As a first-time home buyer, I want to make sure I find the right home. I’ve realized that determining my criteria is an important first step. If you plan to buy soon, follow these home buying tips to set your criteria and steer your search to the right homes for you. There’s no sense wasting time on the wrong houses once you start to look in earnest.

Visit Open Houses
Start going to open houses in your area. Condos, townhomes, houses, it doesn’t really matter. You also shouldn’t worry about price. The most important thing is to look. See what trends are appearing. How big or small are the rooms? How are the kitchens? What’s the storage like? Do you see any deal-breakers? Are there any must-haves? Make a note of them for the future. You should also try different neighborhoods to see which feels most like home to you.

Don’t Worry about Cosmetics
Don’t worry about carpeting, wall colors, or cabinetry during the home buying process. All of that can be replaced. Look at things that are harder to change like room size, kitchen layout, number of closets and bathrooms, number of rooms, and floorplan.

Determine the Number of Bedrooms and Bathrooms
Start by figuring out how many rooms you need now. For example, my husband and I need at least two bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. We’re looking at three bedrooms because we plan to stay in our first home at least 5-7 years. If a baby arrives, we don’t want to try to squeeze all of us and an office and a guest bed into two rooms.

Set a Price Range
Now that you have a sense of the possibilities, it’s time to start using home affordability calculators or talking to a mortgage broker to figure out what you can really afford. Knowing your number will help you determine how demanding you can be in the next stages of the home buying process.

Determine the Neighborhoods You Like
The neighborhood really does have an effect on how much you enjoy your home. So figure out what you need in a neighborhood. Are schools important? Do you like to be able to walk places or are you fine driving fifteen minutes to the grocery store? My current neighborhood is very walkable. Even when I lived in the suburbs, I didn’t live more than a five-minute drive from a grocery store. I know that I would hate living anywhere with a long drive to the conveniences. Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles, where most neighborhoods are pretty walkable (or bikable) as long as you just want to buy a couple items at the store, drop off dry-cleaning, or find a neighborhood restaurant.

Find the walk score for a prospective neighborhood if that’s important to you. Find school scores if that’s important to you. Use Google to search the zip code for other elements that matter to you.

Commuting is a whole story. The home buying rule used to be that you drove until you could afford it. Now that’s just crazy. Since home prices are re-entering the stratosphere, take your commute into account. A neighborhood may be lovely, but the two hours it takes you to get there every night will make your miserable.

List Your Deal Breakers and Nice-to-Haves
So now you have this long list of things that are important to you. Figure out which are deal-breakers and which are just nice-to-haves. Early in the open house process, my husband and I realized that two things are deal-breakers for us: kitchen size and laundry hook-ups. We haven’t decided between a condo and a house yet, but I will not buy a home that doesn’t have an in-unit laundry hook-up. I also won’t buy a home with a poorly laid out kitchen and no kitchen storage. Now I can walk into a place and know within three minutes whether or not it meets the two basic criteria. In fact, I will tell the real estate agent not to bother showing us places without laundry hook-ups.

If you think this will take too much time, don’t worry. There’s no need to rush the home buying process these days. Unless you spend the next four years looking, you won’t miss the market bottom. Markets don’t rebound like a basketball. Instead they hit the ground and roll for a while like a semi-inflated basketball. The most important part is that you find the right home for you, in the right neighborhood, and at the right price. Otherwise, you’ll just have to start the process over again in a few years.


2 Responses to “Six Tips for Setting Your Home Buying Criteria”

  1. Jennifer on October 31st, 2008 9:45 pm

    I think the best thing to do right now is save, save, save! It will definitely give you more options in the future, especially when it comes time to buying your first home. But sometimes saving up for large life-purchases can seem daunting, if not endless, right? This is exactly why PNC Bank designed the new Virtual Wallet This online money management tool gives you a high-def view of your finances. You get a full calendar view of money that you’ve scheduled to come in, like paydays, and money you’ve scheduled for bills you pay online. So you have more control of your money. Plus saving money is easy and fun. You can even punch a little “piggy” icon whenever you want to automatically stash a pre-set amount into your high yield savings. So why be overwhelmed about saving for the large purchases in life? Virtual Wallet by PNC helps make it a little easier.
    Written on behalf of PNC Bank, Member FDIC

  2. Henry @ Cash Advances US on March 9th, 2011 5:18 am

    I recommend buying a house for the present and not the future though. That way you can rent out the small place later and expand when you really need to. Now is the time to invest in a house though so I think you guys made the right decision!

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