Most people start a house hunt with a wish list.
Must-haves might be a garage, a yard, plenty of natural light or simply, or not so simply, a specific neighborhood. But anyone who has gone to a house showing knows that as soon as you step in that door, priorities move up or down.
One thing is certain – they rarely all exist in one magical, perfect place.
“The reality is that whether it’s $500,000, $5 million or $15 million, I’ve never seen a purchase without a compromise,” said Matthew Pucker, a New York-based associate real estate broker with The Corcoran Group.
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But how do you decide which factors matter most? Do you want your dream neighborhood, even if it means a bit less space? Or perhaps that third bedroom is a must, and you are willing to browse a few different areas. Navigating these needs are an imperative part of what buyers and real estate agents encounter.
Pucker said he advises clients to first list their need-to-haves, their want-to-haves and their can’t-haves.
“I have clients who really want to be in a neighborhood and are really willing to compromise on space to be there,” he said. Others might want the neighborhood but prioritize other things like space, leaving them open to seeing other spots.
“Often times people, if they’re open to that, then they’re pleasantly surprised at things they might find,” he said.
Consider how much you want the neighborhood versus other factors, he advised. He also suggests visiting potential locations without looking at property. Take the commute. Visit shops. “Breathe it in,” he said. “Go for a run. Get a glass of wine.”
Lynnette Bruno, vice president of communications for online real estate site Trulia, is seven months into a house hunt – and she’s betting that a long search will deliver one of two specific San Francisco neighborhoods.
“The neighborhoods are super important to me, because I like to have things to do on the weekends,” she said.
Location is a must. Her other must-haves – garage and at least a speck of a yard – spur from living in a place that has a garage six floors below. Right now, getting her car takes about 10 minutes, often while juggling packages.
“I would have a better chance securing a house if I wanted to live in some other neighborhood,” she said. But she is willing to wait.
Along with the time spent – she expects to spend as much as 18 months home hunting, the average, she said – she is OK compromising on space.
“I’m fine if it’s a smaller space, because I think of this as a long-term play,” she said. “It’s somewhere that I want to live and call home for a long period of time.”
And she’ll live with a fixer-upper, too. “I really don’t care if it’s a complete disaster or (has) pink tile from 1940.”
Along with deciding your musts, do your research.
Looking at what homes are selling for is an obvious homework assignment, too.
“Are expectations in line with practicality?” Pucker said. “That’s usually a starting point.”
But also look at crime data, commute times and walkability.
Also ponder where you will be in a few years, said Amy Bohutinsky, chief marketing officer at Zillow. “Think about how long you plan to live in the home,” she said.
With her husband, they bought their first house in Seattle following their wedding.
“All I could think of was, ‘Wow, what an adorable nursery this will make,’” she said. Unexpectedly, they had two children within the first few years of living there. Despite being cramped, they also found themselves in a housing downturn.
“The big lesson for me there was I was only thinking the next year or so, our immediate needs,” she said. “And the reality was we needed to think five to 10 years out.”
Buying a second time, they faced different priorities – schools, space – and they had another conversation about must-haves. They left the convenience of the city and found a place farther from work – securing a suburban family neighborhood with a great school for their two kids, ages 5 and 7. The trade-off? Bohutinsky’s commute went from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
Centered around this question, Bohutinsky said: “Will it meet our needs, and where am I willing to make trade-offs?”