Buying a house is a confusing process. Not only is there a lot of material to process, you really have to do a lot of introspection to find the house that’s right for you and your family. It’s about more than just ceiling treatments and square footage, there’s something else, too.
Irish poet Thomas Moore may have captured that little bit of something else best when he penned these lines:
Sometimes, the spirit of a place is so strong, you may think you see its face and glimpse it gamboling over a field or peeking out of a forest. This spirit we sense in each locality would once have been described as the scintilla or spark of its soul, the pearl in the oyster. It accounts for the magic of a region, and, without it, an acute sense of place dissipates into a vague and lazy feeling of nowhere.
Maybe you’ve not started your home search yet, so you’ve yet to experience this strange phenomenon, or maybe you’ve just seen a few homes and they just didn’t strike you. Either way, it’s important to take stock of what it is that really moves you so that you can narrow your list of prospective homes and get the perfect fit sooner rather than later.
Home Is Where the Investment Is?
Home buyers should never think of their primary home as an investment first, but you should keep in mind that you might need to sell one day. Because of that, you need to think a little bit like an investor and a little bit like a love-struck teenager. It’s ok to be both. Before you step foot into a single house, figure out where you need to buy.
If you live in a large metro area, this may mean narrowing to within a few suburbs or choosing some urban neighborhoods that you really feel drawn to (and are holding their value). Some people go one step further and narrow by schools, especially if they have children. Even people without kids can benefit from the extra value good schools bring to the immediate neighborhoods surrounding them, though.
Now that you’ve narrowed the initial list, you can create a checklist to help you decide what it is that you want in a house so you don’t waste time with homes where you’ll never feel the spirit of the place.
Your Home Buying Scorecard
This exercise is meant to help focus your home search, but you should also realize that it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to get everything you want out of one house without an incredible budget or very low standards. To the scorecard!
When shopping for a home, it’s useful to start your search online for houses in your price range to see what sort of features they usually have. For example, if a $250k house in your area tends to have a fireplace or a ceiling treatment or a two car garage, you know you can reasonably expect that. You’ll probably also realize about 20 houses in that your expectation of acreage or a private movie theater is a little out of reach.
Grab your tablet or a piece of paper (if you’re into that sort of thing) and draw four columns. Label them like this: Definitely Need, Want, Can Live Without and Definitely Don’t Want. If you have a spouse or other person you’re buying with, make sure they make their own scorecard — no sharing answers, please.
Now for the really hard part. You need to fill those columns in.
This isn’t an exercise that you should finish in five minutes or ten minutes. You should spend a good week or two really working on it. Think deeply and about the long term. A few questions you may want to ask yourself include:
* Do I intend to age in place? In this case, you might want to put stairs in your “don’t want” column, since it can be difficult to navigate them as you age.
* Am I planning to start a family? You’ll want a bigger house, make sure there are enough bedrooms for all your future kids.
* Is there a style of house I’m attracted to? Open floor plans are big right now, but they’re not for everybody. If you hate them, write it down!
* Would I use a fireplace if I had one? Fireplaces can be nice, but they can also be huge pains to maintain and keep safe. If you won’t be using it, you might as well not pay extra for a house that features one.
* Do I plan to have pets? Hard surfaces are a must for pet owners. Carpet is cleanable, but it will never hold up like a tile, hardwood or laminate floor when pets are involved.
* How close can I tolerate my neighbors? For many people, it’s no big deal to be piled on top of the next house, but for others it gets downright uncomfortable. If you need room to roam, a cul-de-sac lot or other irregularly shaped lot may give you some elbow room without the added expense and upkeep of buying an acreage.
As you start to take inventory of your actual wants and needs, you’ll also be eliminating huge swaths of houses in single blows. This makes your home search a lot easier, believe it or not. Don’t narrow so much that only that house at 123 Marigold Lane will do, but do spend some time really thinking about your perfect home.
When your scorecard feels pretty complete, make sure to compare notes with your spouse (wait until they’re done, of course). You may have some compromising to do, especially if you’re dead set on a house with a pool and they want a small yard with nothing in it. With all of the details decided, you can finally call your Realtor and declare that you know what you want! They’ll appreciate the effort you’ve taken to doing the homework ahead of time.
Your Next Stop: Home Inspections and Home Repairs
Once you have that one house chosen, the one where you feel the spirit of the place tugging at your sleeve, you’ll need a good home inspector and someone to make whatever minor repairs they recommend.
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