Don’t Just Buy a House: How to Choose a Home

April 12, 2013 | By | More

how to choose a home

Could this be “the one”?

Do you know how to choose a home that really suits you? Is it a feeling you get or is it a matter of simple requirements that must be met?

Years ago, my husband and I decided to casually look for another home and move only if we found the “right” place.

This was, at first, mostly Rob’s idea. I had moved, on average, every three years since college, and I was not anxious to do it again. When we got married, I sold my place and moved into Rob’s house, so the idea of choosing a house together appealed to both of us.

And, the man wanted a pool. While many people would run from a house with a pool to avoid the maintenance, it so happens that cleaning a pool will be right up Rob’s alley. It appeals to his slightly obsessive nature when it comes to cleanliness. I wanted a large sunny space suitable for growing food.

Online searches of houses in our price range yielded a lot of very ugly, poorly-maintained houses. We weren’t about to shy away from a fixer-upper. But, in the right neighborhoods, even they were scarce.  Then, one week when I was away on business, he went to look at a place. Two weeks later, we were under contract and two weeks after that, we closed on the property.

backyard with pool

Our dream yard!

So, what was it that made this place “the one” for us, rising above the hundreds of other houses we’d seen online or in person? What we learned in our search led us to what we think is our forever home, and you can do it too.

How to Choose a Home

1.  Location, location, location! You can change many things about a house, but you can’t change the neighborhood. Pick a neighborhood that fits the lifestyle you want. For example, we are both over 40 with no intentions of having children, so we were keenly aware of backyard playsets and treehouses during our search. Not that kids aren’t great, but we were looking for a quiet, calm setting that would match our desired lifestyle. We ruled out a couple of places because the surrounding houses looked badly in need of maintenance or had disabled cars parked in the driveway. To us, that says a lot about the neighborhood. Specifically, it says, “Don’t buy here!”

2.  Have a vision. Look beyond ugly paint colors, carpeting, and furniture. Not everyone understands the importance of staging a home for sale, and some people just think their ugly stuff is the cat’s pajamas. So, deal with it. It’s their home, not yours. Once it becomes yours, the dated furniture, dust-collecting figurines, and creepy doll collections will be out of there. If you’re not afraid to open a can of paint or pull up some carpet, you’ll reap the rewards by having a blank canvas to create your own look and feel.

3.  Bring a contractor. Bring an expert with you for a second look at a house you like. Remember that vision stuff? It applies to other things like the layout of the house, kitchens and bathrooms. For instance, we like the charm of older homes, but the layouts can be “choppy” with smaller rooms. When our contractor told us that it would be easy to take down a couple of walls here and there to create a more functional space, we started to consider the house more seriously. Without his expertise, we would have missed the potential of our new home.

kitchen and dining room open space

To get an open space, we removed the wall in the kitchen.

4.   Invest wisely. When you buy a home, you and your mortgage lender will look at “comps”, or the values of comparable homes near the one you want to buy. If you decide on a fixer-upper and you want to invest $25,000 in renovations, add that amount to the sale price and see if it matches up with the comps. You don’t want to have $400,000 invested in a home if others around you are selling for $250,000.

5.   Focus on the positive. Don’t get hung up on the fact that the bathroom doesn’t have a double vanity, but focus instead on what the house does have that can contribute to the lifestyle you want. When we looked at our new home, we tried to “divorce” the house itself from the outdoor space for an objective evaluation. But, we couldn’t. When we considered the sparkling pool, stunning landscape full of specimen plantings, and the huge sunroom overlooking best online casino bonus it all, we knew we had to have this house. We spend so much time outdoors and enjoy frequent “staycations” so for us, these features far outweigh the small bedrooms upstairs or the lack of garage.

6.   Don’t ignore your gut. Some houses we toured just felt cold. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go visit a home that was abandoned in a foreclosure and has sat vacant for many months. Other homes, for reasons unknown, had a different vibe. They felt like happiness had lived there, and we should too.

The warm fuzzies matter! Pay attention to them.

7.   Be patient. It took us more than a year, and that’s all I have to say about that.

What are your “must-have” and “nice-to-have” attributes in a new home?

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Category: Enviable Ideas, General, Home and Garden

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  1. cindi says:

    very good advice Brande. Thanks

  2. Denise says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience–very helpful! And I agree about the vibes a place can have too.

  3. Maggie Allen says:

    I really like your idea of bringing a contractor with you to help you know if you’re getting a good house. Like you said, a contractor can really help you see just how great the house can be. In my opinion, a real estate agent can help in a similar way. Since they’ve seen a lot of homes, I am sure that they can give some good tips as well.

    • Brande says:

      Hi Maggie – thanks for following and your comments! We relied on our contractor to not only help us see the potential of our home but to let us know if our vision was possible. Sometimes it’s not possible to knock out walls or make other structural changes, and that’s where their expertise is uniquely valuable.

  4. George says:

    I’ve been looking for 3 1/2 years and did pass on only one home that might have worked. Not having family or close friends makes decisions on a “last” home extremely difficult so I’m still renting.

  5. You mentioned that when choosing a home, you should focus on the positive, and what the house does have that can contribute to the lifestyle you want. My sister is looking for a new home and has been struggling to find one just right for her. I’ll definitely tell her to focus on the positives and to keep an open mind. Thanks for the great tips.

    • Brande says:

      It’s all about the vision! When we found our home, it left MUCH to be desired but it had enough positives that we could envision ourselves living as we wanted to right here. After a lot of work, we are very happy here. Best of luck to your sister in her search.

  6. Thank you for all this great information about choosing a house! One thing that I never thought of was that you say to make sure that you invest wisely in the house. It would be nice to know that you aren’t going to lose much if something goes wrong.

