The psychology of buying a home: Why do we love one place and not another?

You’d buy a sweater on impulse, but when it comes to buying a home it’s all about calm deliberation, right? You might be surprised.

Price, square footage, location: “All that can be trumped by the visceral reaction of seeing a home,” says June Cotte, who teaches marketing at University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business.

“Smells, colours, sounds you can hear inside or from the outside — you might not be aware of them, but they can have an influence.”

The layout may even subliminally remind you of the home of a former boyfriend, Ms. Cotte says. That can have a positive or negative emotional impact on how you perceive a home.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research in 2002 said emotions can be twice as important as knowledge in consumer buying decisions. Subsequent research has determined that the role of emotion in buying situations varies by individual and circumstance, but there’s no doubt that, overall, it’s a critical factor in consumer behaviour.

And while it’s important to feel an emotional tie to the place you live in (it can inspire everything from maintaining the house properly to caring about your community), abandoning your inner Mr. Spock and his logic isn’t wise.

Take aspiration, for example. We judge a potential purchase in part by whether we think it will represent what we would like to be and how we’d like to be perceived. An empty nester, however, might actually be happier staying in peaceful suburbia instead of buying a loft in a noisy downtown area just because he fancies himself a young-again urban hipster.

As well, we fall victim to confirmation bias, the pervasive tendency to cherry-pick or interpret information that confirms our preconceptions. We fall in love with a house and so we dismiss the mouldy smell, saying the place just needs a little airing out.

We also readily become invested psychologically in a property before we’ve reached a rational decision, according to professor Michael J. Seiler, who specializes in behavioural real estate at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.

“You’re looking at a house and suddenly start thinking of the community, and the neighbours, and how they’ll be your friends.

“Expectations, fears, desire for status — a lot of stuff influences you,” he says. “So be cautious, try to be rational.”

Influences are at work before you ever enter a prospective home. Billboard, newspaper and other advertising fosters expectations, Ms. Cotte says.

If a builder advertises extensively, for example, you might make the illogical assumption that because the company spends oodles of money on advertising, it must be profitable, so it must be good. “It’s called accessibility bias,” she says. “The most accessible brands, the ones that immediately come to mind, we value as being positive.”

Matthew Sachs, general manager for Ottawa builder Urbandale, says when advertising, “you hook with emotion and reel in with intellect.” A radio ad, for example, might ask, “Remember the first time you fell in love?” It would then segue from romantic love to love of a house, tack on some factual benefits — energy efficiency for example, although Mr. Sachs says that might be couched as “comfort” or “you’ll save money” — and exit with another emotional hook.

When it comes to face-to-face sales, Mr. Sachs says Urbandale has no defined strategy except to listen closely to what the prospective buyer wants.

His advice to home hunters: “Excitement is important if you’re buying a house, but do your research. Validate and verify.”

A good agent will help clients keep emotions in check and concentrate on finding what it is they really want. That, he says, takes time and may not be what the buyers had originally thought.

He also sees peer pressure at work. “People at coffee break say, ‘You should never offer full price.’ In some cases, you should. And maybe those people bought years ago, when the market was different.”

Because having too many choices often leads to inaction, after a day of house hunting, it’s a good idea to scratch most of what you’ve seen off your list.

That will also help control what Ms. Cotte terms “anchoring and adjustment bias”: If you’ve seen 20 crummy houses and then one decent one, you’ll assess the decent one as being better than it actually is.

And what if, by following all this advice, you feel you missed out on the “perfect” home?

“There’s always another opportunity”.

Source: National Post

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Jorge Branca

Jorge Branca

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CENTURY 21 Leading Edge Realty Inc., Brokerage*
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