Harney: First-Time Buyers Are Too Picky

by UrbanTurf Staff


In his column this week, housing columnist Kenneth Harney examines whether first-time buyers in today’s housing market are being too picky, and thus missing out on great deals. The column centers around the thesis that first-timers will walk away from any home that has even slight imperfections, with supporting evidence from a Coldwell Banker survey of first-time buyers which revealed that 87 percent of respondents said that “finding a move-in ready home is important” to them.

Harney also interviews a Reston-based real estate agent who listed a number of “minor” reasons that buyers will walk away from a home these days, ranging from kitchen appliances made by different manufacturers or not liking the color a wall is painted.

While first-timers these days may certainly be more picky given the time-consuming pre-approval process and higher required down payments (which the article notes), we find it hard to believe that any buyer would walk away from a home they are interested in without first trying to get the seller to fix slight imperfections like those mentioned above.

Also, the theory that so many first-timers want something that is completely move-in ready is a little far-fetched (in our humble opinion) given the number of UrbanTurf readers that are in search of fixer-uppers in up-and-coming sections of the city.

For the full column, click here.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/harney_first-time_buyers_are_too_picky/3102


  1. Sean said at 6:46 pm on Friday March 4, 2011:

    I am on the hunt for my first house. I’ve got to say, this is far from the truth in my opinion. I have no issues getting a place that needs work, so long as the house is priced fairly. I think too many houses are priced based on potential future rehab-ability, rather than the actual condition. I don’t feel comfortable paying full price (relative term) for something that needs significant work. It would turn out to be a money and time waster. Not to mention headache inducer. It isn’t the work that scares me—it is the initial price tags.

  1. Wes Grooms said at 8:46 pm on Friday March 4, 2011:

    I’m a residential Real Estate Agent and I am afraid that this is more true than not in my experience.  First time buyers may “try” to get sellers to “fix” these minor things, but you can imagine the sellers are often unwilling and think these requests are ridiculous.  The first time buyers then refuse to move forward.  A few buyers understand the deals they can get for less than perfect properties but they are not the norm in the current market.  Again - this is my experience.  I’d guess most real estate agents would agree.

  1. Jen Angotti said at 9:25 pm on Friday March 4, 2011:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Wes.  I’m a real estate agent too and work predominantly with first time home buyers.  They want it to be “perfect” which is hard in DC. 

    I see my clients point a view.  They’re spending a lot of money and they have to compromise: on size, on location, etc. etc.  But sometimes a good deal is missed and that’s tough to watch.

    Interesting article by Harney!

  1. Get Over Yourselves said at 10:17 pm on Friday March 4, 2011:

    Remember in the years leading up to the dot-com bubble how all of the financial advisors labeled every equity a buy?  Well, it’s the same with real estate agents.  All you ever do is invent new ways to package the same overpriced products and hope that people agree to fork over more and more of their income just to find a decent house.  All for your commission.  Thanks for ruining our economy by constantly scaring people into overpaying for housing stock.  Oh, and thanks for making it so hard for a whole generation of young people to afford a decent place.

  1. Brian said at 11:31 am on Saturday March 5, 2011:

    my wife and I are first time buyers looking in DC and I disagree about some of the things Harney says. We would be more than happy to overlook appliances, wall paper, carpet. I do agree that we are being patient looking for the right area.  I think some houses have built in price expectation on what the area may look like in 5 years.

  1. Diane said at 1:04 pm on Saturday March 5, 2011:

    I think this nitpicking is more relevent to suburban developments or condo buildings where finishes are the main distinguisher between units—pay more for it done or less and do it yourself over time. Since most first time buyers are cash poor (after putting down a big down payment), buying a place without dream upgrades likely means doing without for a while—whereas, if the place has them already, but you’re paying a little more for it, you can finance that extra cost over 30 years. 

    We didn’t really have this choice. We were picky about location—which meant older homes, and a limited supply of them in our budget (and at the top of our budget, at that). We wanted “move-in ready,” too, but for us that meant “not a total disaster” instead of “spotless.” Had our house been completely redone, it would have been 20-30,000 more, and we would not have even considered it.  But, we’re very happy with our house.  Since moving in, we’ve replaced the appliances that needed replacing (due to age, not mismatched brands).  And the pink bathroom tile and formica countertops will be here for a while. (you learn to pick your priorities)

  1. Q-Street said at 1:48 pm on Saturday March 5, 2011:

    I bought my first home in 2009. It was a complete wreck, but it was also below $200/sqft in Shaw just a few blocks east of logan circle.

    I am tearing it apart and putting it back together exactly the way I want it. All tallied, I’ll be around $250-$260/sqft by the time I’m done depending on how fancy I feel like getting with some of the finishes.

    My house was actually a featured property on the real estate portion of this site, but I wish we saw more articles on fixer-uppers on Urban Turf! It’s working out great for me.

  1. Mike said at 11:43 am on Monday March 7, 2011:

    From a buyer’s perspective, my biggest concern in buying something where I’d have to make a major repair soon after laying down 75 to 100k in downpayments.  I can see past the 70s wall paper (painting isn’t a big deal), and other bad cosmetics.  It’s just hard to afford any big ticket items in the first few years after laying down a lot of cash. 

    I agree with Sean and Brian in that I’m seeing sellers price homes on future expectation (how long have we heard about the H Street rail line?) or potential the house has.  Some of those places have sat on the market for longer than the ones that are more move-in ready.  It’s no coincidence that sellers that spent a few grand on paint and some countertops are enjoying fast sales and multiple bids.

  1. Caveat Emptor said at 9:02 pm on Tuesday March 8, 2011:

    Experiencing a bit of buyer’s remorse. Bought my first house last year for about 400k in Ward 1. Lots of graffiti, homeless dudes that wander the ‘hood, hood rats on the hustle that run the “help my school buy jerseys” scam, abandoned buildings the city never seizes/razes, and lots of trash left on the sidewalks and streets.

Comments are closed.

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