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One page about real estate, and he got it wrong

Posted by Rona Fischman May 11, 2011 01:43 PM

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My last licks on How We Decide address the single page that is dedicated directly to real estate.It starts near the end of page 144. I think Mr. Lehrer and the psychologist he quotes got it wrong.

On page 144, Mr. Lehrer has just explained that emotion-based decisions are the best for things like choosing a poster or strawberry jam. Subjects who are asked to mentally evaluate their decision over-think it and choose one that is less satisfying. Lehrer writes:

The more people thought about which posters they wanted, the more misleading their thoughts become. Self-analysis resulted in less self-awareness. [Emphasis by Lehrer]… This isn’t just a problem for insignificant decisions like choosing jam for a sandwich or selecting a cheap poster. People can also think too much about more important choices, like buying a home.

Lehrer then quotes our friend, Dr. Dijksterhuis, who calls the act of concentrating on the wrong thing a “weighting mistake.” Lehrer writes:

"Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion on the urban outskirts, with a forty-five minute commute.”People will think about this trade-off for a long time," Dijksterhuis says. "And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad." What's interesting is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes.

Dijksterhuis says, first, the housing decision is based on the holiday scenario which occurs a couple of days a year when the buyers should be paying attention to the daily commute, which is more than 200 days a year. Studies show that people with long commutes are less happy. The commuters with the big houses made a weighting mistake. They chose space they don’t use every day instead of the convenience they could have had, daily, with a short commute.

I disagree with this conclusion. I think Dr. Dijksterhuis is misreading the motivation. The motivation for the bigger house in the suburbs is more than the space. The big draw away from the city is safety and schools. Those are community features that the suburbanites do use every day. Maybe they are less happy, in a survey, than their urban brethren. But, don’t you know parents who gave up lifestyle perks which made them happy for the perceived good of their children? Are you with me on this?

What are your last licks on this book?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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