Pre-approved? Know what you can afford? That means it is time to start house hunting! The hunt for your dream home can stall quickly if you aren’t sure what your “dream” looks like.
It’s easy to talk in generalities about wanting a “big” house or an “older” home, but in order to have a more specific real estate search, you must think specifically about the features you want or need. Will your “big” house be 2,400 square feet or 5,000? When you say “older” home, do you mean one built pre-1950, or pre-2000?
Before continuing on the search, sit down and make a list of your needs and wants — and yes, those are two different things. Think about the things that are needed (amount of bedrooms, yard space, garage, etc.) and the rest of the things that would be nice, but you probably could live without it (pool, etc.)
It is important to note that your lists will most likely change as you learn more about your housing options. Location, such as proximity to the beach, may start as a priority, but once you see the size of ocean-front homes in your price range, the drive to the beach may be more reasonable. Unless you have an unlimited or extremely flexible budget, there will probably need to be compromises along the way.
Below are tips and questions to help you figure out what you do and don’t like about your current home, so that you can find more comfort and pleasure in your dream home. Take the time to rank specific home features in lists such as “Must Have,” “Like to Have,” and “Don’t Care.”
Know your finances
Having your finances in order before house-hunting can make all the difference in a competitive market. Determining your budget and how much financial wiggle room you have can help clarify your must-haves.Ask yourself:
- Are you pre-approved for a mortgage?
- What’s your price range?
- How much do you have saved for a down payment? What about future repairs?
- Are you willing to do extra renovations or do you want a turnkey property?
Consider your current lifestyle and plan for the future
You may have the perfect home in mind, or you may not even know where to start when imagining your future place to live. It can help to consider your basic needs and non-negotiables in a home. Consider where you live now and what your favorite things are and what you need to change. Think about the following:
- You need space for a future nursery or a home office
- You need any special features for your pets like a fenced-in yard
- You need wheelchair access or limited stairs
- You need a space for a car or is street parking sufficient
- Walkability is important to you
- You plan on changing jobs in the next 1-2 years
Pick your preferred home style and type
Once the basics are figured out, the groundwork for determining what features you want in a house is easier. Consider the different types of houses on the market, the neighborhoods you would like, and think of keywords that can help narrow your search. Ask yourself these questions:
- How many stories do you want?
- Do you want to live in a townhouse, condo or single-family house?
- Could you live in a historic home?
- How many bedrooms?
- How many bathrooms?
- Want a guest room?
- What type of flooring do you like?
- What architectural styles do you like best?
- What’s your favorite room, and what makes spending time there enjoyable?
- If you have an outdoor space, do you enjoy spending time there?
- Do you enjoy taking care of a yard or feel burdened by it?
Choose a location
Keep in mind that paint colors to refresh the home can be changed, extensions to increase your square footage can be added, but the location of the home can’t be altered.
When finding your dream home, it’s easy to get caught up in its features, but you should also consider your surroundings:
- Do you prefer urban, suburban or rural?
- What city do you want to live in?
- Do you want easy access to highways or public transportation?
- How important is the view?
- Can you sleep easily with traffic noise?
- Do you want to be involved in community activities?
- Are there parks within walking or biking distance?
- Do the property taxes and/or HOA fees fit your budget?
Get to know the neighborhood
Think you’ve found the perfect home in the perfect area? Before buying, it’s still always a good idea to explore the neighborhood and ask yourself the following:
- Are you happy with your neighborhood?
- Are there enough activities going on around you — or too many?
- Are you happy with your commute?
- Do you have to travel far for basics such as groceries or a doctor’s appointment?
Document your visit
When it’s time to take your home tour, check the features against the checklist you made. Do you need to re-evaluate any of your must-haves? Get a feel for the home and consider anything you may have left off of your list. Remember, paint can be replaced and staged furniture will change, but there are aspects that can’t change so easily.
- Is there enough space or too much space?
- Where could you use more space?
- How would you describe the layout?
- Do you like the fixtures and finishes?
- Are you happy with the windows (enough natural light, well-placed, too sunny)?
- Does the home have curb appeal?
- Does the home have adequate parking?
Once you know what you’re looking for in a home, you’ll be ready to find the right agent to partner with for your search. Identifying your priorities will help you find the perfect property. Happy house hunting!