Zen and the Art of Home Buying

It used to be that buying a home – a house or condo – was one of the more fraught experiences we had as adults, and something many of us did only once or twice in a lifetime. People seem to move more frequently now, but I think for many of us it can still be stressful. It’s still one of the most expensive purchases many of us will ever make and, no matter how well researched, represents both a gamble (that you’ve picked the right place, that you’ll still have a job in a few years, that it’s a good investment) and a huge commitment (that you’ll stay in one place for a length of time, perhaps with the same person if there are two incomes involved; that you’ll take good care of your investment, or pay someone else to). Most of us would be immobilized and still living in our first home if we really thought about it too much — so we do our due diligence and then take a deep breath, cross our fingers, and jump.

That moment of the deep breath, to me, is the beginning of Zen home buying. So why not arrive at it faster, with almost no worrying and stress? When I first started looking at condos a couple of years ago, I decided to do exactly that. A little smarter and a lot older, I set about the whole process in a different way, and from a different mind-set than I had in my twenties and thirties. For example, I told the realtor (as we all do) that I didn’t want to see anything too pricey for my budget and then stress over how to cut corners and make it fit – but this time I really enforced it. Having been firm about that, I found I no longer needed to “drive a hard bargain” and nickel and dime the price down — I didn’t want to overpay, but I was content to pay my fair share, have it fit within my budget and let both parties walk away satisfied.

My list of “must haves” changed as well: instead of a top notch school district, I wanted light — preferably a corner unit with lots of windows. “Close to shopping” became “Where’s the nearest farmer’s market?” I found that easy access to the train was less important than being on a remote cul-de-sac where the cats were safe going outside. Mindful of warnings about future water shortages, it became a critical feature of my research. Just as important as quantity was that the water taste good — having spent a lot of time visiting desert cities where you can’t drink the tap water, I refused to live in a place where I must buy it in bottles. Lower on the list, but moving up with a bullet after the last winter we had, was a garage. Higher on the list was a good sense of community and proximity to like minded people.

I learned to be sensitive, if not out-and-out psychic about the houses and properties I visited. I think it’s a talent we all have, it’s just a question of paying attention and honoring it. Sometimes it’s overt: while house hunting several years ago I was shown a property that was lovely and suited my family’s needs perfectly. Except that during the entire showing this little girl, the daughter of the owner, followed us around radiating anger toward me and the realtor. It was like being stared at by one of the creepy kids from Children of the Corn. I didn’t need to be Carnac to pick up the message that she didn’t want to move. Fine, little girl, there are plenty of other houses out there, you can have this place. Most of the time it’s more subtle: an owner who is ambivalent about selling and sending mixed messages or bad energy; or, as I recently experienced, a darkness, like the cloud that hangs over Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen, that makes you want to leave a place. The message to me is usually to move on and look elsewhere.

On the upside, when you find the place that feels good, with the quiet cul-de-sac and the beautifully landscaped grounds — you know it right away. When you can feel the warmth of a community where people smile and greet you and answer questions (like where there are three different farmer’s markets!), then you begin to relax. And when you know, with utter certainty, that you are going to come in under budget (because the psychic in you knows exactly what the price will be) and that you can imagine years of flourishing in this space — when in your mind you have already moved in and decorated the place, that is when you have found a home. The rest is just paperwork.

by Cheryl Shainmark
Cheryl Shainmark is a freelance writer and editor living in Westchester, New York. A long time contributor of articles and book reviews, Cheryl is now a senior editor and a regular columnist at Merlian News. When she is not reading, reviewing, or dreaming about books she can be found playing with cats of all stripes at her quiet country retreat.