Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sampling Theory

We've bought a house.

Well, okay, that's maybe a little premature. LC and I have received an offer for the flat (which we're going to accept), and we've made an offer on a house (which has been verbally accepted), and so if everything goes according to plan we'll be moving very soon. Which is all good.

But this post is not really about that, but rather about the process that we usefully applied to find the house that we're hoping to buy. Here's how it works:

In an environment where there are lots of options available, and you're not sure how to go about narrowing the field and then choosing, especially when it's a huge buy and you want to be sure to get "the best" option... don't.

The truth is that there are probably too many options to ever properly evaluate them all, and even if you were able to do that you'd almost certainly end up with analysis paralysis and so not be able to choose between the inevitable trade-offs. There's probably no such thing as the 'perfect' house or the 'perfect' car, or whatever. (And even if there were such a thing, your needs will inevitably change with time. So even if you did get the perfect item, it wouldn't stay perfect for long.)

So, what is useful is to try to identify a representative sample of what's available: pick five or six properties of about the right size and spec, and go and see those. (It's also a good idea, if possible, to throw in one or two 'odd' choices, rather than going only for the obvious ones. So while you might not initially be thinking of a new-build or a bungalow, it's maybe worth viewing at least one.)

As you do the viewings, consider two things. Firstly, does the property in question meet your requirements (both the immediate ones and the ones you expect for the future). If not, it can be discounted immediately. But do note that that's requirements, not preferences - that's actually quite important! Secondly, how does this property stack up with the best we've seen so far?

One other thing: you should make sure to view all the properties in your sample, even if you happen upon one that's great with your first attempt. Basically, you owe it to yourself to get a real picture of what's out there!

Once you've viewed all the houses in your sample, you have hopefully identified a property that is both the best in the sample and that also meets your requirements. (If you haven't found any that meet the requirements, or you're really not happy even with the 'best', you'll need to identify a new sample and/or a new area, and keep looking. That's a weakness in this process.)

Having identified your candidate, then, you should proceed with checking if it's still available, making the purchase, etc etc...

However, if you find that that doesn't work out, for whatever reason (in our case, because we couldn't sell our flat in time), then the thing to do is to go back to the search and keep identifying and viewing properties. But your goal now is quite simple: find one that is at least as good as the best in your sample. And as soon as you find one, that's the one to go for.

The reasoning here is that the best property you found in your sample probably isn't, in fact, the very best property that's available. Instead, it's an indicator of the best-fit properties. That means that there is almost certainly at least one, and perhaps several, that are as good or better. So all you need to do now is find one. (And you stop looking as soon as you find one, because that way you have the satisfaction of getting the best-fit from all the ones you've actually seen - it's not like there's a "one that got away" that was better.)

Of course, it's not an absolutely flawless method, and it does mean that there's probably a better match out there somewhere. But it has the benefits of giving good results, of doing so in a manageable amount of time, and of not showing you better options that you then leave behind.

Well, it works for me, anyway!

#56: "Notes From a Small Island", by Bill Bryson (a book from The List)
#57: "Spelljammer: The Radiant Dragon", by Elaine Cunningham
#58: "The Night Manager", by John Le Carré


Kezzie said...

Yeh, I'm looking for a house at the moment but not found one that has everything we want/need yet. We did find one but our offer was rejected sadly. We have more viewings on Saturday.
I just bought CBC a John Le Carre book today!

Steph/ven said...

I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get the house. Hopefully another will come along before too long. We were lucky in that the house we wanted was fixed price, which made the offering process quite easy; with "offers over" it's always hard to know what the real number is.