Consumer difficulties with the homebuying process: a descriptive study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

In the next 20 years, the nation must accommodate the largest number of potential homebuyers in its history. To provide a basis for homebuyer education, the purpose of this study was to identify problems related to the homebuying process. A random sample of 250 buyers of residential property in Fort Collins, Colorado, during 1978 was obtained. A questionnaire, developed following Dillman's Total Design Method for mail surveys, presented 66 potential difficulties ordered according to six steps in the homebuying process. After indicating all difficulties encountered during search, purchase, and first year of occupancy, respondents listed the two considered most important, their consequences, perceived causes, and consumer recourse. A response rate of 80.4% was achieved, of which, 153 were eligible owner-occupants who had made a new purchase.

All but two difficulties received a frequency of at least one; and eight difficulties were added by respondents. The most frequent problems, reported by 20% or more of the buyers, were: utility costs much higher than expected or estimated, activities foregone since purchase, mechanical system problems, repairs or adjustments necessary before or soon after purchase, delayed closing, overlapping payments on two residences, problematic telephone installation, and required costs or activities different from the previous residence. The mean total number of difficulties reported was 7.16.

Subjects listed 47 and 44 items, respectively, as most and second most important difficulties. By combining frequencies for importance items, weighting those for the most important problem, the composite rank order of importance was: foregone activities, high utility costs, overlapping payments, mechanical problems, financial bind, delayed closing, and structural conditions or defects. Financial and personal consequences were more often associated with the important difficulties than legal consequences. Most frequent avenues of consumer recourse taken or planned were personal complaints to the source of the problem and to relatives or friends. Perceived causes of the important problems varied.

Frequency distribution comparisons between sample groups, categorized by 15 buyer, search, and purchase characteristics, generally showed similarities on the most frequent difficulties. However, lists of most important difficulties varied in both content and rank order between groups. Mean comparison tests revealed significant differences (p<.01 and .05) in total number of difficulties on the variables: purchase experience, income level, and age of structure.

Major conclusions were 1) The wide ranges and lack of congruence between the difficulties frequently reported and those considered most important, suggest that to attract the attention of a majority of affected buyers, homebuyer education efforts must be comprehensive, yet personally focussed; 2) Although some problems seem likely to be experienced by many owners, the potential for encountering certain difficulties appears to relate to certain characteristics, and populations most in need of education for self-protection are: first-time and lower-than-average income buyers, in-migrants, and those purchasing newly constructed homes and/or at prices less than $60,000; 3) Since the bulk of frequent and important difficulties were detected in move-in and occupancy stages, and were related to financial consequences, timing of purchase or move, and quality or condition of the unit, educational content should emphasize these areas.