Friday, September 18, 2015

Buyer's Remorse: A Pain

Maybe talking this out will help me. I'm not sure if it will entertain you, so feel free to skip it and come back for more cat posts when I'm feeling more light-hearted.

Here goes...

For the past week, before and after buying a condo up the street, I've had an intense case of "buyer's remorse," a form of cognitive dissonance that causes anxiety relating to purchases (the fun includes nausea, night sweats, insomnia, clammy hands, and a lots of unpleasant thinking, fears, regrets, etc.).

According to Wikipedia, cognitive dissonance is:
the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
For about six years, I've wanted very badly to move.* It's lucky because we had to move when my husband got a nice relocation package with his new teaching job. Oddly enough, I've wanted all along to move to the place we bought. We saw it when it was for sale at the very beginning of our search, in 2009–10. We knew it met many of our needs and wants, and we got that "This Is It" feeling that happens when you find a good place. But by the time we were in a position to make an offer, it had been sold to investors who rented it out on two-year leases. Even though it was a 4th-floor walk-up (53 stairs), I had our agent ask the owners if they wanted to sell each time the tenants' lease was expiring. Finally they agreed. Since there were tenants, we made our first two offers without even seeing it again. Then, before we made our final, scary-high offer, we were taken to see it.

It was painted badly and messy, but it still had the features that had drawn us in the first place. These include: a great location on our favorite street, much more space, a private roof deck, two living rooms with fireplaces (one works), central air, a cat-friendly owners' association (very rare if you have more than one or two cats), hardwood floors, no upstairs neighbors, and several long walls without radiators that can hold bookcases (also rare). We still admired it and we were sick of house-hunting. So we bid high and bought it.

Only after we signed the purchase-and-sale agreement did I start focusing on its drawbacks, which turned out to be numerous (who knew?). I've been obsessing about its low ceilings, since it's a top-floor. Our current place has 10' ceilings almost everywhere and I have always loved and valued high ceilings. So, what was I thinking buying the new place? Its ceiling range from 7.5' high in the foyer to 9.5" in one living room and bedroom. It's hardly like living in a basement, but you'd think so from the amount of time I'm spending fretting over those ceilings. I hope I get used to them.

Add to the list of drawbacks that runs constantly through my brain, and especially from 2 to 5 am: skimpy moldings, smaller windows, shiny walls in ugly colors, two very skinny bedrooms, two tiny and cheap bathrooms, much less storage than we have now (due to lower ceilings and tiny baths), and a tired kitchen.

Then there's the frat house across the alley. It's an MIT frat, which makes a difference — they are more considerate of their neighbors and less rowdy than other frats. And their lounge is on the other side of the building. But still...

The buyer's remorse began when the closing was a few days away. Those drawbacks that had been previously unknown, ignored, or seemed unimportant suddenly they popped to the foreground and refused to move.

How can I reconcile our decision to buy, which took place over many weeks, with apparent deliberation and many steps in the process, with the regret, revulsion. and fear I'm experiencing now?

Don't ask me.

I know my distress is intensified by several factors:
  • We spent years trying to buy a place, which increased the pressure and raised the stakes for "perfection" enormously. No place is perfect but I can't help feeling we made a poor choice because we rejected so many other, possibly better choices. Hundreds of them.
  • We have just wiped out most of our savings, and I'm not convinced the price (beyond my comfort zone but my husband and our banker persuaded me) was justified. I'm a careful spender and saver... a bit of a miser. The amount we spent upsets me. I don't believe anyone else would have paid so much (At some level I do realize that it could be worth our paying that much because it met our very unique set of needs. But its high price still rankles and makes me feel like a loser.)
  • We need to sell our current place and it needs work, painting, and staging. I'm not convinced it will sell for a good price because it has a tiny, enclosed kitchen, an "unusual" bathroom, and other issues beyond our control. People tell me I'm crazy to worry in this market. But some local properties don't sell for months and go through price reductions. And until it's sold we have three mortgages and two sets of condo expenses, taxes, and possible assessments. That terrifies me. 
  • Historically, I don't handle home-buying well. My husband reminds me that I loathed our current place before we painted it and moved in, too. It helps to know that but it was a long time ago and I don't remember much. 
  • In the past, I've enjoyed the chaos of packing, unpacking, and then organizing and decorating the new place. But I'll still miss and mourn my current home. (It seems I only wanted to move to a very similar place.) It's been home for 17 years. It's "me" and has the high ceilings, graceful proportions, and Victorian detail I love. It will take a lot of effort, time, and money to make the new place feel like home. Wish me luck.
People come to terms with cognitive dissonance in different ways, working through the problem until they find a way to reconcile their actions with their values or beliefs, persuading themselves that their choice does make sense. So I could:
  1. Talk myself into getting a grip and liking the new place again (this rarely works for me)
  2. Ignore the whole problem (I'm no good at that, either)
  3. Give myself an escape: we could fix it up to sell in two years, hopefully breaking even or making a tiny profit (this all depends on the RE market staying strong... and it would cost lots of money)
  4. Find new ways to view the situation ("It's a challenge: let's see just how good I can make it look.")
  5. Take deep breaths and every small, affordable step I can to make the place seem better, in hopes I'll eventually succeed in feeling happy again — and at home.
I'll try them all.Your thoughts, insights, lectures, pep talks, and stories continue to be more than welcome! Thanks for all you've said so far. You've been very helpful.

