Tips for choosing the home that’s right for you

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In a Nutshell

To find the home that’s right for you, decide how much you can afford, where you want to live and what features are most important to you. Then get into search mode and find homes that meet those criteria.

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Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make.

You’ll be spending a lot of time there, entertaining friends, maybe raising children. So you want to make sure you end up in a house that speaks to you. Maybe you need those chrome appliances, maybe you want to walk to the park, or maybe it’s that three-car garage that warms your heart.

“You really have to think about your lifestyle and what is most important to you,” says Amanda Jones, a real estate agent with Long & Foster Realtors. “Your home should recharge you.”

Here are a few factors to consider as you look for that perfect new house.


Budget

Buying a home is exciting. It’s also a big financial commitment. Before you start looking at houses, set a budget and stick to it.

“Don’t overspend. It’s just going to stress you out,” Jones says. “Go with what you can afford.”

To figure that out, consider getting preapproved for a mortgage. But when you do, remember that the lender is making a mostly mathematical calculation and not taking into account your comfort level or preferences. So make sure the amount you plan to borrow is one you’re comfortable with, even if the lender says you can borrow more. Remember, it’s your life, and your mortgage payment isn’t the only expense you’re responsible for.

Location

Before you begin looking for a home, take some time to think about the type of environment you want to live in. You have three main choices.

  • City — You’ll be close to shopping, restaurants, grocery stores and entertainment. You can walk or take public transportation to get where you’re going. But you may have to sacrifice space and accept more noise for the added convenience.
  • Suburbs — The middle ground. You’ll be close to conveniences, though you’ll probably need to drive. But you’ll trade in the hustle and bustle of the city for quieter neighborhoods and more space.
  • Rural — Ah, the country life. The peace, the quiet, the space! The lower real estate prices! What’s not to like? Well, there’s the huge lawn to mow, the critters running through the property, and the time it takes to drive to the grocery store.

Neighborhood

Picked your environment? It’s time to narrow your search to a few neighborhoods you’d be happy living in. Consider the following.

  • Safety — Some websites offer crime statistics by area. If you’re especially concerned about crime, check with the local police department.
  • School district — Houses in good school districts typically have higher property values. Look up ratings of schools in the area. But don’t rely on ratings alone. Check out online reviews or talk to parents who send their children to local schools.
  • Activities — Find out whether there’s a park nearby. Can you get to hiking trails quickly? What about playgrounds, pools or playing fields?
  • Convenience — Do a morning-commute test run and check the drive time to the local grocery store. Time spent on the bus or driving to the store adds up and will affect how you spend your time when you move into your new home.

Type of home

You’ve got the location and neighborhoods. Now it’s time to decide what type of home you want.

  • Single-family home — This offers the most privacy. You’re not sharing walls with your neighbors. These also tend to be bigger and cost more. Don’t forget about the yardwork and maintenance, particularly on the exterior of the home. You may want to budget for a tool belt.
  • Townhouse — You’ll sacrifice some privacy and possibly space, but you’ll likely have less exterior maintenance to contend with. Plus townhomes tend to be less expensive than single-family homes.
  • Condo or apartment — There’s less privacy and often less space. But you may have amenities like a roof deck or even a gym. There’s also less maintenance for you to do if your building has an association (condo associations, for example, take care of a lot of that). But you’ll pay a monthly association fee on top of your mortgage. 

Other considerations

You’ve already made some big decisions in your home-buying process. But you’re not finished yet. Here are a few more.

  • Style — Ranch, Colonial, Cape Cod, Victorian. There’re a lot of different home styles to choose from.
  • Condition — Move-in ready or fixer-upper? Your decision may depend on a combination of factors, including your budget, whether you’re handy or hate the sight of a screwdriver, and how long you’re willing to wait to move in.
  • Resale — If you’re planning to stay in your home for a shorter time period, resale value will be more important than if you’re planning to stay long term.
  • Other features — So many of them! Central air conditioning, swimming pool, garage, granite countertops, hardwood floors, walk-in closets. Have some fun figuring out what you can and can’t live without.

Can’t find what you’re looking for in your price range? A good real estate agent can help you determine whether your wish list is realistic. If it’s not, you may need to compromise.


Bottom line

Setting your budget and deciding where you want to live are just the beginning when it comes to choosing a house. The fun part — OK, not everyone sees it that way — is figuring out what to do about all the other factors. You’re going to need to decide on the style of the home, the size of the closets, the view from the kitchen window — the decisions can seem endless. It’s up to you to choose a house that’ll meet your needs and make you feel the warm fuzzies without breaking the budget and putting your financial health at risk.