When it’s time to shop for your first home, or move up from an existing property, your list of wants is prominent in your mind. Before searching for your dream home be sure your basic qualifications are met, that you’ve planned well enough ahead to incorporate a variety of lifestyle changes and are aware that an open mind is vital, as compromise is usually necessary. Get close to your dream home, and leave what remains for the future.
Meet with a mortgage lender to establish what you can afford in monthly payments. Calculate your principal, interest, taxes, insurance and homeowner costs, if applicable, to determine your out-of-pocket expenses. Estimate your down payment and closing costs. Set aside enough funds for emergencies. Get a preapproval letter from the lender.
Make an A list of the features you must have in your house. Plan to live in the house for the next ten years and base your list on your future needs: family size, property location, schools, local amenities and services, proximity to family and friends. Use the square footage footprint of your dream house as its measurement in your search, not the number of rooms, as interiors can be adjusted to accommodate your needs.
Create a B list of what you’d like, but are willing to compromise on: garage size, home office, finished basement and lot size are all variables when faced with a house that satisfies your basic needs and fits your financial criteria. Find yourself trading from list A and list B before settling on the house you'll buy.
Research websites and local publications carrying listings of homes for sale, knowing that many of the properties are outdated. Use this information only as a guide to establish what’s been available, at what price and how close they come to satisfying your requirements.
Hire a real estate agent who specializes in working with buyers. Don't pay her as she'll be compensated by the seller. Ensure that she listens to your requests and doesn’t waste your time. Build trust between your realtor and yourselves to be sure you're both on the same page regarding your needs and wants. Pre-screen properties before physically seeing them, but don’t discount a house because you don’t like the exterior -- the interior may be perfect.
Be flexible. Use your imagination if the house hasn’t been updated, since you can make the improvements to fit your tastes. Ask the owner or seller's real estate agent if they know what walls are load bearing, can be knocked down without infringing on the integrity of the building, and where walls can be added to comply with your needs. You can mold the house over the years until it becomes your dream house.
Check the air conditioning cabinet for mold. Note the amount of light that’s coming into the house, the solidity of the floors, the water pressure in the pipes. Make a list of of your concerns and give it to your licensed home inspector if you decide to move ahead with the purchase, as the home of your dreams is more than just rooms.
Jann Seal is published in magazines throughout the country and is noted for her design and decor articles and celebrity *in-home* interviews. An English degree from the University of Maryland and extensive travels and relocations to other countries have added to her decorating insight.