When you wish upon a dream home, is it filled with everything you’ve loved in a shelter magazine or TV show? When wishing gives way to reality and it’s time to find a home, you’ll want to know what’s essential for you and your lifestyle. That inventory of priorities will lay the foundation for your home search. Here are some things to help you get real.
To ground yourself in reality, you need to figure out how much home you can afford. The mortgage you can afford depends on many factors, among them your annual income, the size of your down payment and your monthly debt. To get an estimate of your housing price range, you can use Zillow’s affordability calculator which does the math for you.
There are many kinds of homes, but the majority fit into these broad categories: Single-family detached, townhouse, condominium or co-op. And each has upsides and downsides, especially when it comes to privacy and independence. In a single-family home, you’ll share no walls with anyone and your home has its own chunk of land. Along with that independence comes all the responsibility for care and repairs. If you choose a townhouse or townhome, you’re also the sole owner but you’ll share common walls, meaning a bit less privacy.
Condos come in many shapes but follow two basic principles: Each owner owns the interior of his or her unit and has a stake in the entire building, and owners pay fees to fund a homeowners association to handle maintaining the common areas and building. Co-ops owners become shareholders in the corporation that owns the entire building, and owners vote on all major decisions, assess dues and pays the bills.
Where you live is as important as what you live in — maybe more. You’re not just buying a home, you’re becoming part of a larger community. What happens outside your door has in impact on how you live your life as well as your home’s future value. So how do you decide which neighborhood is right for you? There’s affordability, of course, but it’s really about the lifestyle you want.
In the Neighborhood section of Zillow’s for-sale home listings you’ll find a Walk Score that measures how walkable the address is to nearby amenities like stores, and a Transit Score which rates how well a location is served by public transportation.
Do a gut check by spending time in a neighborhood. What’s it like on Sunday morning and Friday night? Test the commute, shop for a few groceries, talk to folks in a coffee shop, read the neighborhood blogs. See if it feels like this is your next neighborhood.
If you have (or plan to have) children, investigate area schools before you narrow down a location. For-sale home listings on Zillow include GreatSchools information for nearby elementary, middle and high schools. You can find school test scores, extracurricular activities, student population stats, and community reviews and ratings. Even if you don’t have children, good schools can be a sign of a strong community and may help when you want to sell your home.
Home size and configuration
Do you need a cozy nest or a sprawling compound? You’ll have to balance cost — every bedroom and bathroom adds to the price of a house — with convenience. For-sale home listings include the square-foot cost as a point of comparison between homes.
Knowing what’s negotiable in your family is also key:
• Big yard or just enough green to grow some tomatoes
• Garage, carport or street parking
• Your own pool or proximity to a community center
• A view of the ocean or an urban village
• Great room or cozy nooks and crannies
• In-law suite or a basement rec room
If a three-car garage or big yard are must-haves, think about what you could trade off. Maybe young children could share a room, or you can live without a breakfast nook. Knowing what you need vs. what you want will help your real estate agent find a home that fits.
You may find a place that has most of what you need and just needs a little work to make it exactly what you want. You may be willing to sacrifice the time and money to make it happen. But if the idea of plaster dust coating every surface is a recurring nightmare, new construction might be a better fit.
The challenge is to think deeply about which type of homeowner you are before your search for a new home.