On the House: Many homeowners regret their choice

Posted: May 06, 2013

There have been times, in the 31 years I have owned houses, that I've suffered from what could be characterized as buyer's remorse.

It was more common with our second house, rather than the first or the current one. The house in the middle was more house than we needed, and it had more problems than even I signed up for.

C'est la vie.

In a recent survey, the real estate search engine Trulia found that 50 percent of the 2,100 homeowners it surveyed nationally suffered from buyer's remorse.

The figure was slightly higher for renters, 56 percent, but anyone who has ever rented a place with two or three other people pretty much knows where that's coming from.

Since my primary focus is on buyers and sellers, let's stick with them. (This column is an invitation to tell me your stories.)

Slightly more than half the homeowners responding to the Trulia survey said they had at least one regret about their current homes or the process by which they had chosen them.

About one-third said they wished that they could have chosen larger houses. Almost one-third said they should have done more remodeling.

Third on the list was regretting they had not had more information about the houses before buying.

The problem with surveys, especially of buyers and sellers, is that there is a huge gap between what people want and what they can afford. Certainly, I was in better shape when we bought our current house than I was with the first or the second.

Part of the problem for many first-time buyers is that they would like to buy the "perfect" house (there isn't such an animal, I assure you), but don't have a lot of money in the bank.

Even those with good jobs often can't do much stretching for a while after the down payment and closing costs, which explains the "wish I had remodeled more" lament of some of the homeowners.

So many buyers in the post-bubble era are being forced to buy only what they can afford, and what that turns out to be is smaller than the space they think they need.

Be careful what you wish for. (My middle house, remember?) By the way, 11 percent said they wished they had bought smaller homes. (So there.)

Lack of information? You have only yourself to blame in this era of transparent transactions, mandatory disclosure statements, and the Internet. If I can figure out how to repair roman blinds and put a new battery in my car key by watching You Tube videos on my iPhone, what's your excuse?

There are more legitimate regrets on the list, including buyers wishing they had put more money down or waited until "I was more financially secure."

The effects of the real estate downturn are apparent among today's buyers, with many first-timers carefully shopping for houses they can afford not only when fully employed but in the event something unforeseen happens, like job loss or reduced work hours or lengthy illness.

The bottom line: Be careful. Regrets can run deeper than "I wish I'd bought a bigger house."


On the House: Town by Town

In the Sunday Business section, Alan J. Heavens takes a look at real estate and life throughout the region. This week's focus: Haddington.


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.

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