Going house-hunting without criteria is like going to the grocery store without a shopping list. You spend time wandering around and buy extra things you don’t really want or need, ultimately wasting time and money. In life, we have criteria for everything: our friends, our life partner, the foods we eat, where we work. Even if we have never said the criteria out loud, it exists. Since you may not know what the criteria for home buying might be, it’s your Realtor’s job to ask the right questions so you ultimately get the home you want and love.
A criteria list does not just cover what you, the client, wants. A complete criteria list will include deal-breakers, must-haves, and bonuses. Good Realtors will listen carefully and take notes. He or she will make suggestions, but it is ultimately the home where you will live, so you have the final say.
Here are just a few topics and questions I pose to my clients to help them uncover their criteria:
Location: Distance to or from work, school, etc.
- Is there a magic spot that is the perfect distance from your work or school?
- Do you plan to switch jobs in the upcoming year?
- Is there a neighborhood that you like more than another?
Most people have a sense of where they want to live, but if not, I recommend that they do a short term rental in different parts of town for a weekend and feel out different neighborhoods.
Square Footage, Layout and Bedrooms
- Are your kids willing to share a room or do you want them to have their own rooms?
- Do you and/or your partner have hobbies?
- Do you like to entertain and need a large living room or media room?
- Did you want an extra bedroom for guests?
- Do you work from home and need one extra bedroom?
If the square footage on your ideal (in other ways) home is low, is there a garage or shed that can make up for that?
Remodeled or finished; How many updates does it need or are you comfortable with?
If you are willing to remodel, to what extent are you willing to go to: bathrooms and kitchens, new rooms, or additional floors?
Not everyone is comfortable remodeling a house and working with contractors; some argue that it is expensive and time consuming to remodel. When I purchased my primary residence I was looking for a project so I could make it my own. If this is not on your radar, be clear and vocal about that.
Lighting – Indoor and Out
Living in Colorado means we get to enjoy 300+ days of sunshine per year. Older homes did not have the insulation technology we have now. Single paned windows were common, they were drafty and cold, thus, as a protection mechanism, thus older homes had small windows. Updated or modern homes will have larger windows, and thus more light.
- What kind of lighting do you need for your ideal home?
- Do you want inset lighting?
- Do you desire double or triple paned windows?
If one of these items is not there now, can you have it installed later at a reasonable cost?
Lot Space; Outdoors space for gardening or animals
Having a backyard for gardening, or a fenced in area for your pets or your children to play in might be important. Don’t forget that the more land you have, the higher the chance you will be plowing snow during the winter. In the cities, you must snow shovel the sidewalks by noon or else face a fine.
If you do not have pets, take little interest in gardening, and don’t care to plow snow, I might recommend a condo or townhouse that has a homeowner’s association to care for removal of snow and ice for you.
The importance of a garage
Once I hit my 30s, I realized that my cars where getting nicer as I was getting older. I decided my car needed a garage. Not just for the fact that shade helps maintain the paint finish, but for the mere fact that I didn’t want to spend time removing snow from my car or spend a few minutes warming it up or worrying it wouldn’t start because of the cold.
Price Point and Budget
Price is always a factor. Make sure to get a pre-approval letter from a reputable lender before house hunting as it will dictate how flexible you can be on your criteria. One of the last questions I usually ask my clients is, “Which one of the above criteria are you willing to be flexible on?”
Many Buyer’s criteria list is more flexible with a lower budget and more rigid with a higher budget.
Planning for roommates or Airbnb?
If you are in need of rental income, the more bedrooms and bathrooms the better. Families with young children often want bedrooms near each other, but with tenants, you may prefer more privacy. Thus, bedrooms and bathrooms that are on separate floors, or opposite ends of the house would be ideal.
Need your space?
Some Buyers will not purchase a home too close to a bike path or bus line since it means there is slightly more traffic.
- What do you feel is important to your livelihood?
- Do you want to live near downtown where there are restaurants and bars?
- Do you hate driving and want to live near a bus line?
Different clients will have different requests for almost everything. Housing that faces East will get more morning and daytime sunlight and naturally warm your house – which is perfect in Colorado. Ayurvedic teachings say that you must have the front door face North for abundance and East for enlightenment. If you are particular about where your front door faces, bring a compass with you to the showing, or use the one on your smartphone. It might also help to visit the home at different times of the day to see how the sun’s light impacts the glow and temperature in the house.
If you are looking for a condo, make sure that the homeowner’s association (HOA) is financially healthy. I hope you never experience the shock of opening up a letter from the HOA with an attached special assessment of $5,000 – or worse. If you have pets, make sure that the HOA allows your particular pet.
Once I get clear with my clients what their criteria are, we have amazing results. Almost immediately, I am able to find them their dream home – even in the winter when inventory is low. If you aren’t able to find what you seek, visit some open houses to get new ideas and revisit your list of criteria to make sure they are realistic.
You don’t want to be one of the many buyers that spend 6-12 months looking at a hundred homes before finally making a decision, ultimately paying more for the same home they could have purchased a year earlier.