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Create Your House Hunting Checklist to Find Your Ideal Home

House hunters should figure out which home features are nice to have -- and the ones they simply can't live without.


[Updated: Mar 04, 2021 ] May 21, 2020 by Barbara Zito
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What are you looking for in a new home? A list of must-have features is important for any home buyer. It not only gets you -- and your real estate agent -- clear on what you want, but it also helps manage your expectations in relation to your price range. Not sure where to start? Process Street has a helpful checklist with house hunting tips that will make it easier for you to find out what matters to you most as you go through the home buying process.

Let's take a look at some of the key items that should be on your must-have checklist for your next open house visit:

Must-have list vs. wish list

Keep in mind that a must-have list for house hunting is not the same as a wish list. You might think you need a house with an Olympic-size swimming pool in the backyard, but unless you are actually an Olympian in training, this is likely more of a wish than a must-have.

Here's how to distinguish between wishes and must-haves: Your checklist should be pared down to the very things you and your family need in a home to live a life of comfort and convenience. That means different things for many different people, so let's look at a couple of examples.

Say you want a house with a basement. Whether you want one for extra storage space, a home gym, a man cave, or something else entirely, you've decided you must have a basement in your new home. This is something you should make clear to your agent or realtor, who will then be able to help you narrow your property search accordingly.

That's an example of a basic item on a must-have list. But you might want to take it a step further. What if you decide that you want a finished basement? That will likely be reflected in a higher asking price. How about a finished basement with high-end amenities like a wet bar or a gym? Now we're taking a step toward wish-list items. Why? Well, if there's space for these things, you can always add them later depending on your budget and time frame. For your must-have checklist, though, keep it to the basic space.

Now let's consider the kitchen. You love to cook and envision hosting many dinner parties and holidays at your new place. Let's say your dream kitchen is an open-concept space with a large island leading out to a formal dining room. You are looking at a home that has everything else on your must-have list, but the kitchen itself is enclosed. Is there room in the budget for a kitchen renovation? If so, are you willing to do it? This is not to say that your kitchen space has to be perfect for you to choose a home, of course. But there's a big difference between knocking down walls and moving the sink and appliances to swapping out the backsplash and replacing Formica countertops with granite.

Let's go back to the idea of an Olympic-size pool. Perhaps you don't care to have a pool that size, but you've really made a backyard pool a priority. Your house-hunting checklist could range anywhere from having a backyard big enough to install a pool to a backyard with a pool and patio that's dive-in ready.

When you're drawing the line between your must-have checklist and your wish list, consider these questions:

  • If the home doesn't have what you want, does it at least have the space for you to add/install it?
  • Do you have the budget/timeframe to build/install what you want?
  • What to look for in your perfect house

Whether you're a first-time homebuyer or have been around the block a few times with your real estate investments, each new property search deserves a careful look. Here are some key things to consider as you embark on your house hunt.

Location

You've heard it ad nauseum. Real estate is about three things: location, location, location. There's a good reason for this cliche. No matter how perfect the house, it's not ideal at all if it's set in a location unsuitable for your needs. When scouting out a new location, consider the following:

Safety of the neighborhood

  • Reputation of the local school district
  • Available parks/green space
  • Public transportation/access to highways
  • Things to do on the local scene

With location, what's perfect for some is a nightmare for others. Think about your lifestyle and how it will be impacted by each home's location. You might have to make tradeoffs -- is living around the corner from a park worth the extra 15-minute drive to work? Only you can make that decision.

Property

Now focus on your potential home itself. Ideally, you'll be able to match your budget to the number of bedrooms and bathrooms that are right for your needs. If you've got a growing family, you'll want to be very realistic with any construction aspirations you might have. Aside from budget constraints, buying a home with the intention of building up or out to accommodate more space can be a risky move (no pun intended) for any number of reasons.

Here are things to consider in and around the homes you visit:

  • Size (square footage)
  • Architecture style (including the number of floors)
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Floor plan
  • Style/layout of the kitchen
  • Formal dining room/eat-in kitchen
  • Age/condition of the heating and cooling system (including the age of the water heater)
  • Attic or storage space
  • Laundry setup
  • Basement
  • Street parking/garage
  • Yard/patio/deck
  • Pool
  • Perimeter fence
  • Age/condition of the roof (this is part of the home inspection)
  • Exterior siding/brick, etc.

Keep in mind that while any home improvement is going to cost money, exterior improvements will likely cause less disruption to daily living than interior improvements will.

Do your homework as a homebuyer

A home is likely one of the biggest investments you'll ever make. Avoid buyer's remorse by making a clear distinction during the house-hunting process between what you absolutely need to live happily ever after (for now, that is) and what you can live without for a while.

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