* You could say I am moving "very badly" indeed. Hey, at least I finally managed to joke a little.


  1. Oh dear, oh dear! You are making yourself needlessly ill, and stressing out about architectural issues such as the "lower" ceilings, when there are many more pluses about your new home that are coveted and hard to find at a "reasonable" price -- for Back Bay that is. Pore through older decorating books that show various historic residences, and see that "lower" ceilings never hindered anyone's flair and imagination.

    Your private, not shared, roof deck is incredibly desirable!

    Why do you need to use either of the pokey bedrooms for sleeping quarters, when you have the luxury of TWO fire-placed living rooms? Choose one of them as a luxury suite, that incorporates a sitting area with suitably stylish antique writing desk. One bedroom as study for hubby, and another as a guest bedroom.

    "Cheap" and "tired" kitchen and bathrooms are just a cosmetic hindrance, and can be transformed relatively easily.

    Re-read the features that drew you in, and realize how fortunate you are to have those.

    You're weeping about "shiny" walls?! Get a good painting contractor to put up dust-proof plastic barriers (they are relatively inexpensive, and will completely seal off area being worked on), and get the sanding / patching / sealing done as prep to a professional paint finish, or splurge on hand-printed/painted wallpaper for an accent wall.

    If you co-ordinate it well, you can move out for a week of the most disruptive prep work, and live with areas being worked on behind the barrier.

    None of the rehab need be extravagant -- and stunning results can be had on a budget!

  2. I vote for that last one, which is what I usually do when faced with very stressful situations - usually traveling far way from home. One small tackleable task at a time. I'm not flying out to Kansas, I'm simply packing a bag. I'm not flying to canvas, I'm just driving up to the airport. etc.

  3. I second everything Jan wrote, and add this: why not have an open house now? You're worried what price your apartment will bring? What little you've shown here looks incredibly warm and inviting -- you can take the cats over to the new place, let them explore and get used to it while people come some weekend afternoon and salivate over the idea of owning your apartment. Get a feel for how people respond to it. You might be able to dispense with the idea of repainting, etc. and be able to focus the cosmetic work on your new place, which you should have done (ideally) before you move in.

  4. I must admit I was concerned when you mentioned your second thoughts....and even more so with your new frat neighbors, but when I see the list of things you're getting and what drew to the place in the first place I think it's time to your initial instincts! A private roof deck? Amazing. 2 living rooms? All sorts of possibilities (including the brilliant idea from the first person to comment). Plus, I love that it's a 4 story walk will stay fit forever. You didn't say whether most of the ceilings were more toward the 7.5 or 9.5 height but seriously, any ceiling over 8 ft. is perfectly adequate, not to mention more energy efficient....(think of all the wasted heat up at 10 ft. in your current home). And as far as your condo....from what we've seen over the years, you have a beautiful space in the Back Bay....I can't believe your realtor doesn't already have a list of people waiting for your address and short of that, if you do have an open house, that you won't have several good offers as soon it's on the market. Sure the money is a concern, but it's temporary.....just like the kitchen and bath......I think there's A LOT to be excited about and it will be fun seeing the transformation. Good luck and have fun!

    1. Thank you! It's so helpful to hear your thoughts. We really do need to get in there and try to make it our own, but it feels just... alien to me these days. I hope we can recapture our initial excitement about it, which we certainly experienced — TWICE, six years apart! Most of the ceilings are 8.5 to 9.5 feet, just the kitchen, baths, and hall-foyer are lower. I know I'm being ridiculous over them. The biggest turn-off are the tiny, cheap, old baths. We are spoiled by our lovely bigger one, with custom cherry paneling and pretty marble. As for the current place, similar places do have price markdowns and linger on the market sometimes. I hope you are right that it will be popular! Thank you again....


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