Are You Ready to Buy a Home? The Non-Financial Checklist

If you passed our homebuying readiness checklist, it’s now time to think about your wishlist. Here are some important questions to consider to help lead you to home, sweet home.

When we started looking for a home, we didn’t know exactly where we wanted to live or what we wanted in a home. We saw fixer-uppers, turnkey homes, old homes, new homes, big homes, small homes…probably 100 homes before we finally settled on one three years later.

Our poor realtor.

She isn’t a realtor anymore. She claims that isn’t related to us.

More important than sparing your realtor’s time is protecting your own time and money. Here are some important questions to consider in your home purchase, beyond what you can afford.

Where do you want to live?

There are so many possible good reasons for choosing a location, but if you don’t prioritize you may have a hard time honing in on a search range. Do you want to live in the suburbs, the city, or a rural area? Will you base your choice based on proximity to your job, family, friends, quality of schools, how hot the real estate market is, home prices, proximity to shopping, walkability, or neighborhood type?

These are just a few of the many factors you may consider. It’s possible to satisfy more than one, but you may not hit all in one property. Prioritize to narrow your search and save yourself time. Or if you’re flexible on all of these you may be able to prioritize price over other factors.

How long do you want to live there?

What first-time homebuyers don’t see is how much it costs to sell a home. Realtor fees cost 6-7% of the home’s value. So for a $150,000 home you’re looking at $10,500. This is in addition to extra repairs and upgrades you’ll make to help it sell. The point: it pays to stay in your home for long enough to gain equity to compensate for the cost of selling.

Buy with a view to sell. We’ve talked about the fallacy of depending on your residence as an investment, but do keep future marketability in mind. Chances are you will not live there forever. Properties in obviously bad neighborhoods, with very strange floor plans, or with major foundation or structural problems are not just drawbacks for your time there. They’ll also deter future sellers.

What type of home do you want?

Are you looking for something move-in ready, or are you willing to build sweat equity on a lower-price property? It’s so important to know thyself here. Don’t buy a fixer-upper if you don’t like to fix things. Don’t count on sweat equity if you don’t like to sweat. Unless, of course, you’re happy to pay someone else and have the savings to do so.

Maybe you’re very handy but are short on time. Again, be cautious about getting in over your head. And just because a home price is low doesn’t mean it’s affordable. For example, if the property needs to be gutted, make sure you have the cash on hand or can responsibly finance the project.

Do you want a starter home or somewhere you could stay indefinitely? Keep in mind how long you want to stay and whether the home could accommodate children, a home office, or anything else you might have in mind for the future.

Do you want an older home with more character, or a modern home that may be more “cookie-cutter”? Older homes may be an affordable way to score beautiful features, but they can come with a lot of maintenance requirements as well. If you’re not interested in taking care of an older home, don’t buy one!

We also discovered that the newest homes we looked at (1980s) were also the most run-down. In our price range, these newer homes were just old enough that nothing had ever been replaced. That meant we were looking at 30-year old furnaces, hot water tanks, and roofs. (Not to mention lots of outdated wallpaper and fixtures.) Read: lots of expenses on the horizon. We opted for a late 70s home that had updated these major items within the past 5-10 years.

What features do you want in a home?

When we started house-hunting, we were interested in having a large room that could hold up to 30 people for church meetings. As time wore on we realized this would be hard to find in our location and price range. We didn’t want to get into a situation that required major remodeling right away. Eventually we dropped this from our list. Thankfully we’ve still been able to host lots of other types of events.

Some people really want a master bath, a two-car garage, a dishwasher (or room for one), or a formal dining room. We knew we wanted a yard—it didn’t have to be big, but we saw many homes with postage-stamp size yards, some of which were completely paved. We knew we need a little grassy space to garden. Thank goodness we realized this. Now our .3 acre plot is a burbstead where we raise chickens, garden, and tap our maple trees.

There’s no right or wrong to your home-buying wish list, but you may have to hone your non-negotiables. And those may change over time as you see what’s available. Update your priorities as they change and communicate this with your realtor.

And hopefully she won’t quit.

Further reading:

Are You Ready to Buy a House? The Ultimate Checklist

So You Want to Buy a House?

Who Wants a Death Pledge?

Mortgage Myths

Homebuyers, what’s on your wishlist? Homeowners, what else should prospective homebuyers think about? What do you wish you would’ve considered while house hunting?

