When you're dating, you can spend years searching for the perfect relationship only to -- possibly -- wait too long and miss out on something great. Suddenly, over your sad microwave meal and bottle of cheap red, you're looking back on your life choices, wondering what could have been if you hadn't been so darned picky.
Well, the same goes for house hunting. You can drive yourself crazy searching for your dream home. You've found houses that have come close, after all. So the perfect one is bound to appear soon, right?
Not necessarily. We know the hunt can be emotionally draining, but at some point you have to go from house hunter to home owner.
We're not encouraging you to make a choice that will fill you with buyer's remorse. But to borrow a line from the Rolling Stones: You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes … you get what you need.
We can't give you love advice (and trust us, you would not want us to), but we do happen to know a few things about real estate. Here are three questions to ask yourself; the answers will help you determine whether it's time to settle on a home that might not be what your dreams are made of.
1. Are my expectations realistic?
Everyone has a dream home. Mine is a Craftsman with Victorian high ceilings, art deco details, and a Mid-Century Modern feel. But here's the thing. That Frankenstein of architectural styles doesn't exist -- and your dream home probably doesn't either.
There's always going to be something not so lovable in each house you view. The key to finding the right home is setting realistic expectations.
"You can find a home that meets almost all of what you are looking for," Fitzgerald says.
Make a list of your dream features and amenities before you start house hunting -- but be willing to let some of those features go once you start looking at properties. It helps to score each feature on a scale of 1 to 10 -- that way you (and your partner, if you have one) are on the same page about which amenities are deal breakers and which are simply nice to have.
2. How many properties have I viewed?
Once you're house hunting, it can be nearly impossible to decide when you've looked at enough houses. After all, the perfect house could be listed any day now.
Go ahead and view online listings as much as you want. There's no harm in real estate stalking in your spare time, but you should set a limit for actual viewings.
"If you go view more than eight homes [without finding anything], there's a good chance you're confused as to what you're actually looking for," Fitzgerald says. "You're trying to piece together a home that doesn't exist."
If you find that you're searching for your own Frankenstein (it won't work, I promise), take a moment and ask yourself how many homes you've visited. Have you reached the (self-imposed) cap? If so, make a list of each property's strengths and weakness, and then get ready to compromise.
3. What am I willing to compromise?
If you've set realistic expectations and looked at more than a few houses, it's time to start making some tough decisions. It might feel like settling, but you'll probably thank us later when you're finally a homeowner.
Just make sure you're not compromising on something you'll regret later.
"If you're going to compromise, do not compromise on location," Fitzgerald says.
The real estate adage "location, location, location" bears repeating here. After all, a great house won't matter much if you're driving two hours to work every day or the only nearby grocery store closes at 7 p.m.
If you're not sure where to compromise, ask your Realtor. That's what they're there for.
The exception to the rule
After months of searching (especially in competitive markets), you might feel the pressure to choose something -- anything -- just to achieve homeownership and stop throwing away your money on rent.
We're going to contradict ourselves a bit here and tell you this: Sometimes it's OK to keep looking. When you're deciding on a home, you should always consider the current market, even if it means you'll be shopping for a little while longer.
"If you are having trouble finding a home and you have proper expectations, don't settle -- especially if you're in a hot market," Fitzgerald says.
If you're in a sellers' market, homes can go quickly and you might just be missing the window of opportunity. It might make sense to wait a little longer than rush to try to beat out an overzealous buyer.
After all, competition can breed short-lived desire -- and you don't want to be stuck with a dud after the admirers have moved on to the next attraction.