When it’s time to find a new place, you may start with the highest of hopes, but by day two you’re ready to compromise. Looking at a house to buy or rent can be dizzying. After touring two or three properties, the details of each start to blend together and you wonder which one had that awful wallpaper in the bathroom – was it the same one with the funky glass door knobs that reminded you of your grandmother’s house?
It’s not long before you’re wondering if you’ll know the right one when you walk through the door or if you’ll be stuck in an endless loop of confused wandering through hallways to half-baths and peering through windows at unfamiliar scenery. Buying a home is one of the biggest decisions – and biggest expenses – in life for most people. Some people embrace these decisions while others dread them. There’s a way to successfully strike the delicate balance between wants and needs.
Narrowing the field
A Realtor will show you every home in town in hopes of making a sale. While it can be helpful to see a variety of potential places, it can also muddy the decision. Consider how much time you have to make a decision – if you’re looking for a larger home to accommodate your growing family you may have more time than if you’re being transferred on short notice.
Be realistic. A real estate agent can only show the homes that are available at the time you are looking, and you provide that person with the guidelines they work within. Separate your “wants” from your “needs” to narrow the options. Each member of the household should make a list of things that are important to them. Discuss the items and combine the lists, prioritizing major things that eliminate entire categories of homes, such as single-story buildings, the number of bathrooms, those without a garage, or zeroing in on a particular neighborhood.
That gut feeling
The right house – that meets most or all of your basic criteria -- should actually speak to you. When you walk through the rooms you should get a feeling that you’re being welcomed home. The size and configuration of the rooms should feel right. You may start to envision yourself and your family enjoying the space immediately, including where your furniture will go and how traffic will flow through the kitchen and other rooms.
There are limits to what can be changed and you have to decide if the best assets of the house will outweigh the parts you don’t like. Consider if you can put up with years of ducking a little when you go up the stairs, because a major structural issue like that is the hardest to correct while disliking the color of the bedroom is a minor issue that can be changed in a matter of hours.
• Don’t try to see more than two or three houses a day, and when you do, evaluate them immediately, striking from your list those that didn’t evoke any feeling of potential.
• Pros and cons. Sure, making a list of the good and bad features of a home is helpful, but first, consider whether you feel positive or negative about the space when you visit. Does the floorplan raise red flags, or does the kitchen excite you? Also, make sure to check the property records before buying to avoid any unpleasant surprises in the future.
• Don’t let your excitement overrun your judgement. You must be able to walk away from a house that has serious issues beyond your financial ability to repair, regardless of how perfect it feels. Put your trust in a home inspector (or two) who will give you a no-holds-barred evaluation of the systems and structural concerns. Sagging walls or an outdated heating system can turn your dream home into a money pit nightmare very quickly.
• Look beyond the superficial and do some math. Will your furniture fit up the stairs, or will you have to buy new pieces just for this house? How does the square footage of closets compare with your current space?
• Think a few years down the road. Is your family going to grow, or perhaps shrink? Is there space for a home office, a second car, or for noisy teens to play video games?
Americans move on average every six years, but the right house can make great memories in that six years.