Should you trust your gut when buying a house?

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Many of us become emotionally invested when buying a home but it’s important to consider the practicalities too.

Have you ever walked through the front door of a home and immediately thought, ‘This is the one’? Your mind is basically made up before you’ve seen the entire house - it smells right, feels right, and from the little you’ve seen, you can picture yourself living there.

It sounds incredible, but this happens far more often than people may realise. A Private Property client recently told us that she had once decided to buy a home the minute she stepped over the threshold, even though she hadn’t been particularly taken with the property from the outside.

“It was probably the easiest sale my agent had ever made. I literally made up my mind in seconds and it would have taken an awful lot to get me to change my opinion. All I knew was the house had four bedrooms and two bathrooms. I hadn’t even seen many pictures of the home before I viewed it, and had no idea what the interior looked like. To be honest, I still can’t believe that I had such a strong reaction and interestingly, I’ve never had that feeling again, even though I’ve since gone on to buy a number of other properties.

Looking back, it was quite a foolish thing to do and although I was lucky and the home didn’t have any defects, I certainly wouldn’t go only with my gut instinct anymore.

Our client is not alone. A British poll found that one out of every three people surveyed turned a blind eye to logic and didn’t heed advice when making important decisions, choosing instead to rely on their gut instinct. The survey also concluded that more than six out of ten British people believed that going with their gut usually led to the correct decision.

However, trusting your instincts to this extent can cause problems. A report by Eric Bonabeau, published in the Harvard Business Review, notes:

“The trust in intuition is understandable. People have always sought to put their faith in mystical forces when confronted with earthly confusion. But it’s also dangerous. Intuition has its place in decision making - you should not ignore your instincts any more than you should ignore your conscience - but anyone who thinks that intuition is a substitute for reason is indulging in a risky delusion. Detached from rigorous analysis, intuition is a fickle and undependable guide - it is as likely to lead to disaster as to success. And while some have argued that intuition becomes more valuable in highly complex and changeable environments, the opposite is actually true. The more options you have to evaluate, the more data you have to weigh, and the more unprecedented the challenges you face, the less you should rely on instinct and the more on reason and analysis.”

In other words, while your instincts may help guide you to a decision, you shouldn’t allow them to dominate – particularly when it comes to a life-changing decision such as buying a home. This can prove difficult, mainly because most property purchases are based on emotion, and it’s often all too easy to allow your heart to rule your head.

You need to be practical - just because you have fallen in love with the place and think you can overlook the negatives doesn’t mean things are going to end well. Small bedrooms are going to remain small, pokey bathrooms are going to remain pokey (unless you have the capital to make large-scale alterations). The same is true of the location. It’s all very well having a beautiful home, but you’re probably going to run into trouble if the property is in an area you don’t particularly like.

Attempting to sell a property which you’ve only owned for a short while generally ends up costing you money. It’s therefore highly advisable to put your gut instinct on the back burner, listen to advice, thoroughly research the area and inspect the home properly before making a buying decision. And if you’re unsure of anything – walk away and weigh up the pros and cons again – very carefully - instead of blindly signing on a whim.

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