Holiday bonuses tucked away, skipped nights out, vacations put on hold, preparing to buy your first house involves sacrifice and commitment. It’s not a decision to be entered into lightly. And while buying your first home is an exciting proposition, it can also be intimidating, time-consuming, and overwhelming.
Finding the right home starts by figuring out the difference between what you need in a house and what you want. It seems simple enough but clearly differentiating between your wants and needs can be a time-consuming and daunting task.
When you begin your home search with clear objectives you save yourself both time and stress. The Zimmerman Group’s agents have helped hundreds of first-time homebuyers fine-tune their dream home wish list using these three steps.
Step 1: Brainstorm to Create Your Dream Home Wish List
This is the fun part where you get to let your heart take the lead. Brainstorm a list, alone or with your homebuying partner, that includes everything you’d love to see in your first home. Try not to get hung up on budget when you’re creating this initial wish-list.
You will need to find a balance between your dream list and reality, however. This isn’t the time to fantasize about an eight-bedroom beach house. Focus instead on creating a wish list based on real-life possibilities that consider the reality of your current home search.
Here are some features to consider when creating your wish list:
- Single-family home, condo, or townhouse
- How many bedrooms
- How many bathrooms and what features should they have?
- Outdoor space
- Parking space or spaces
- Home office
- Home gym
- Floor plan
- Heating and cooling systems
- Green updates
Step 2: Organize and Prioritize Your First Home Wish List
All those dream home amenities you just came up with? Number them in order of importance. Are you starting to get a better idea of where your priorities lie?
To get an even more organized and in-depth idea of what your priorities are we recommend creating a chart that rates each item into one of the following categories:
- Really Want
- Would-Be Nice
- Definitely NOT
Including the fourth category, “definitely not,” is a great way to further fine-tune your home search. If there are specific features you’d like to avoid altogether, like a pool, calling them out at the beginning of your search can save you time when you head out to open houses with your REALTOR®.
Download the Zimmerman Group's Wants Vs. Needs Home Buying Rating Chart to help you get started.
If you’re struggling to decide if a specific feature is a “need” or a “really want” it’s helpful to consider whether or not a feature can be changed or even added down the line.
Hardwood flooring may seem like a “need” but would you pass on an otherwise perfect house because of carpeting? If not, you’ve just figured out hardwood floors are a “really want” not a “need,” especially since they can be added fairly easily down the line.
Features like air conditioning and lot size may hold their place on your list of “needs” because they would be expensive or impossible to change in the future.
“Try not to get hung up on features that don’t impact the way you live every day,” says Megan Ryan of the Zimmerman Group. “Vaulted ceilings or a south-facing garden may seem super important at the beginning of your search, but an open floor plan or an updated bathroom are features you’ll enjoy every day.” Ryan suggests giving more weight to value items that will positively impact the resale value of the home.
Step 3: Keep Re-evaluating Your List
If you’ve created a prioritized list or chart, you’re off to a great start and can expect the home buying process to kick off smoothly. Next, you’ll want to meet with a REALTOR® and a lender to develop a budget.
Once you’ve met with a lender and a REALTOR® you’re ready to head out to some open houses. Experiencing homes in your budget, in your desired location first hand may have you amending your wish list yet again. A former “need” may get shifted to the “really want” column or vice versa. It’s important to remain flexible and fluid during the home buying process and to continue re-evaluating your initial wish list.
“Heading into your first meeting with your REALTOR® having a solid list of wants and needs will help them weed out homes that aren’t quite right for you,” says Kelly Boenzi of the Zimmerman Group. She continues, “If you go into an open house with a solid top 10 list, you should know that if one home hits six to seven items on that list you’re doing really well.”