by Dan Krell © 2008
Have you wondered why so many people rushed to purchase homes in the recent historic seller’s market? Why have home buyers been scarce, even in a buyer’s market? The man with the answers is Ori Brafman. Ori Brafman has an extensive background that includes organizational speaker and consultant, professor, and writer. His new book, co-written with psychologist Dr. Rom Brafman (his brother), is called Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (Doubleday, June 2008). The book is a culmination of research that explains what compels us to act irrationally.
In a recent personal correspondence about irrational behavior in real estate, Ori offers these concepts to explain such seemingly overt irrational behaviors: loss aversion, “getting stuck in the past,” and value attribution.
Loss aversion, a concept described in Prospect Theory, describes why people focus on limiting their losses as opposed to seeking gains. Ori explains that loss aversion explains why home sellers have a hard time selling for less than their original purchase price, even when it means they could potentially lose more by waiting for the downward market to end. He explains that it is not only psychologically painful, but a shot to our ego; making some to irrationally wait for an unrealistic sale price.
This would explain why many home sellers have had a difficult time adjusting list prices in the downward market. Even when a home seller will not realize a loss, they perceive a loss based on home values from a year ago. Based on this perceived loss, home sellers will list their homes for sale at higher than market prices. This fact was validated in a research study conducted David Genesove and Christopher Mayer entitled “Loss Aversion And Seller Behavior: Evidence From The Housing Market” (published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 11/2001). This research used data from the Boston real estate market in the 1990’s and serendipitously found that home sellers are unwilling to list and sell for a loss.
Home buyers and home sellers alike can “get stuck in the past,” looking to buy or sell a home for a price they missed some time ago. Rather than pricing their home at a realistic price, many home sellers look to sell for a price they would have sold for a year or two ago. Additionally, this could explain why some home buyers constantly offer low ball prices for homes that have obvious higher values.
Value attribution plays a large role in how home buyers view homes they may purchase. Ori explains that a home buyer might place less value on a home that is priced less than other neighborhood homes, “even when the home meets all of their criteria.” When a home is priced “rationally,” a home buyer might wonder, “What’s wrong with this house?” Home buyers will go through the home and arbitrarily decide which features devalue the home.
Together, these concepts might explain why home buyers have been scarce in this buyer’s market. Many home buyers have placed less value in owning a home in a declining market, worrying about further market declines. Additionally, home buyers irrationally worry about unrealized losses, even when buying a home may be the rational thing to do.
This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of August 25, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.