Is there a comparison between buying a house and buying a dress? After a recent purchase of a house that we believe will better suit our changing retirement lifestyle, it’s clear that the decision factors used when buying a house have similarities to decision factors used when buying a dress!
Before I frustrate readers of a gender who may never have purchased a dress, I ask you to think of decision factors that might go into choosing a car, or a sound system, or special power tools.
Buying decisions are influenced by needs but other factors, both rational and emotional, come into play. These factors include quality, price, past experiences, learning, culture, friends, family, age, lifestyle, purchasing power, and self concept.
Purchase motivation — whether for a dress or a house — is a complex psychological occurrence. Conscious and subconscious processes affect the decision. Marketers know that buying decisions happen at the subliminal, non-conscious level. Afterward, the consumer uses rational think to justify choices that are largely based on emotions.
When buying a dress the decision usually starts with personal factors. How does it look? How does it feel? Can I imagine myself dancing in it? Does it fit me perfectly? What a great colour!
For a house, the decision usually begins with price. Is it affordable? After that, size — including number of rooms and configuration of rooms, neighbourhood, built-in amenities, outdoor space, and general ambience influence in the purchase decision. Scarcity and availability are other factors that may push a house buyer to make a quick decision.
After buying a house that we believe will better suit our retirement lifestyle, I’m struck with how this purchase decision was similar to decisions I’ve made when buying a dress. When I’ve been fortunate to find a dress that fits perfectly and suits my personal style, taking out my credit card to finalize the purchase is almost automatic. I marvel at this as I see myself as driven by rational thinking in most decisions.
Just as your body determines the style of dress that suits you, your budget will determine the type of house that you can buy. Although we shopped for a smaller house, we were not prepared to live in a shoebox. We wanted bright, airy rooms that were large enough to accommodate pieces of furniture that survived down-sizing. We wanted a house with lots of open space but with areas for privacy. Fortunately, the choice was not overly influenced by price as we are moving from a location with high housing prices to a city with lower housing costs.
The perfect dress needs to fit the body and the house needs to fit lifestyle needs. The dress should not be too tight nor should it hang too loosely. Likewise, a house can be too small to accommodate the needs of the owners or it can be too big, as is our present house. Although we have eliminated much of the excess stuff in our lives, each of us kept some of our ‘precious’ collections as we plan to continue to enjoy the types of entertainment and hobbies that give pleasure.
The perfect dress needs to be age appropriate and so should a house be age appropriate. As I’ve grown older, I know that short-short skirts, frills, low necklines, and spaghetti straps no longer suit me. Likewise, a house with three floors of living space and acres of carpet to vacuum is not required. In making a decision, ease of maintenance, comfort, and an environment for relaxed living were key factors.
Buying a dress is influenced by emotions as much as reason; buying a house is also a decision that is highly emotional and, yet, partly rational. A perfect dress matches personality. It sends signals about self image and social class. Likewise a house provides external validation of the social and cultural reference groups to which the buyer belongs or aspires to belong.
The dress you shop for may not be the dress you buy; likewise, the house you purchase may be quite different from the house you thought you would buy. I’ve often shopped for a dress with a mental image of what I wanted yet the perfect dress that I bought was of a colour, cut, or style that was completely different from the mental image. When shopping for a house, we began with the ideas of a condominium type of residence where snow removal and grass/garden maintenance would be part of the condo fees. Instead, we bought a bungalow in a newish subdivision! We will have to take responsibility to hire contractors for outside maintenance tasks but we will also have more privacy.
In terms of post purchase thinking, we’ve decided that we had a predisposition for a free standing house as this is the type of living arrangement where we have past experience, and thus a pre-disposition must have existed at some unconscious level.
A big decision always creates some post purchase anxiety. We’ve had some of that, but, mostly, we’re excited about finding a house we both like.
Just like the perfect dress, our new house will likely involve tradeoffs and compromises. There’s no point in trying to understand all aspects of this buying decision now the ‘Offer to Purchase’ has been accepted and we have a closing date. We used rational decision processes as we checked off the items on the ‘must haves’ list. Likewise, we know that emotional choices came into the decision including attitudes, beliefs, and feelings from past experiences.
Space for a herb garden, a wine cellar, lots of storage space, a walking/cycling path behind the house, and a nearby wooded area had emotional influence. Just as with buying a dress, buying a house involves a moment when something inside says ‘YES’. The rest is history yet to be lived.