It’s worth taking a minute to define what we’re talking about when we talk about needs vs wants.
Needs are virtual deal-breakers. Maybe you want a single-family house, not a condo, period. Or vice versa. Maybe you’ve chosen a particular community, end of story. Maybe you need three bedrooms for the kids you plan to have in the next four years. These are essentials that would impossible, or very hard, to change.
Wants are optional, to varying degrees. Our checklist has “big want” and “small want” columns. These are things you want but can live without, or possibly add to your home later. Maybe you crave new appliances. But if an otherwise perfect home has junky ones, you’re still going to jump on it. On the other hand, a kitchen outfitted pro style could seal the deal if you’re on the fence.
And then there’s “don’t care.” This is the stuff that’s irrelevant to you. Work at home? Commute time is not part of your world. Carless? No need for parking.
Ask yourself the right questions
What do you love and hate about where you live now?
If the layout of your current place is a huge pain, for example, think twice about settling for a home that has the same problem. Things like that really shape your daily life.
How long will you live in your home?
Needs are a moving target, and your first home probably won’t be your last. One recent study showed that these days, the typical buyer of a single-family home stays in it for about nine years before moving on. But maybe your plan is to buy a small starter home and, in five years or so, trade up to something with more room for kids. Think short- and long-term goals.
Are your expectations realistic?
You probably won’t get everything you want in one house. Home buying is about compromises and trade offs — and being smart about how you make them. One way to work on your realism is to start visiting open houses well before you intend to buy.
If a home doesn’t meet a need as is, can you remodel?
Are you willing and able to add your must-have third bedroom or second bathroom? If you face this kind of decision, make sure building codes won’t preclude your plan. And get a realistic sense of the cost. Do you have the money? How long will it take to save up? One of the biggest surprises for new homeowners is how darn expensive things are.