Nov 3, 2020

The Lazy Binary Is Impacting Your Decisions…

Sometimes moments of clarity strike with little notice.

I was listening to an interview on NPR (yes, I occasionally listen to NPR) and the interviewee was talking about how we all want to look at things in either/or terms.  It is far easier to process decisions that are yes/no or black/white or good/bad than it is decisions that are subtle, gray, maybe, sometimes or perhaps.  Subtlety or nuanced discussions are far less common than they used to be.

Rarely is something so one-dimensional or so obvious that there is no counter point. Everything has multiple angles and varied inputs and it is the difficulty in comprehending these complexities which creates the impetus to dismiss the value in the other side of the equation.

The Lazy Binary

He referred to the practice of quickly dismissing the value in subtlety as the ‘Lazy Binary‘ (obviously, ‘binary’ was a reference to the series of 0’s and 1’s which provides the basis for digital communication.)  I found that summary statement to not only be brilliantly succinct but universally applicable and something we encounter every day in our industry:

In my 20+ years in this industry, I have heard each of these statements more times than I could count. And each time I hear them uttered, I cringe a little in that it means a client is ignoring valuable inputs to their overall decision.

We Are All Guilty

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am often guilty of the same.

I am constantly ignoring options without vetting them fully and I recognize it is a dangerous and closed-minded practice. We all make snap decisions about all sorts of things in everyday life, it is part of being human. From technology to techniques to trends, we are presented with an obscene amount of decisions we must make each and every day.  Introducing a new concept with which we are unfamiliar means uncertainty. Uncertainty is inherently uncomfortable and thus we tend to avoid it. Yet each day we have an opportunity to learn how to do something better, faster or more efficiently and when we do not, we deny ourselves the opportunity to master a new skill and thus deny ourselves the opportunity for personal advancement. The ‘Lazy Binary’ enables this to happen far more easily than it should.

Combatting the Tendency

As an agent, having a client who comes in with conviction about a decision is great (“I know EXACTLY what I want” or “I want to live in a 4 bedroom taupe transitional on a cul-de-sac in Hanover“), but it often backfires.

The reality of search forces examination of the true reasons behind the motivation to move to a specific location or into a specific housing type. Instead of building towards the decision, a narrowly defined search tends to introduce doubt. It has been my experience that a widely defined initial search across multiple geographic areas, in wide price ranges and amongst different asset types, combined with an inquisitive mindset of objective detachment, ALWAYS yields the best result. Ultimately, correctly structured search gets all decision makers on the same page and removes the nagging little voice of uncertainty constantly whispering ‘what about THAT one?‘ Most times, a client will end up close to where they anticipated, but it is with a far more confidence that the decision they are making is the correct one.

I have a developer friend who often says ‘I have a job because people have no vision.’  He buys and renovates ‘historic’ properties, usually in areas where time has not been a friend.  His vision of what is possible is contrasted by those who believe otherwise.  So many of us gave up long ago on many of the areas (especially many of our best urban neighborhoods) whose architectural bones are as engaging now as they were nearly a century ago.  Rejecting a neighborhood due to blight and/or the opinions of the masses causes us all to miss amazing opportunities.  The ‘Lazy Binary’ would tell us Manchester or Scott’s Addition offered little, but, thanks to those who do not subscribe to the theory, we are quickly realizing how wrong those assumptions were.


The takeaway is as follows: beware the ‘Lazy Binary’ and dismissing any aspect of search, especially in the early stages, before you have given everything the opportunity to be true.

Our world is changing at an unprecedented rate of speed and new technologies, development incentives, construction techniques, neighborhood values, mortgage products/process and the legal environment all are impacted. Today’s home buying process barely resembles the process of even a few years ago so do yourself a favor and explore your options. Having preconceived notions is fine (and incredibly human), just make sure these notions are written in pencil and not etched in stone. Your decision making will be far sharper and your outcomes far better.