12 Responses to “Are You Ready to Buy a Home? The Non-Financial Checklist”

  1. Amanda says :

    “Buy with a view to sell” – THIS! I’ve fallen for the whole “I’m going to live here forever” thinking before. And it didn’t work out that way. We learned our lesson and went into our last couple of home purchases with resale in mind. We stayed in the last one for 12 years – and plan to stay in our current one for at least a decade (we may downsize after the kids leave). It’s always important to keep resale in mind because you never know when life/jobs will change and you may need to move.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, it can be hard to keep that in mind, especially when purchasing your first home. 10-12 years is a solid length of time to stay, build equity, hopefully see property values rise, and make it worth your while if/when you need to move on. You never know what life will throw at you and it’s so important to stay flexible.

  2. Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds says :

    There are SO many thing to think about when buying a home, it’s crazy when you think about everything to consider. We went for what we could afford, lol. But I will be more strategic next time.

    • Kalie says :

      It really can be overwhelming to think about all at once. I think if you buy what you can afford, you’ve hit the most important piece! Some people look for years to find the perfect place. Others don’t have that kind of time to spare, and have to prioritize what’s important.

  3. DC YAM says :

    I think one thing people should consider is whether they are willing to rent out their house if they are forced to move. Having real estate is a big long-term win, but if you are constantly buying and selling it makes it less profitable. If you are willing to rent your house if need be – and take on that responsibility (or burden if you ask some!) – then I think you are setting yourself up for having a decent amount of flexibility.

    • Kalie says :

      Good point, DC. I agree that rentability is good to consider–both if you’d want/be able to rent a portion of your home while you live in it, and the possibility of renting once you move on. I guess it depends how much you need that equity for your next move, but you could avoid the realtor costs which defray that equity. And what you could get for rent. I’m not sure in our market that we could rent out our home following the 1% rule.

  4. Fruclassity (Ruth) says :

    “. . . you may have to hone your non-negotiables.” I remember really, really wanting a garage that was flush with the house – not a sticky-outy thing. As it turned out, I had to relinquish that “non-negotiable” – and I can honestly say that it hasn’t impacted my life in the least. The visions of “dream home” that too many of us cherish are not based upon what will really add to our quality of life.

    • Kalie says :

      One thing I kept reminding myself while house-hunting was that the look of the outside of the house was not going to make my life any better. I mean, I like pretty things, but you spend sooo much more time inside your house than looking at the front of the house. Growing up I never even stopped to think about what the exterior of our home looked like until I was a teenager. Great example, Ruth!

  5. Catherine C Alford says :

    We just bought our first house last year and it’s definitely not a forever home. We really had to weigh our options knowing that we’d only be here for four years, although that could always change. We did end up spending a little bit more to buy a home in a very trendy up and coming neighborhood. A house down the street from us just sold for $20k more than we bought ours so I think as long as we keep it nice we will be able to sell it.

    • Kalie says :

      I remember listening to a Dave Ramsey show episode where a military family was deciding whether to buy a house where they’d be stationed for 3 years. Ramsey basically said for that short of a stay, it depends a lot on the market and the family situation. Sounds like you purchased in a good location that’ll have favorable comps when it’s time to sell. And I imagine with your twins it’s nice to have your own space!

  6. Amy says :

    Good points, and I’d add that there are some things that are just impossible to foresee until you’ve lived in a house for a while. My husband and I recently had a discussion about all the things would change about our house, or do differently if we bought a new one, now that we’ve lived in our house for 7.5 years. We’re not unhappy in it, but there are certain things that only become apparent after you’ve lived in a space for a while.

    Also, I now see some things differently as a parent, than I did when we bought our house as a couple. At the time, I was adamantly opposed to living in a development. I wanted more privacy and didn’t want to be surrounded by cookie-cutter homes. While I still feel that way, I now realize that there are developments that could fit with these requirements. Plus, since we have a young child now, it would be great for her to be able to run outside and find a neighbor friend, rather than us having to arrange play dates and drive to other people’s homes. Ah, hindsight…

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, there are things you can’t foresee. We did have a huge advantage in that we lived with friends down the street in the same style of home for a year before we bought our house. This actually helped us re-prioritize and get over our aversion to the bilevel style. And we love being next to friends our kids can play with just about any time. But there are always unforeseen repairs, like our water-damaged deck and exterior wall.

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