer that has walked into my office since March. "My job's probably secure at this point," or "I'm probably going to stay put for now," or "this is probably as good a time as any if I'm going to buy" have all been the pronouncements of purchasers sitting around my conference table.

The purchasers using "probably" are never brimming with confidence. Most say it with a bit of resignation, tempered with faith that they are making the right decision. I don't want to turn away business, yet I always want to make sure that my clients buy with their eyes wide open. So I ask the "probably purchasers" a question: "Would you marry someone because you 'probably' loved them?"

To their credit, each client laughs and tells me that of course they wouldn't marry just because they were "probably" in love, and that they understand why I'd ask them that, based on their tepid reasons for buying a house. But a house is different, each says, because everyone needs a place to live and it's easier to walk away from a bad house deal than it is to escape from a bad marriage.

The "probably purchasers" tell me that they know that if buying a house doesn't work out, the worst that will happen is that they probably will devastate their credit rating, probably end up without savings or resources, and probably suffer a loss of self-esteem. Understanding all that, they tell me that they are still willing to go forward. I respond that I'm very happy to represent them, if they'll just, please, answer one more probably silly question: "Would you get in your car before a long road trip and hope that it 'probably' won't run out of gas?"