  7. Scott Adams says:

    I like that you suggested finding a neighborhood that fits your own lifestyle. I have been looking for a new house with my wife, because we are planning on having kids. I can see how for us, it would be good to find somewhere that has parks for kids nearby.

  8. I like how you pointed out that location is extremely important since you want a neighborhood that fits the lifestyle you want. My wife and I are looking at buying a home, but it is our first time. We’ll be sure to spend plenty of time looking at the area we’d like to move into so as to ensure we don’t end up regretting our decision.

  9. Steele says:

    I liked that you say that when choosing a home we should not ignore our guts and if you don’t feel like living in this house in the future, forget about buying it if you don’t want to feel uncomfortable there for a lot of time. Also, I do agree that having a vision of what you want might be quite handy and creating a “mood board” will help you a lot. My brother is looking for a new house and I will definitely advise him to make a collage of his “dream home” so that he knows exactly what kind of house he wants. Thanks for the tips!

  10. I do agree that homes are investments, so we should pick wisely. My family is planning to move soon and we’ll take your tips into account, and we’ll do try to seek aid from professionals too. Thanks for the wonderful tips!

  11. Gloria Durst says:

    I agree that you need to consider how long it will take to find the right home. It would be good to be patient and allow yourself to find a good place. You would also want to inspect the neighborhood to make sure that it is right for you.

  12. Bringing a contractor would surely help with envisioning the layout of your future home. I’ll be sure to keep your tips in mind while choosing our new home. Thanks for the sharing!

  13. Brandon says:

    Thank you, this was informative and helpful. If you have a minute, I’d like tips on how couples might find ways to see eye to eye on a purchase. Mostly what I took from this article was… Be patient. It can take a year or a significant amount of time.

  14. My mother is no longer interested in staying in the old family home and wants to move out. She is looking at some Hill Country homes but wants some tips. I will let her know to be patient and look till she is satisfied.

  15. I think I get what you mean when you said that some homes just have different vibes to them– like you feel the happiness that once lived there when you step inside. That’s exactly the kind of home that I want my family to have. We have been renting ever since I was young, and we lived happily despite the idea that we’re renting because we know that the house we’re renting was owned by a happy family. Now that we’re house hunting, I still want that kind of feel. Thanks for the article. It was great!

  16. We are planning to begin the home searching process next week because my parents got a new job in a different city, and we need to move out immediately. Since they were both busy with their jobs, they left the responsibility of looking for a prospect to me because I am the eldest of the four children. It was great that I got to see this article and realized that one of the best ways to find a good home was to have a vision and remember that minor things like wallpapers and furniture can be replaced once we move in. I will surely take note of that tip.

  17. It sure was wise when you suggested looking past the things that can be replaced and try to see the house as a whole because that will allow us to be able to determine the house that suits our needs and what does not. I will make sure to mention that to my brother because I will be taking him with me when we begin househunting. Considering that he’s the type to get affected by appearance, I have a feeling that looking for a new house will take a while if I do not manage his expectations. I will talk to him. Thank you for the advice.

  18. Yaroslav says:

    Your tips are very useful! I like every column of your article, especially about location.
    When we want to buy a house we pay attention mostly to the house and the price of, but the location automatically moves back.Am I right?
    The tips are great!
    Thank you so much.

  19. Jen A. says:

    What an awesome article! I’ve been trying to consider buying a “little home” for quite some time and am so glad I’ve found this information. Indeed, we need to consider not only its location but the result of your investment as well. You might be spending a huge amount of money, however, you also need to ensure that you will get what you want out of your dreams and visions. I will surely follow your blog!Excellent reading materials here!

  20. Ivanna Flint says:

    It was great how you pointed out that since the neighborhood is the one thing that we can’t change, it is best to pick one that suits our needs and lifestyles before choosing a home. That is a tip that I will surely remember because I am planning to buy a new home this season. Considering that my family is a bit old fashioned, I think it will be best to choose a quiet, peaceful neighborhood. Thanks!

  21. Ivanna Flint says:

    I do like it when you suggested taking a contractor during the house visit because that will allow us to determine if the minor errors that we found in the house that we’re interested in can easily be fixed. That is something that I will surely do when we go out to look for a new home. My hubby is someone who can get turned off by a place easily, so I need help in convincing him if ever. Thank you for sharing.

  22. My husband and I recently finished graduate school, so we are moving to a new area and looking to buy our first home. I like that you say to look at the location and look at places like schools and parks if you are planning on having children. Also, I like that you say to focus on the positive, because the house will probably not have every single thing you have dreamed of. Also, I agree that you should be patient because you don’t want to settle!

  23. It sure got my attention when you said that when it comes to choosing a house, it is best to look at the aspects that it has that will contribute to the kind of lifestyle that we are living. I will surely do that to manage the expectations of my brother as he can be a little bit picky when it comes to houses. I know that by following this tip of yours, we will be able to find the right home immediately. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Cindy May says:

    Excellent information. I think one of the most important aspects here is really getting a clear picture on the investment. Assessing the valuation of a home that you buy, how it might trend up and what are some of the biggest improvements that you can make on it and increase value, vs the opportunity cost of doing other things like investing in business if you’re not going to get a lot of equity or value from the property.

  25. I do agree with your statement that we cannot change our neighborhood, so it is best to consider that first before buying a house. Aside from that, I also liked it when you said that we should choose one that portrays that kind of lifestyle that we want. I will be sure to discuss that with my parents as they are planning to move next season. I know that they are rather meticulous, so choosing the right neighborhood is vital. Thank you for sharing.

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