THE BLOG
09/10/2013 05:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 10, 2013

Uncertain? Don't Buy a House

There's a drowsy undercurrent of indecision that's keeping a full real estate recovery at bay (that, and lenders, but that's a blog for a different day). When I read predictions for a solid economic revival sooner than later, I wonder if forecasters are counting on home sales to a shaky subset of prospective buyers.

As a real estate attorney and lecturer, I encounter a lot of potential purchasers researching possibilities and gathering information. It's a big purchase -- the largest many will make-- and the decision should be based on adequate income, job stability, and housing needs. Those saving for a decent downpayment (and those who'll never buy) aren't the ones who'll make or break a real recovery. Instead, it's the group that checks off likely to buy soon next to an anonymous survey question, but reveals their deep-seated anxiety when I talk to them one-on-one or in a small group.

These are people who may approach other aspects of their lives and careers with certainty, yet when it comes to buying a home, they dither, looking for reasons to duck, dodge, or delay. Some of the truly tentative want me to confirm their excuses, while others seek an alibi for why they won't buy. I cannot provide either with a clear conscience (or without a crystal ball), and I tell them so.

If you're someone sitting on the sidelines, perhaps my answers to recent questions may help you decide whether to jump into the real estate market or back off for a while:

I need to have a fixed budget. How much will school taxes will go up? It will be too much and at about the same time as an appliance fails or the roof starts to leak.

If I want to invest in my future, I have to buy rather than rent, right? You need to live someplace, but you don't need to own a dwelling.

Should I buy the most expensive house I can possibly afford and grow into it? Would you buy a pair of pants three sizes too big in anticipation of middle-age weight gain? Buy what fits now.

How will I ever pick the right house? There are too many choices. Take a moment to focus on how you feel when you pull into the driveway. If you're content, you're home.

Should I wait until hurricane season ends before I buy in an area that flooded during Sandy? If you're seeking certainty about the weather, don't ask a lawyer. If you're seeking security, buy in an area that didn't flood or a location that installed surge deterrents. And in either case, buy the best insurance coverage you can afford.

What do you think I should do? I'm asking everyone for advice. Don't let parents, real estate agents, mortgage reps, lawyers, and buddies push you into buying a home. And don't be deterred by them, either. No one but you will be shoveling the snow and paying the bills!